There are many times in our life where we may feel blocked in moving forward, perhaps even disillusioned. We may turn to our friends and family in hopes they can steer us in the right direction, only to feel more confused. Alternatively, we may feel we want to keep our challenges entirely to ourselves. Perhaps we might be inclined to read books to help us develop insight, or we might explore seeing a personal/executive coach or a psychotherapist.
No matter what path we take, it is helpful to know the difference between the profession of coaching and the profession of psychotherapy so you can decide which professional to access. There are many similarities between these two professions. At present, the most significant distinction is the type of training and legislative bodies. To make things confusing, many psychotherapists also work as coaches, and, some coaches, perhaps unknowingly function like therapists. Neither profession ought to provide you with advice. Our primary role is to facilitate you in coming to your thoughts, decisions, and direction that is entirely about your growth and learning. The Psychotherapist utilizes specialized therapeutic techniques to treat mental illness or thought distortions. The Coach has a different set of strategies to access and shift thought patterns that are limiting. Both professions, serve to help develop the individual’s insight. Of utmost importance is that you feel a sense of understanding from whomever you work with, you have a good rapport with them, there are clear boundaries in their role, and you feel they have knowledge and expertise to work with the issues you are experiencing.
When you read online about the differences between these two professions, you will find many attempts to distinguish them — some saying that therapy is past driven and coaching future-oriented. While this may be an accurate statement about coaching, it is false about therapy. Often clinicians focus on the present and future and only bring in the past if it presents as necessary in assisting the individual in moving forward. One important caution, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, its a duck! So in other words, psychotherapists have a regulating body in Canada such that no one is to speak like a psychotherapist or walk like a psychotherapist unless they are registered with one of the regulating bodies that sanction psychotherapy. Regulating bodies, in general, are for the protection of the public. Coaching has a federation with some hoops to jump, but there is no college of protection. Thus anyone can say they are a coach, whether they have the training or not. Now, this is not to say that there are not some fantastic coaches out there with no formal training, there are! What all this is to say, is make your first session with a therapist or coach, an assessment of them! Get a good understanding of their training. Get a firm sense that they know how to work with your challenges. Understand their previous work experience. If your therapist or coach is relatively new to the profession, make sure they are in supervision. Even an experienced coach or therapist ought to be in supervision. Humans are complex, and the helping fields require a particular finesse and knowledge to know how to help people objectively.
Written by: Jennifer Brighton, Msw, Rsw, Ph.D. (c), Founder & Clinical Director of Exhale Academy for Healing & Personal Development
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