Wednesday, May 2, 2012


There are major similarities and distinct differences between therapy and life coaching.  Confidentiality between practitioner and client (with certain, specific exceptions) is the first similarity and creates a safe place to explore and discover one’s self, including areas of vulnerability/weakness and passion/strengths.  Both the therapist and the life coach ask probing questions to uncover beliefs that impact current functioning, and to challenge those that do not serve the client.  The goals of both therapy and life coaching are also similar:  personal growth and a greater sense of fulfillment and empowerment can be achieved through the emotional risk taking and commitment of time needed for the process of change.  

People often seek therapists and life coaches for similar reasons.  The motivation required to voluntarily embark upon a commitment to go beyond our comfort zones is usually borne of necessity.  The discomfort that comes from change or life’s problems usually serves as the catalyst for taking on the endeavor of self-growth.  In other words, we are usually forced into it. 

Life transitions (divorce, death, relocation, job or career change, etc…); feelings of overwhelm due to multiple stressors; ineffective patterns of behavior or coping strategies we have outgrown are just a few examples of how people end up finding themselves feeling stuck, lost, or hopeless.  Even positive stress (a wedding or the birth of a baby), or changes that we have initiated can lead us to these feelings.  However, it is the framework and the focus of the practitioner which guides the process of change and growth.  

In the case of therapy, the focus is often centered on the past.  Therapists look for emotional and psychological traumas and the resulting impact on emotional development.  The therapist and client look for the origins of the presenting problem so as to “connect the dots” – finding the initial wounding that continues to resurface and represent itself in our current lives and the way we view and perceive the world.  In a therapeutic session, we also explore beliefs, patterns and dynamics learned in our family of origin.  By discovering these aspects of ourselves, we aim to put the past in it’s proper context and move on.  The process of exposing these patterns or wounds and resolving them in the present is important groundwork.  It is at times difficult, and can be time intensive.  The payoff, however, can be greater self awareness, a new-found sense of freedom and empowerment, and ideally, new tools for coping more effectively with the inevitable stressors of life.

Because therapy is conducted under the medical model, it involves a comprehensive assessment of one’s biological, psychological, social and family history.  Therapy clients are assigned a diagnosis which entitles them to file a claim for reimbursement with their insurance company, or have the therapist bill the insurance company directly and collect any applicable co-payment.  As such, many people opt for therapy out of financial necessity.  However, due to the medical model approach of assessment-diagnosis-treatment, the relationship between therapist and client is already set into an expert/patient dynamic.  Although great strides are made by many therapists to overcome this built in obstacle to a sense of partnership, it is still part of the overall picture of therapy.

Therapy can be brief or long term, and the right “fit” between client and therapist is essential for progress to be made, as the ability to develop trust in one’s therapist is absolutely key.
This last point can also be said for coaching.  Fit between therapist and client is of the utmost importance for the same reasons:  the client’s ability to be open and honest is necessary for growth.  And likewise with therapy, it is really the client’s feeling about the practitioner that determines whether or not there is a good fit. 

Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.
                                                                                              -Soren Kierkegaard

In the case of coaching, the focus is on the future.  That is not to say that the past is not important or relevant, however, emphasis is placed on getting the desired results.  The coaching process involves clarifying clients’ goals, exploring their motivations for change and then leveraging those motivations to stay focused.  Follow up and accountability are the other essential features of coaching, as most of us if left to our own devices, will waiver off track.  Because coaching is results-oriented, coaches partner with their clients to support and encourage the focus and resolve required to create the desired change.  Coaches also serve the important function of partnering with clients to work through roadblocks when they arise.  In other words, instead of examining problems, in the coaching session, we examine solutions. 

The partnership model is vital to understanding the coach/client dynamic.  The assumption here is that the answers to our problems reside in ourselves, and if we can get out of our own way, we can create more fulfilling lives – indeed, the life of our dreams!  

Fees for coaching and therapy are similar and vary according to the practitioner’s experience and specialty/niche.  Since life coaches are not considered health care practitioners, insurance plans do not cover coaching services and clients pay out of pocket.  This can create an access barrier for certain populations, however many coaches offer different programs to address this issue (ie, group coaching, pre-recorded audio or visual material, bonus material and multi-session discounts).  

Additionally, many coaches offer a wealth of information on their websites or send out weekly tips or e-zines to those on their mailing lists which serve to provide additional support.

The decision to create change in one’s life is a big one – often filled with complex and conflicting emotions.  In fact, ambivalence is a natural and necessary stage of change!  Choosing the practitioner who is the right “fit” for the client is the first and most important next step on the path to creating a better life.



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