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I had some coaching last night from a coach I have a lot of respect for and trust in. We got to talking about the place for therapeutic thinking, knowledge and expertise in the coaching field. The two roles, therapist and coach remain distinct but there is crossover. Knowledge and experience in both realms enables deep and safe work to happen.

Psychotherapy can be a scary term for people who are not looking for it. The term can have some frightening connotations. There is a misconception that it could be ‘done’ to you. This is not true, it is impossible to ‘psychotherapise’ anyone who is not willing and desirous of exploring the more hidden, difficult parts of themselves. The therapeutic approach concerns itself, on the whole, with the reparative effects of healthy relationships. It’s based on medical ethics and, depending on the approach, might focus on past events and the influence they have on present behaviour. A coaching relationship is something else, it fosters individual performance within a coaching context and has a future-focused approach to helping executives forge their own path, enhancing their individual strengths.

There is, however, crossover. Within both relationships – coaching and therapeutic, trust is the key to success. There must be a good relational dynamic between both individuals in order for there to be results. Coaches and therapists alike are paid to ask the right but often difficult questions. To tackle challenges faced at work and at home. To focus on individual behavior change and explore subjective experience.

Where psychotherapy can get caught in the past, in existential questioning and deep introspection, coaching can run the risk of leaping into advancing forward motion without taking into account the depth of work that needs to happen in order for true and lasting behaviour and outlook change. There are places where these two approaches meet but I think there is space for the crossover to reach further. There are definitely advantages to having feet in both camps. The solution focused energy and dynamism that coaching incorporates is vital to the speed with which a coachee wants to see results. The therapeutic ability to hold, pace and grade the work to ensure it has impact but is still safe, and not acting as a trigger to old and painful experiences, allows the coaching work to go further and last longer. Within the coaching framework it is likely that aspects of non-work related issues will arise.

It’s rare that companies hire business coaches to address non-work issues (only 3% of coaches said they were hired primarily to attend to such matters), yet more than three-quarters of coaches report having gotten into personal territory at some time. In part this reflects the extensive experience of the coaches in this survey (only 10% had five years or less experience). It also underscores the fact that for most executives, work and life issues cannot be kept entirely separate.

David B. Peterson

Harvard Business Review

With a foundation of psychotherapeutic knowledge a coach will be best placed to sensitively address these issues and their impact on the work related challenges.

I worked for 10 years in business as a consultant, focusing mainly on employee engagement and communication. Within those relationships with clients there was often coaching as part of that dynamic, to a greater or lesser degree. Working with leaders to understand their presence and impact and how their actions and behaviour impacted on those around them. Enabling leaders to best communicate their messages to many with clarity of intention. Where the consultant role differed from that of a coach or therapist is in the expectation. A consultant is paid to provide answers. To come up with the ideas, to ‘bring the creativity’ often in my case. My interest always lay more with what was possible from the people I worked with, their ideas, their instinct, their creativity and I began to explore ways of working to unlock those rather than provide solutions that may never truly fit the bill as they are not authentically coming from that leader and their perspective of their organisation.

Consulting crosses borders with coaching in a few areas. It is most often paid for by the organisation and will meet the goal setting or objectives of the organisation (unless conducted as a private engagement by the individual).

I am privileged to have worked extensively in these three fields – and a number of other fields (see ‘Fields I Have Worked In’ blog post) and am able to have a wide perspective of the benefits of these three distinct but complementary approaches to addressing business challenges. Through my work, I observe, explore and when the client is willing, press gently at these boundary edges to see where extraordinary transformational work can happen.