What Coaching Is and What it Is NOT

Perhaps you’ve read the blog posts, “What is Coaching?” and “What is Whole Person Coaching?”  They both talk about what coaching is.  Here, we’ll talk about what coaching is NOT.

Before I hired my own coach in 2012, I really didn’t know what coaching entailed.  All I knew is that I couldn’t work out an issue by myself and I thought hiring a coach might help.  At that point, I felt in over my head.  I needed to process different solutions with someone not attached to the outcome.  What I didn’t really know was the difference between coaching and consulting.  After explaining the issue, my coach asked me, “Do you want me to put on my coaching or consulting hat?”  She offered both in her business.

I didn’t want to seem dumb, like I didn’t know the difference (I really didn’t), so I immediately said, “Tell me what to do.”  What I didn’t understand is that my approach to a complex issue could be completely different than someone else’s.  Something that may feel authentic to me, may not work for another.  So even though I wanted her to tell me what to do, she artfully explained the difference.  I quickly realized that I needed to come to a solution that felt right to me.  Needless to say, she coached me through this issue.  Had I hired her as a consultant, the process would have looked differently.

Coaching is not consulting

While consulting approaches can vary widely, it is often assumed that the consultant or expert diagnoses problems, then prescribes.  Sometimes they even implement solutions. These experts typically offer a tested and proven process that is unique and special in its application. The role of the expert is to help an individual see things from the expert’s frame of reference.  They want to analyze knowledge and skills in order to assess, suggest, diagnose, prescribe, or solve a problem for an individual or system.

It is not therapy

According to the ICF, coaching can be distinguished from therapy in a number of ways. First, coaching is a profession that supports personal and professional growth and development.  This process is based on individual-initiated change in pursuit of specific actionable outcomes. These outcomes are linked to personal or professional success.

Coaching is forward-moving and future-focused.  Therapy, on the other hand, deals with healing pain, dysfunction and conflict within an individual or within a relationship between two or more individuals. The focus is often on resolving difficulties arising from the past that hamper an individual’s emotional functioning in the present. Such resolutions should improve overall psychological functioning and allow the individual to deal with present life and work circumstances in more emotionally healthy ways. Therapy outcomes often include improved feeling/emotional states. (ICF)

While positive feelings/emotions may be a natural outcome of coaching, the primary focus is on creating actionable strategies for achieving specific goals in one’s work or personal life. The emphasis in the coaching relationship is on action, accountability, and follow-through.

By nature, healers/therapists and coaches both provide a safe and confidential space for individuals to explore who they are and what appears to be getting in the way of fully participating in life. The healer/therapist works with the client using a diagnostic framework to identify challenges, whereas the coach motivates the client to view and diagnose their life though their own lens.

Coaches are Trained to Refer

As coaches, we are trained to refer a client to a mental health provider when several indicators are present in their client.  Presence of one or more of these indicators in and of itself doesn’t necessarily warrant a referral immediately (unless it’s thoughts of hurting themselves or others).  However, when the client doesn’t appear to be a whole, competent, and capable person, the coach considers that it might be time to refer to a mental health provider.

Indicators for Referral

Some of the indicators are as follows: Is exhibiting a decline in his/her ability to experience pleasure and/or an increase in being sad, hopeless and helpless; Has intrusive thoughts or is unable to concentrate or focus; Is unable to get to sleep or awakens during the night and is unable to get back to sleep or sleeps excessively; Has a change in appetite: decrease in appetite or increase in appetite; Is feeling guilty because others have suffered or died; Has feelings of despair or hopelessness; Is being hyper alert and/or excessively tired; Has increased irritability or outbursts of anger; Has impulsive and risk-taking behavior; Has thoughts of death and/or suicide (Prepared by: Lynn F. Meinke, MA, RN, CLC, CSLC Life Coach).

My hope is that this distinction and explanation helps you in making informed choices about what kind of service can help you.  If you are a leader and ready for one on one professional coaching, I’d love to chat.  Contact me here.

Paula Chapulis is a Whole Person Certified Leadership Coach.