Differences between Life Coaching and Therapy
Where coaching is about change, therapy is, first and foremost, about healing.
Depression, Anxiety, OCD, Panic, PTSD, & Addictions
Some people come to me complaining that they’ve fallen into a hole and they don’t know how to get out. Sometimes people are in so much pain that their sleep is very disturbed or they can’t bring themselves to eat. Sometimes the stress produces just the opposite – compulsive eating and weight gain. It may turn into obsessive and compulsive behaviors and rituals, variations of OCD including excessive checking, washing, or any other set of behaviors. Or maybe it’s led to “hitting the bottle” or other addictive behaviors including sexual addiction or other compulsions including gambling, high-risk behaviors, excessive spending. Often it leads to tremendous drama in relationships. Sometimes the stress can just lead to a level of anger that feels unbearable and that’s affecting your home life, your relationship with your kids, or your job. Getting out of bed in the morning can feel almost impossible. Often the feelings are so overwhelming that it’s hard to focus at work or to take care of ordinary responsibilities, like paying the bills or taking care of the kids.
In some cases it’s easy to see what triggered the feelings. Perhaps there was a death of someone close, a divorce or separation, or the loss of a job. Sometimes after a death or the loss of a partner, the grief, guilt, and fear can be absolutely overwhelming. Or it could be that the financial stress is just too much. Maybe there was or still is an abusive relationship. In other cases, dealing with one’s children or in-laws can be a major challenge. In other cases, it may seem like the depression, sadness, anxiety or panic just “came out of the blue.”
Regardless of the specifics, these are the types of situations that oftentimes call for psychotherapy. This type of therapy is about helping you to get out of the hole and “unstuck”. And then to help you to avoid getting stuck in the future.
When one is experiencing emotional, mental or behavioral challenges, disturbances, and/or symptoms that produce significant distress and may be long-standing or chronic — which are often seen by some to reflect a “disorder” or “abnormal” set of symptoms — psychotherapy is often the right choice. Psychotherapy is a sacred, intimate and committed relationship oriented towards your healing.
Intimacy, Self-Esteem Issues, and Self-Sabotaging Patterns
For those who have struggled for years to overcome relationship, intimacy, sexual, career, or self-esteem patterns or seeming obstacles, therapy may be in order. Or for those who feel deeply or chronically unhappy, anxious, sad, afraid, chronically angry, engaging in addictions or compulsions endlessly, or for those continuing to encounter the same sabotaging “demons” again and again, despite years of trying and trying to be happier and to make life work, therapy may be the answer. But not just any therapy. The right therapy. And not necessarily with me or any one particular therapist, depending upon the specifics.
Psychotherapy aims at uncovering and healing the often unconscious roots of troubling, often chronic, and often disturbing emotional, mental, and behavioral experience. This often involves healing the emotional trauma and unconscious defensive energetic mechanisms our systems put in place to guard against such hurt. There are many forms of psychotherapy and therapeutic techniques which should be considered to determine which approach best suits the unique needs and goals of the individual. Although traditional, insight-oriented “talk therapy” has helped some, in my view it usually misses the mark, often even doing more harm than good. Talking can be cathartic, healing. It can also, however, keep us stuck by focusing our minds on what is or was “wrong”. In fact, anything, including talking for some and to some degree, that helps one to release or let go of clogged or “stuck” feelings or “e-motions” can result in healing. It is crucial not to dwell unnecessarily on the past. However, to the extent that unresolved past issues — including emotions, thoughts and behaviors — are still being played out in the present, they are, in truth, present issues.
I use practical approaches because traditional talk therapy and counseling by itself often keeps clients “stuck in their heads”, in their inner narratives and limiting beliefs about themselves, and in the actual counseling itself. In most cases, therapy will be most effective when it is solution-focused, combining specific goals and accountability to overcome dysfunctional emotional patterns and reach observable, pragmatic results.
So educate yourself about the different schools of therapy especially those like CBT, DBT, and other approaches which put a premium on seeing measurable positive results within a reasonable period of time.
Note that the term “counseling is generally used synonymously with “therapy”, whether individual, marital, or family.
The coaching relationship is about setting goals and making changes happen. It is a committed, helping relationship. It uses a powerful process of inquiry and personal discovery to build clients’ levels of awareness and responsibility, and provides ongoing support, structure, feedback, unconditional positive regard, and most importantly, accountability. The coaching process helps clients define their vision and achieve their goals faster and with more ease than would be possible through many other approaches, including traditional psychotherapy or therapy alone. As such “homework” is assigned on a rather regular basis, with accountability built in to assess the results and tweak the next agreed-upon “assignment” accordingly, on a week-to-week basis. With coaching, you will know within a matter of weeks whether it is “working”.
