Coaching & Therapy: Is There a Difference?

I’m trained in therapy and coaching. But when people ask what I do, a quick answer is tricky. Usually I jokingly say, “I play with people’s heads, in really good ways”. But that’s not strictly true because what I actually do is empower people to take control of their own minds. When people make significant changes through coaching or therapy with me, it’s truer to say that I’ve facilitated the process of empowering them to make significant changes for themselves – that’s powerful!

A further difficulty is that most people mistakenly think coaching and therapy are synonymous – they’re not, not by a long way! Think about coaching and therapy as being completely opposite ends of a continuum with, “ok” in the middle (“ok” meaning “happy within their comfort zone”). Most people go through life feeling “ok” and that’s, well, ok!

But life has a habit of challenging us, and sometimes those challenges are overwhelming and traumatic, we stop feeling “ok” and slide down that continuum towards feeling hurt and broken. This is where therapy is essential. I’ve experienced many of the traumas which lead people to seek therapy… so I know therapy ‘from both sides’. Given this, I specialise in anxiety disorders and PTSD. It was my own challenges that got me interested in therapy, and although to this day I still enjoy learning about and find it deeply rewarding helping clients change with therapy, I reached a point where I was “ok” again but thought, “There has to be more?!” This was 2004 when my passion for excellence led me to the study of Human Potential itself – Self-Actualisation psychology, Neuro-Semantics, & Meta-Coaching.

Coaching is at the other end of the continuum. It’s for individuals who are not ok with being just “ok”. Coaching is for people who are ‘uncomfortable being comfortable’, so, unlike the fragile feeling person who needs therapy, coaching is for psychologically healthy people. These people actively seek challenge. They want to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones. Obvious examples of people who seek coaching are high performance athletes and entrepreneurs who seek to stretch and improve themselves and the world. But we all have this drive to some degree – you want the challenge of starting your own business or changing your lifestyle and welcome the discomfort and uncertainty involved. Or you actively push yourself through discomfort to improve performance in your chosen sport or hobby.

The reason coaching and therapy get conflated is that they both deal with psychology – thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, attitudes, and every other aspect of mind. These aspects of mind are incredibly powerful; they’re ‘commands to your nervous system’. You do, or don’t do, what your beliefs, etc. tell you – put simply, you do the things that you believe you can, and you don’t do the things that you believe you can’t. When you clarify your values, and align them with powerful beliefs, permissions, attitudes, intentions, and every other aspect of your mind, you become unstoppable.

Here’s an analogy. We all know the quality of your diet affects physical health – if you eat rubbish, it manifests in your body and energy levels. The same is true of your mental diet – the quality of the stories you feed yourself (“I can / I can’t”) determine your happiness. Your mental diet is more important than your physical diet because 95% of behaviour is driven by unconscious processes; mind informs behaviour. Behaviours are simply the byproducts of the thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes you habitually have. So have useful thoughts, ideas, beliefs, etc. 

I opened this article with the line, ‘I’m trained in therapy and coaching’, and noted that giving a quick response to the question of ‘what I do’, is tricky. I hope by now you get that part of the trickiness is because they are two different methodologies and that explaining both takes time. This actually brings up an annoying bugbear for me. It’s when inexperienced coaches and therapists conflate the two and think because they are trained/experienced in one, that they can do the other… NO! A good therapist will refer their client to a coach if coaching is what the client needs, to not do so will only annoy the coaching client. And conversely a good coach will refer their client to a therapist if therapy issues arise because there is the danger of a coach traumatising the client further.

Stress, pressure, problems, and challenges (if we can handle them) are not all bad, they are what grow us. Success is about making calm/reasoned/well thought out, rational and intentional decisions under pressure – this is where coaching helps immensely. Whether that’s the pressure of competing on the sport field/court, fighting in the ring, dealing with the pressures of being a CEO of a multinational company, or even parenting! Having the right states of mind is essential. And I say state’s’ (plural) because it’s not just a matter of being ‘calm’ as in ‘relaxed’, it’s about being focused, intentional, confident, resilient, and a whole heap of other states all combined.

I hope this clarifies how different coaching and therapy are. If you’re interested in finding out more, go to www.optimum-mind.com or contact me, alan@optimum-mind.com or call 021 260 5486.

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