THE LONDON PRACTICE
Psychotherapy and Coaching
How is Coaching different from Therapy?
There are many misconceptions about therapy and coaching. You may have heard that therapy focuses on the past, and coaching on the present, or that coaching is for people who want to grow while therapy is for people who have to heal. There are many more such myths out there, and I will dedicate a whole article to clarifying these. Below, I will only let you know what coaching means for me, and how I work differently as a coach, than when I see someone in my role as a therapist.
Generally, when I work with private individuals on anything concerning their personal life, relationships and feelings, including how they feel at work or in their business, I would call that therapy, because therapy is concerned with human psychology and change - personal growth as well as healing. I often work with people short term, and that means focusing on just one or two specific issues, and we do not necessarily dig into their past, unless it makes sense for the work. It is still therapy, adapted to each client's need and circumstance, as it should be. Since I am a qualified therapist, this means I can work with deeper levels of change or emotional turmoil than a coach who has a coaching training could. They would then maybe call this work Life Coaching, as they don't have the qualification to offer therapy. Much of the work might look and feel exactly the same to a client up until a point. The difference shows, when the coach reaches their limitations of what kind of work they can ethically offer a client due to their training, and in that case, a good coach will refer their client on to a recommended therapist.
I generally call it coaching whenever I work with a business client, a team, a leader in a business who wants to work specifically on their leadership style, or with individuals in a team but in the context of a contract with their business. I have training in Gestalt and Systemic work, which are ideal for working with groups and organisations, and I enjoy the different context and challenges, which is why I can also work as a coach, although I am a therapist. The difference in the work is the frequency and number of sessions we have, and that there is a specific reason for why we are doing this work that sits outside purely the personal needs of the individual, often there are several people involved in the agreement. We are then working toward a desired outcome, for example to increase trust in the team or to uncover cultural biases in the organisation. Within this kind of contract, there is not the space for working with individuals at the level of depth possible in therapy. Often I would then refer my coaching clients to another therapist, should they discover through the coaching work, that they do want to do further personal work.
So far so clear. However, there is a third scenario, where very occasionally I will work with an individual private client, as a coach not a therapist, upon their request. This only makes sense when a client wants to work on a specific goal that lends itself to a coaching approach, and is an area I have experience and expertise in. Such goals could be for example how to make a business out of their passion project or how to adapt certain personal values into their leadership or parenting style or how to run a successful private therapy practice.
The focus of the work is then much more narrowly defined, and again lies outside the individual herself. The number of sessions we dedicate to this will normally be limited, with more space in between sessions than in therapy work.
It is not exploratory work, where a person can figure out what they need, want or feel or process in depth certain experiences they have had. That, for me, would be therapy, a coach without therapy training would probably call this Life Coaching (see Personal Work above).
This means for individual coaching, we are agreeing from the outset that, should we reach a moment in our work when it becomes apparent that the focus is not the focus anymore, that the client needs a different kind of support, more time, space or deeper work to explore and overcome certain obstacles in their way, then this would go beyond our original coaching agreement. We would then discuss either ending the coaching work and beginning therapy together, or for the client to see another therapist.
To sum it up
If I had to make a quick generalisation, I would summarise the difference between therapy and coaching like this:
In coaching work, there is a focus on an outcome outside the individuals personal growth and discovery, and if the work calls for the latter, then you have crossed into the realm of therapy, and you might working with a therapist.
In therapy work, the focus can be both on the individuals personal growth and discovery and