It’s also important to understand that coaching is based on the notion that we are whole, resourceful, and creative. It does not treat “mental disorders” as defined in the DSM V (the Diagnostic and Statistical Mental Disorders) and as a result, it is not reimbursable by third-party payers such as insurance companies. In fact, without “medical necessity”, which refers to diagnosable disorders, insurance companies rarely, if ever, provide reimbursement. Additionally, coaching tends not to focus on the past excessively, unless the past keeps showing up in the “present”. (Then it’s not really the past but the present that we’re dealing with.)
As a life coach working with marriage/family, relationships, career, finance, and other life issues, I help my clients first discover what they want in all aspects of their lives. We then devise practical strategies to help them get there. The process fuels and motivates my clients, allowing them to unlock their own brilliance and skills, overcome their fears or other seeming obstacles, and then take action. It is my clients’ goals, dreams, and visions that drive our relationship and the actions taken. The focus is on the present and the future, not the past. Through life coaching, I help my clients design their future rather than get over their past.
The myriad of life’s challenges often fall short of disease, illness, or “disorders”, but are sometimes misdiagnosed as such. So often, such life challenges do not reflect pathology (i.e. an abnormal or diseased state). However, many such challenges in our lives can often be helped with practical tools and strategies. These include simply becoming aware of belief systems and negative thought patterns that are not serving us, and learning/practicing new ways of seeing, interacting with, and experiencing the world. If you continue to do the same old things, you’re going to end up with the same, old results. I teach and help my clients practice, from a myriad of techniques and approaches, to help free them from sabotaging patterns and move forward, creating the lives they want for themselves.
For the job-seeker or person seeking to find and/or fulfill his or her life’s purpose or passion, I sometimes initiate the process with brainstorming techniques, the use of inventories and personality questionnaires, intuitive techniques, and/or with various means of holistic tools designed to help in the exploration of ones strengths, skill-sets, and talents (both manifest and latent, or hidden) together with an assessment and exploration of the current career or job landscape within this economic climate. I also work with high school and college students who “don’t know what to do with their lives” and need guidance to find their ideal career path. Regardless of your circumstances, we don’t overlook the intersection between supply and demand to find a workable and pragmatic, economic fit.
I help my clients to develop a pragmatic and deliberate strategy towards attaining their goals and then help them execute it — step-by-step, addressing and eliminating “seeming” obstacles. This may involve teaching particular skills or identifying where such skills may be gained, identifying appropriate industries or organizational paths or strategies towards one’s desired “end”, and creating a structure and a “game plan” within which to make it all happen. My clients’ weekly “homework” is a big part of their work. And I am available between sessions via email and/or phone, if necessary, for ongoing consultation, feedback, and support.
To sum up, in contrast to traditional psychotherapy, with life coaching:
- The focus is on the present and the future, not the past;
- The goal is not to “fix” a problem, but to CREATE a better situation;
- The relationship is collaborative and ongoing until the client feels that his or her goals have been met; and
- As your coach, I’m your partner and co-creator to support you and hold you accountable for your desired goals;
- I see you, my clients, as whole, resourceful, and creative, and not as defined by psychodiagnostic labels or seen through the lens of psychopathology (i.e. disease, disorder or illness).
Bear in Mind
Sometimes coaching can be premature and ineffective if there are significant and chronic obstacles, such as emotional wounds, trauma, or unconscious negative belief systems that are not being adequately addressed.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of life coaches who are not also effective psychotherapists are neither equipped nor trained to identify or handle such issues.
Therapy & Life Coaching Combined
I provide life coaching and psychotherapy as separate services. However, I also offer a unique blend of life coaching combined with psychotherapy. What does this mean?
It means that:
. For the person coming to me primarily for coaching, I provide a structure and focus around working towards the attainment of your goals very mindful of, and attentive to whatever unconscious patterns you may have developed that are not working for you. And
. For the person primarily seeking therapy, my focus is on helping you heal while at the same time learning and practicing new skills to help you move forward in your life, with practical “homework” frequently assigned for your important work between sessions. It’s not just talk.
Having a relationship and life coach who is also a trained, experienced psychotherapist provides you with a professional who can help you attain your goals and heal.