The National Council of Psychotherapists
COACHING – A NEW SKILL FOR THE MILLENNIUM OR THE LATEST THERAPY?
It is becoming difficult to read the newspapers or turn on the radio or television without hearing the term “coaching”. In the past 5 years there has been an explosion of coaching into our lives. There are Life Coaches, Business Coaches, Sports Coaches, Parenting Coaches, Image Coaches, Confidence Coaches, Teen Coaches and even Flirt Coaches!!
So what exactly is this fast growing phenomenon, how has it come about and is it threatening to replace the traditional helping professions and therapies?
Coaching has developed from several different streams:
You can trace its ancestry to consulting, organizational development and mentoring in the corporate world.
It has its roots firmly in sports coaching, too. Timothy Gallwey’s classic coaching book, “The Inner Game of Tennis” first identified the power of self-belief and mental rehearsal in achieving a desired outcome.
Coaching also owes its emergence to the world of personal development; the work of Anthony Robbins and others, which encourage the concept of taking personal action and responsibility for one’s life.
Psychological approaches throughout the last century, however, underpin the framework of coaching.
From the humanistic school of psychology and the work of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, coaching has adopted the approach of empathy and “unconditional positive regard” for the client, seeing the client as already “well and whole” and encouraging them to become everything they are capable of becoming.
Whilst Freud’s work concentrated on the “sick half of psychology”, his bequest to the world of coaching was his theory that driving influences in people’s lives are unconscious and that people repress thoughts and behaviours too uncomfortable to be stored in the conscious mind. Coaches help people unlock their potential and discover their brilliance and the obstacles to this often lie buried in the unconscious mind. A good coach will work with the Freudian symbolic thinking approach that every word a client speaks gives an insight into their unconscious processes.
Adler believed that every individual is the creator or artist of their life and he often worked with clients to set goals, plan their lives or design their future. Many of Adler’s approaches form the backbone of coaching today.
The work of Milton Erickson, his use of artfully vague language and his belief in the inherent ability of clients to achieve wellness, is one of the building blocks of coaching.
Needless to say, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) evolved from much of Ericksonian technique and distilled down the very best of many more traditional psychological theories. NLP approaches and techniques have become an intrinsic and integral part of any coach’s toolkit. Coaching embodies the NLP system of focussing on an outcome and the powerful use of language and incisive questioning by the coach to bring about lasting change for the client.
So what is coaching exactly and how does it work?
Coaching is a professional and confidential relationship, which helps clients reach their potential in their lives.
The coach’s role is to clarify and fully understand the client’s experience of the world through active, non-judgemental listening and precise questioning.
The coach believes the client has the creativity and resources within them to achieve what they want to.
The client sets the agenda at each coaching session and the coach focuses on the goals the client chooses. The coach encourages self-awareness and self-discovery in the client. Coaches look at where the client is now and where they want to be. Very often the gap between the two contains the client’s limiting beliefs or negative assumptions about themselves or the world in general. The coach uses a variety of tools, techniques and approaches to propose another reality for the client and provide a fresh perspective.
The coach works with the client to set their own goals and action plans and the coach encourages, supports and motivates the client to achieve them.
The coach sees how brilliant the client can be – and tells them!
Carl Rogers is reputed to have said that psychotherapy was like “buying a friend”. Having a coach is like having the best friend in the world – someone who believes in you more than you do, someone who is prepared to tell you the truth, someone who wants you to have the life of your dreams and is prepared to help you achieve it!
People come to coaching for a variety of different reasons, but mostly because they want something in their lives to change. They frequently require motivation to achieve particular goals – to get fit, find a partner, write a book or change career. Often they just want their lives to be more balanced and they have a sneaking feeling that there’s more “out there” for them. Other clients want more control – of money, time management, stress, anger, relationships.
Like traditional therapies, coaching is an exciting, wonderful and intricate set of skills that demands flexibility, creativity, enthusiasm, confidence, authenticity and honesty from the coach.
The differences between coaching and therapy are subtle but fundamental. Therapy traditionally focuses on fixing problems, where coaching creates new possibilities even when there is no “problem”. Therapy could be seen to be moving away from pain, where coaching is moving towards pleasure. In therapy there is focus on the past, whilst in coaching the focus is largely on the future. Therapists are often assumed to be “experts”, whereas a coaching relationship is more of an active partnership between two people.
Anyone working as a therapist will already have the essential skills of empathic listening, being non-judgemental, working with clear boundaries of confidentiality and ethics and providing fresh perspectives or “reframing” client’s experiences.
However, one of the main differences in approach is in the role and persona of the coach, who is more “present” in the relationship than a traditional therapist might be. The coach uses more personal experiences and appropriate self-disclosure, is more motivational and optimistic and exudes confidence and enthusiasm in the coaching process.
Is the divide between coaching and therapy clear enough or will clients with psychological problems turn to coaching in future? If you honour the client as the expert in their own life, then the answer to that question must be “no”.
People know themselves better than anyone else and there is a natural process of self-selection in coaching and therapy. Clients will find what they need for themselves. If they are in pain and need a diagnostic label, if they need “fixing”, they will seek out a therapist. If they are well and just want something more out of their lives, they will find a coach.
It is essential however, for coaches to be very clear about their boundaries and the limits of their own areas of competence and to know when and how to refer a client to a qualified therapist, if necessary.
With Coaching and Personal Development being the second fastest growing industry after IT, it is becoming increasingly necessary to establish some regulations and standards in the industry.
Several regulatory bodies have been formed in recent years but there is, as yet, no one umbrella organization and coaching still remains a largely unregulated profession. Coach training courses range from correspondence courses to weekend residential courses with home study through to University Masters Degree courses.
I have been more and more concerned that the profession of coaching may increasingly become tainted by the proliferation of “self-certified” coach training courses. The complete novice can pay a modest fee, attend a few days of training and received a certificate entitling them to claim to be a coach.
Two years ago, I opened negotiations with an English university that has led to the launch of what I believe is one of the UK’s first university certified Life and Business Coach Training Programmes, leading to the award of Post Graduate Certificate – with the option to go on to Masters and Doctorate.
This is my first small step to try to encourage the creation of a rigorous professional training programme and independent certification process.
Nine students commenced the first programme in September 2003 and finish the tutorial phase in late November 2003. NCP have approved the syllabus as reaching the qualification standard for Licentiate member and I intend to continue to work with NCP to progressively increase the standard of training for this qualification.
As I write, the course is, I believe, the most rigorous anywhere in the provision of University Certified Coaching Skills. It involves 12 tutorial days of typically 8 hours, followed by 3 coaching client phases, each of 9 hours. The syllabus includes three 4-day modules, with a total of 10 invited tutors, giving a wide cross section of coaching models and professional standards. This article acknowledges a number of the professional or psychological models that are taught on the course. There is an extensive reading list and the submission of a portfolio to the University under the latest government initiative, Learning Through Work. In my view, this is a good starting point that I hope, as we evolve the Masters and PhD Syllabuses, will progressively cascade highly trained coaches onto the market and set professional standards that others will want to accept and emulate. Full details of the programme are on www.ceogb.co.uk/barefoot.htm
I welcome comments, ideas and suggestions from anyone in NCP interested in this initiative.
Barefoot Life Coaching