Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Is coaching just another word for therapy?

I recently attended a workshop where the leader (an internationally acclaimed psychologist) often applied research on therapy to the practice of coaching. For instance, if it is true that therapy should be evaluated after 3 sessions and declines dramatically in effectiveness after 10 sessions, then that same metric will be true of coaching. The implication is that coaching, like therapy, is about returning people to a condition where they are capable of managing their lives without assistance.

Is that what coaching does?  It's certainly true that coaching is often about solving problems and good coaches often enjoy solving a problem quickly and effectively.  However, from another point of view, if coaches wanted to solve problems they should a) solve their own and b) stop hanging out with top performers who also like solving problems. It may be true that elite athletes, actors and musicians require coaching throughout their careers because they are somehow constitutionally incapable of solving their problems without a little outside help. Does that seem true to you?

Have you ever tried to give yourself a satisfying massage? Knots in your muscles is a pretty basic problem. How is working on yourself different from going to an RMT and allowing them to work on your muscles?

Coaching is like massage.  It has a rep for being soothing, relaxing, a little bit of a luxury.  When you really get value from it, however, it doesn't feel like that at all. When my back is in knots, massage hurts. It hurts while the RMT is working, and it sometimes hurts while all the muscles adjust to the restored blood flow.  When I need a coach, I can go into a session feeling great and come out feeling a little beat up, a little like my body is adjusting to restored blood flow.

I assume that there will never be a time when I will not want to improve, to find the edge of my competence and move it out, to grow towards the light. And that means that there will never be a time when I will not value the perspective and the push that comes from someone who knows how to observe my thinking, find the spots that are too tight, and loosen it up a little to let in new energy and resourcefulness. As long as I am serious about getting better, I will value a coach who is committed to knowing something I do not know about myself and using that perspective to move my edges.

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