Therapy and coaching: how to choose when you need both?
In recent years many articles have been written on the fast-closing gap between therapy and coaching as both practitioners and clients have realised what each can offer the other. The aim of this article is to help anyone wanting a combined therapy and coaching approach to make an informed decision about the practitioner they choose. Clearly it is important to consider the qualifications and experience of a practitioner, however, I want to delve a little further.
One definition of coaching I work with is that coaching means ‘to challenge.’ In other words a coaching conversation that isn’t a challenging conversation isn’t coaching. There are few if any coaches who don’t market themselves using terms like challenge, stretch, be more and do more.
So, a person might seek coaching because to make progress in life they recognise the need to challenge and stretch themselves, and yet what if that person is depressed or anxious as coaching clients increasingly are? There is a paradox here. Often someone is depressed, say, precisely because life is challenging – too challenging. They are caught in a bind of being unable to challenge themselves to move on while recognising that this is exactly what they need to do. It is important therefore for someone seeking a combined approach to ask a practitioner how they will use both therapy and coaching to deal with the paradox of challenge.
Another useful definition I came across in my coaching training was one for a coaching client or ‘coachee’. This defines a coachee as someone who can ‘emotionally self-regulate.’ If someone is experiencing significant emotional distress this doesn’t mean that only therapy is appropriate. What potentially makes someone suitable for a combined approach is that despite their emotional distress they are able to contain it to a reasonable degree. If they can then it is likely that they will also be able to challenge themselves to set and achieve goals or deal with setbacks – two common components of the coaching process. If someone is such a coachee it will be worth them asking a practitioner how they work with significant emotional distress while ensuring coaching is part of what they offer you.
If someone is initially unable to emotionally self-regulate and meet the demands of a coaching approach, an effective therapist/coach practitioner should be able to explain how they can work therapeutically with someone to get them to a point when a combined approach is suitable.
Offering a combined approach the ratio of therapy and coaching often changes in order to meet the varying need of clients. In some sessions it will be completely appropriate to only provide therapy e.g. if someone’s distress is severe, while in others a purely coaching approach will be suitable e.g. when they have demonstrated goal achievement or responded positively to setbacks. One good indicator that a combined approach is right for someone is that as time progresses the ratio changes to favour coaching. When this doesn’t happen then it can indicate that someone is unable to meet the demands of coaching.
Clients can also ask a therapist/coach practitioner how they will make provision in their contract with them for when to switch to therapy only if their circumstances necessitate this, and then when to switch back to a combined approach.
Clearly there are many more aspects to consider, but that is beyond the scope of this short article. However, I hope that anyone considering a combined approach is now more informed.
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About Mark Evans
I work as a therapist and coach in business, higher education and private practice. I am interested in how people change even in the most difficult of circumstances.