Coaching vs Therapy


Coaching vs Therapy

The term “coaching” is being used more and more these days as a substitute for “therapy.” Somewhere along the line, “therapy” has become a dirty word. But there is a distinction between coaching, as the term was originally defined, and the way it is sometimes being used these days.

The profession of Coaching was almost single handedly created around 1992 by the late Thomas Leonard. I met Thomas in 1993 when we were both presenting at a conference. I was bowled over by his vision of what coaching was all about and signed up then and there for coaching training from him.

Here, in his own words, are how Thomas Leonard answered some commonly asked questions:

What is coaching?

Coaching is a new profession. Coaches:

  • Help people set better goals and then reach those goals.
  • Ask their clients to do more than they would have done on their own.
  • Help their client to focus better so as to produce results more quickly.
  • Provide clients with the tools, support and structure to accomplish more.

“My clients get focused and producing faster because they have a coach.”

How is coaching different from consulting? Therapy? Sports coaching? A best friend?

Consulting. Consulting. Coaching is rather like consulting. However, the coach stays with the client to help implement the new skills, changes and goals, to make sure that they really happen.

Therapy. Coaching is not therapy. Coaches don’t work on “issues” or get into the past or deal much with understanding human behavior. That knowledge may come as clients move forward toward personal and professional goals that will give them the life they really want, but it should not be the focus of a coaching relationship.

Sports. Coaching includes several principles from sports coaching, like teamwork, going for the goal, being your best. Unlike sports coaching, most professional coaching is not competition or win/lose based. Coaches focus on strengthening their clients’ skills, not on helping them beat the other team. Coaches look for win/win solutions.

Best friend. A best friend is wonderful to have. But is your best friend a professional who you will trust to work with you on the most important aspects of your life and/or business? Have both – a best friend and a coach.

Thus spake Thomas.

Terms have gotten a bit loose in the NLP world because many practitioners want to distance themselves from traditional talk therapy. There are many good reasons for this, of course. NLP is very very different from traditional therapy. In fact, properly speaking, NLP isn’t therapy at all – its the study of the structure of subjective experience. But many of the applications of that have resulted in therapeutic techniques – like the phobia cure as just one example. So it sure looks, sounds, and acts like therapy to many people. This has many in the NLP community (or its off-shoots like Tony Robbins) using the term “coaching” to describe what they do even when “therapy” would be actually be more accurate.

It’s a conundrum because the implicit suggestion in the idea of “getting therapy” is that the client needs to get fixed and the therapist is the one to fix them. “Coaching,” by contrast, suggests that the responsibility for change is on the client, not the practitioner. That is, in many ways, a healthier paradigm.

So I offer two services: Coaching and Private Sessions in NLP and Hypnosis. I do avoid the term therapy whenever possible but make every effort to keep the distinctions clear between the two activities. Coaching is done almost entirely on the phone. I’ve never even met several of my Coaching clients. Coaching is done over time – usually several months – as an ongoing, consistent process. Private sessions are done in person unless that’s just physically impossible or impractical. Then the phone or computer conferencing are used. Private sessions are results oriented… we make the change in as short a period of time as possible and appropriate and then we’re done. In both situations I emphasize that I am helping THEM to change. Change always comes from within, even when the catalyst to change comes from an outside source.

About Doug O'Brien

Doug O’Brien is a Master Practitioner and Trainer of NLP, and a Certified Hypnotherapist. In 1988, while assisting at NLP and NAC training seminars with Anthony Robbins, Doug achieved the designation of Master Trainer. He now conducts numerous seminars of his own around the globe (specializing in the “Sleight of Mouth” patterns of Robert Dilts, NLP Certification Courses, and Ericksonian Hypnotherapy) and helped found Columbia-Presbyterian’s Department of Complementary Medicine with Dr. Mehmet Oz.

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