People often want to know what the difference between coaching and therapy is. First of all, coaching is not amateur therapy.
In fact, millions of people have felt frustrated with therapy because they were actually looking for coaching. Let me explain the difference: Therapy, as defined by The International Coaching Federation (ICF), is “Delving into the emotional past” while coaching is defined as “A creative and thought-provoking process designed to inspire people to maximize their potential” (ICF).
Here’s how I think about this: If you look at “The Happiness Curve” you will see that people can be anywhere on the spectrum of happiness from -10 (suffering) to +10 (thriving).
In the middle is the average person who is a Zero (0) – they are neither suffering or thriving – they are surviving. You ask them “How are you?” they will say “I’m fine.” This is the vast majority of people: they hover between -3 to +3 with an average of 0 their whole lives.
Therapy, rooted in Clinical Psychology: The Study of Mental Dysfunction, is designed to remove the negatives: negative thinking, negative relationships, negative behaviors, negative emotions. Therapy, which implies you are fixing something, is about fixing what is broken. Therapists are trained in the tools we have learned over the past 100 years of studying the -10’s and we have learned how to help them move back to “normal” which is actually 0. Surviving like most people.
Here’s a little history lesson: In the mid 1990’s psychologists led by APA President Dr. Martin Seligman said that we know a lot about dysfunction and misery and how to remove those but we know almost nothing about human thriving and happiness. They just had not studied happiness until that point in any significant way.
Remember, just because I am no longer miserable (-10) does not mean that I am thriving (+10), it just means that I am “normal” which is actually just surviving (0). So for a decade, psychologists studied the +10’s, people that were thriving emotionally, physically and relationally. (Some were wealthy, many were not. It turns out, money only really matters for happiness when we don’t have our basic needs met. There are a lot more unhappy wealthy people out there than happy wealthy people. More on this in another post.)
So these psychologists started studying happy people and a new branch of psychology was born: Positive Psychology – The Study of Thriving. Then these psychologists started applying what they learned to their clients and another field was born: Coaching or Applied Positive Psychology. So in a nutshell, therapy is about helping people remove the negatives, while coaching is about helping people add the positives. Both are valuable for the right person at the right time, At the same time, here lies the frustration of most people who go to therapy who are “Normal But Not Happy” (NBNH, I just made that up): they need to add the positives to their lives but the therapist is not trained in doing that! Most therapists have not had even one class on coaching or positive psychology in their entire training! Shocking, right? So what do they do? They keep trying to “fix” the client by digging up childhood or by “fixing” their distorted negative thinking. But these clients don’t need that. In fact,this all makes them feel worse! They need coaching: Someone to help them identify the positives and add them to their lives. Someone to help them figure out what they really want in their lives. To figure out what their dreams are and start making them happen! That’s what coaching is all about.
Have questions about this? Reach out and give us a call, we are always happy to speak to our aspiring coaches!
In the meantime: Here is a video about this!