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A few thoughts on therapy, counselling and coaching.

In reading more about coaching – I recently came across the following information from a Wordpress Blogsite of Tamara Monell (.com): “Some have asserted that life coaching amounts to little more than psychotherapy without restrictions, oversight, or regulation. The State legislatures of Colorado after holding a hearing on such concerns, disagreed, asserting that coaching is unlike therapy because it does not focus on examining nor diagnosing the past. Instead coaching focuses on effecting change in a client’s current and future behavior.”

Well – before commenting – another paragraph in the blog that refers to Wikepedia (not for scientific research when you’re formally studying!!!) states, ‘Life coaching has roots in executive coaching, which itself drew on techniques developed in management consulting and leadership training. Life coaching also draws inspiration from disciplines including sociology, psychology, positive adult development, career counseling, mentoring, and other types of counseling. The coach may believe that they apply mentoring, values assessment, behavior modification, behavior modeling, goal-setting, and other techniques in helping their clients.[wikipedia]’
What does that mean?

I’d like to add a few thoughts to this ongoing debate, as I understand things. I’ll leave the final verdicts up to the reader and the changes happening in the professions, across time.
Various psychologists I know have mentioned that it’s sad that ‘coaching’ has become such an attraction – when what it purports to do is what psychologists and counselors are uniquely trained and equipped to do. You will find that the coaching industry is in a state of flux – with no universal set of skills required in training programs. But to put you at ease - I don’t have a grudge against coaching! It’s definitely an emerging profession, which reflects the needs of the people of our rapidly changing society. I have personally benefited in my practice from some limited coaching by a friend who’s an executive business coach, and also from informal input from someone from a marketing and professional relations background.

I did notice the change in my expectations and the more fixed structure of the sessions, contributed to a very sharp focus on a specific problem area / focus area identified. In the beginning time was also spent in looking at some key events in my past and to how they have shaped my thinking and the road I found myself on. In a therapeutic relationship one expects more emotional vulnerability and to look at things in a certain way, would you agree? But if one takes psychological counselling with a more current and future orientation, one wonders if that would not also be hugely beneficial to some of the large group of people in our society who feel that they’re not dysfunctional enough to go for psychotherapy, and who go for coaching? Of course the goals and nature of whatever difficulty or challenge they face, will (should) also influence their decision.

Core competencies and – ethics for coaching that I did find on the web (not linked to all groups / companies), reveal that it falls within the parameters of those for counsellors (as a profession within the psychological field) and psychologists. But psychological counsellors and therapists undergo far more intense training and years of practical skills training as a helping profession. Except if they work form perhaps a psychoanalytic framework, for example, psychological counsellors and psychologists very often (or even often exclusively) use cognitive-, behavioural-, reality-, systems – or family – therapy, etc. with a focus on the present and future. Dealing with the past is also often more instrumental in unblocking the doors to the future, than what it is a main focus.

In South-Africa, psychological counselling is a new and emerging profession, with the scope of practice aimed at helping relatively normal and healthy people to deal with everyday problems and crisis’ that hinder them from moving forward. Their work should also help people as issues arise, and prevent more serious psychopathology from developing. It is identified as primary or preventative psycho-social interventions. If clients are found to have more serious psychological problems, they should be referred to psychologists who are also trained to effect personally changes, etc.

The statements of Gledeana McMahon, head of the coaching for theFiarplace consultancy; "Counselling is about engaging with people who are disturbed or have a clinical condition” “The coachee population however, is made up of ordinary people who might be unhappy, but this unhappiness should not get in the way of the coaching process."; thus do not reflect the full truth of what psychological counsellors and various psychologists do. Even psychologists – especially counselling-, educational- and industrial psychologists work with a very large number of people who can be described as ‘ordinary unhappy people’ or people without clinical conditions. And even clinical psychologists trained to deal with disturbed populations are often found in private practice (seeing a variety of clients) and not only at mental institutions.

Michael Neenan (from the Rational Emotive & Behavioural Therapy centre in London) addresses the expansion from cognitive behavioural therapy to cognitive behavioural coaching within educational and corporate settings. He quotes an earlier article of himself and Dryden in 2002, and calls cognitive behavioural coaching ‘a twin tract approach to goal achievement: the psychological and the practical.
The psychological track helps to remove the stumbling blocks to change such as procrastination, excessive self-doubt, indecisiveness, self-depreciation while the practical track assists clients to develop an orderly sequence of goal-directed action steps (sometimes clients articulate clear and exciting goals but are vague about the steps that are required to get them there).’

Neenan believes that both the practical and psychological is of equal importance, and warns that coaches from a psychological background should not neglect the practical in digging too deep into psychological issues.
He concludes his article by saying: ‘CBC is a powerful way to help clients reach their potential by its focus on both the psychological and practical aspects of goal-achievement. Clients can learn that many obstacles to change are psychologically constructed rather than stand as immutable facts and thereby open up new perspectives which will help them to pursue a more fulfilling life.’ (The skills used to deal with these psychologically constructed obstacles are found in cognitive therapy, applied to the coaching environment)

Looking at smorgasbord of coaching opportunities – it becomes clear that two people going for coaching may have completely diverse experiences of the process. Yet we must not forget that the same can be said of visiting a psychologist or counsellor. Their approaches vary based on their training as clinical, counselling or educational psychologists for instance, or as psychological counsellors. Receiving art therapy from someone who has done it as an additional training module, will for instance also not be the same as going to someone who’s studied it in depth as a selective route of therapy over a few years (not currently offered in SA). Therapists also differ in terms of the approach they use, which reflects a way of thinking about problems – their origin and resolution, which may differ from the way of thinking about these issues in other approaches. Spiritual counsellors are also a much more diverse group (as coaching) depending on their theology, training and life experiences (their training varies widely and I encourage you to ask).

What is maybe not always as clear – is the worldview that a psychological counsellor / therapist especially, come from. It is more acknowledged today that it is very difficult to be completely objective and to not take ‘ourselves’ into sessions. Ongoing supervision and skills in dealing with transference and counter-transference help psychologists deal with the problem. This should enable a psychological counsellor or therapist to remain more objective and allow a client to develop and grow in a way that may be different from his / her own path of growth.

I noticed that many coaching programs and perspectives employ a spiritual approach, which I am not comfortable with. At the same time, some forms of therapy available in the psychological field, have also been birthed in spiritual approaches or incorporates spirituality in a way, I also cannot identify with. It is important that coachee’s and counselees, and therapy clients know that they have the freedom to have their own views and make different choices.

In closing one can just answer then – that a large number of therapists also focus on effecting change in a client’s current and future behaviour. (Also – as the past is resolved, there is a natural move towards dealing with the present and looking to improve the future). And it’s worthwhile knowing that a lot of skills that make them very effective in doing that, i.e. cognitive behavioural therapy, are most often not shared by the average coach. The debate will continue as the professions shift and grow, each in their own unique way. At the end we all have to decide what it is that we need to live our lives to the full, and to reach the various life -, relational -, spiritual and occupational goals we have.

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