The distinctions between traditional therapy and coaching continued:
Let’s take a deeper look at the last of these distinctions.
- Limited versus Open:
How you generate new clients
Therapists who add coaching to their business quickly notice the lack of stigma attached to attracting new coaching clients. Most people don’t talk openly about the need to see a therapist, which makes it harder to create marketing efforts that are visible and relational. Identifying yourself as a professional coach in a social situation is much easier than stating you are a therapist. In contrast, it is much easier to build visible and supportive relationships with other professionals for referral to your coaching business, and it is also much easier to speak publicly and without stigma about what you do.
Transitioning from therapist to coach
Now that we’ve covered the major differences between therapy and coaching, let’s examine some of the many transferable skills good therapists (and other trained helpers) bring to the life coaching relationship.
If you have been trained as a therapist or counselor, much of what you have learned will serve you well as a life coach. Listening skills, reframing, positive regard for the client, note taking, and process skills are just a few of the transferable skills. Additionally, you know how to conduct intake interviews and discuss difficult issues with clients, and have probably heard such a variety of stories in therapy that you won’t be surprised by the issues that clients bring to coaching. If you are trained in solution-focused therapy, which uses a group of questions to focus the client’s attention and awareness on what works rather than what is broken, you already have a valuable set of tools you can transfer to life coaching.
When Deb Davis, a colleague, teaches workshops, she describes changing therapeutic assumptions to the coaching perspective as analogous to resetting the default buttons on a computer. Therapists have been trained to function from a certain operating system. As you transition into the coaching perspective and operate from coaching assumptions, you’ll need to reset the default buttons on your internal operating system so you can think and act like a coach rather than as a therapist. If you’ve ever traveled to a foreign country and had to adapt to driving on the other side of the road, you understand the necessary period of adjustment. You have all the basic skills but need to adjust the context in which you use them. With time, you acclimate to the new paradigm, and eventually it becomes second nature.
The coaching profession is still evolving, and we are continually developing increasing awareness of the distinctions and similarities between therapy and coaching. Therapists are learning that they have many transferable skills and appropriate preparation that serve them well as they transition from helping professionals to life coaches. However, the two relationships are also distinct in key ways, and some of the foundational assumptions that professionals have made as therapists are not appropriate in the life-coaching relationship. It is your obligation as a professional wanting to be a great life coach to recognize and modify or eliminate the assumptions and practices that may stand in the way of success for your coaching clients.
In summary, it is critical that therapists who transition to life coaching understand the distinctions between the two professions. It is equally important for people enrolled in coach-specific training to learn about these distinctions so they can stay in the coach role and not delve into therapy territory. Your previous training and experiences will dictate the extent to which you’ll need to alter your professional mindset in order to acquire the coaching perspective. •Dr. Patrick Williams