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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Is coaching or therapy better? (Wise Wednesdays)

It depends what you’re trying to do...

Of course, I’m biased towards coaching but I have done therapy (group and individual) and found it helpful as part of my personal journey and realising my career and personal aspirations. A spectrum of practice exists in therapy, from the purely psychoanalytic to the behavioural and some of it overlaps with coaching. The practice of therapy stems from Freud’s (re)discovery of the unconscious and his observation that the motivation behind our consciously stated intentions is dwarfed by and often in conflict with powerful instincts. However, Freud acknowledged that the best that therapy could do with the neuroses he was treating is to return people to a common variety of unhappiness! And this is where the coaching approach comes in. Coaching aims to take individuals from an ordinary level of dissatisfaction with some aspect of their lives to an extraordinary experience of creativity and flow where what seemed previously impossible, becomes possible. What are the differences between coaching and therapy? Many types of therapy and coaching exist with a degree of overlap. This article deals with the essence of therapy and of coaching rather than the detail. Coaching is future-focused whereas therapy is past-focused:

  • Coaching aims to identify the vision or dream that is dormant or partially formed within a person and help them to align their thoughts, emotions and actions with this inspired vision – creating the experience of flow. Of course, this vision needs to be feasible yet a stretch beyond the person’s comfort zone (otherwise, it wouldn’t be a dream)! In essence, coaching is about bringing the latent future that is trying to emerge through the client into focus, and supporting the client to realise that future by overcoming resistance and nurturing the courage to take bold action.

  • Therapy focuses on clarifying the narratives formed in the past (childhood or later experiences) that inform (subconsciously) the behaviours and emotional states that the client finds distressing. It also provides a safe space to release accumulated trauma or negative emotion. By bringing to consciousness the forgotten roots of these behaviours and emotions, including through their re-enactment in the dynamic with the therapist, and integrating them into conscious experience, the client is able to recover a sense of calm and agency.

Coaching helps clients reach goals that matter to them; therapy fixes problems.

  • Coaching, as mentioned above, helps to lay down a pathway towards an inspiring vision that the client has for their lives or an area of it. In the corporate sector, this might be a vision for the organisation. The coaching process may help the client to grow into a new identity or way of being (e.g. of leadership) that supports the realisation of their goals. As the client begins to see results, their confidence grows and the next goal or milestone emerges.

  • Therapy aims to treat dysfunctional thoughts or behaviours that disturb the client or that they know affect people around them. It addresses the large proportion of mental functioning that is unconscious/subconscious yet has immense influence on how we conduct our lives and relationships. Therapy devotes itself to exploring these inner-psychic constructs and conflicts in detail, bringing them to the light of awareness to reduce inner-conflict and tension.

Nature of the relationship: Creative partnership versus therapeutic consultation

  • Coaching is a commercial service where the coach and client form a partnership that serves the clients goals and aspirations. The client is seen as resourceful and as capable of finding the right answers for their lives with support – the coach also helps them to uncover their inner-wisdom and courage.

  • Therapy is a therapeutic service and therefore regulated. In therapy, the client is the recipient of expert advice and subject to the clinical judgment of the therapist. The client is a patient deemed to be in a vulnerable position and protected by a strict code of practice.

Outcomes and timelines:

  • Coaching is very much goal focused in other words it is centred around the desire to create something in life. Progress can be measured although goals can change as the client evolves their vision and desire. A reasonable arc of change is 6-12 months.

  • Therapy can be open-ended with no clear cut off other than that dictated by the client or an arbitrary timeline. Brief intervention therapy, for example in family crises, is more time-bound and guided by an outcome in the way coaching might be.

How should you choose?

Many therapists are starting to complement their practice with coaching or switch to it completely. This is because coaching integrates the wealth of psychological understanding that has emerged over the 20th Century as well as scientific findings from neurology to computer science. The most advanced coaching integrates deep spiritual themes and the exploration of the collective experience of globalisation. It is also informed by positive psychology and human potential psychology (Maslow) which contend that psychology should support the flourishing of life and human beings and not just the treatment of disease.

This gives coaching an edge over therapy which is still very much built on a fascination with the subconscious and psychosocial problems of the industrial age and modalities that do not make use of our broader understanding of the human experience. If you are in distress, then you need to seek professional, therapeutic help. Otherwise, the final choice depends on where you find oneself on the journey:

  1. If you feel that you need to release a lot of negative emotion or make sense of your past; therapy would be suitable. It is worth doing some research and trying out different forms to find the one that suits you best including whether you would prefer group or one-to-one therapy.

  1. If you are feeling inspired but frustrated at your ability to make your dreams happen or would like them to happen faster, coaching is the approach to go for.

I hope this helps. If you have any comments or queries email me! Until next week. Amina Sign up for more Wise Wednesdays coaching support direct to your inbox, here. p.s. Please, come and find out + try some coaching at the Royal Society of Arts event. We will launch the RSA Coaching Network and get the chance to meet. Book a FREE ticket here. p.p.s The Wise Wednesdays Facebook group has the privilege of including a growing but still intimate number of extraordinary people. Please, join in if you feel the spirit! It's a space to share and discuss anything that is coming up for you around Wise Wednesdays

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