The distinctions between traditional therapy and coaching continued:
Let’s take a deeper look at the third of these distinctions.
- Professional versus Collegial:
Characteristics of the helper-client relationship
The coaching relationship is egalitarian, collegial, and balanced, and has the flavor of an active partnership. Life coaches assume that clients hold the necessary knowledge and the solutions; the coach simply helps unlock their wisdom. Consider this dialogic difference between therapy and coaching clients.
Therapy client: “I just don’t know what’s the matter with me — I’m so depressed.”
Coaching client: “I’m not sure where to go next; I want to have more time with my family, but I’m just not sure how to make it work and keep this job.”
Coaching clients often know where they want to go; coaches help them clarify goals and see their way more clearly. There is not a power differential per se in coaching. Good coaches make a conscious effort to keep the relationship balanced.
If you were to observe a coaching session, you would see that it is typically very open — often friendly, casual, and light. Life coaches laugh with their clients and, when appropriate, may even joke or gently
tease. With caution, life coaches may feel comfortable sharing personal experiences that are pertinent to what the client is experiencing. Clients and coaches feel as though they know each other on a deeper level than may be the case in many other professional relationships, and many coaching clients report that they appreciate that openness.
At the same time, coaches are professionals and should act accordingly. The International Coach Federation’s Code of Ethics delineates the high standards of professional behavior appropriate to
the practice of life coaching. The collegial nature of the relationship between coach and client in no way lessens the importance of abiding by ethical and professional guidelines.