Do I need therapy, or life coaching?
Our minds tend to think in little boxes. It helps us simplify and make sense of the world. While you were still in nappies, your mom would point to pictures, and have you mouth after her:
‘Is this animal a cat, or a dog?’
‘Is this colour blue, or red?’
‘Have you been a good, or a bad boy?’
As you aged, though, life was painted with more nuanced hues, and soon you were surrounded by terrier–spaniel crossbreeds, mauve-coloured walls and relatively justifiable morals. Making sense of these complexities, requires some consideration and time; whether you are choosing your lunch, or looking for help.
Addictions, Anger Management, Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Divorce, Eating Disorders, Grief & Loss, PTSD, OCD, Social Anxiety.
These are some of the common topics covered in therapy. Broadly speaking, you would go for therapy when you need treatment of a mental or psychological condition. Therapy or counseling provides a healing space, to get you from a state of emotional distress or un-health, to a more healthy, normal state. Whether it is healing from emotional wounds (eg. bullying), recovering from a traumatic event (eg. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or to get better control of your emotions (eg. Anger Management).
To do this, therapists tend to ask questions about your current reality, and might enquire in your past: family dynamics, previous relationships or past hurts. In some types of therapy, we would go back to the past, revisit past injuries, find healing for them and return to the present.
To use the kindergarten analogy: people would go to a therapist when their heart is feeling ‘sick’. The therapist helps their heart to feel ‘better again’.
Coaching, on the other hand, tends to come into play when you are emotionally healthy. While therapy facilitates movement from un-health to health, the life-coach facilitates movement from ‘healthy’ to ‘optimal’.
Where therapy tends to go to the past to find healing for previous hurts, coaching tends to look to the future, exploring new possibilities and unattained goals.
For the kids: People go to a coach when their heart is feeling ‘strong’. The coach helps them to use this ‘strong heart’ to reach their goals.
The grey area
But none of us are kids anymore, and our hearts can feel ‘strong’ and ‘sick’ at the same time. You may have suffered a break-up that wounded you emotionally and be excited about your work-promotion and be devastated about the state of the economy. Life has just gone from black and white to metallic turquoise.
In reality, progressive coaches and therapists do not work as narrowly as the above descriptions define. A coach can work with anger-management, and a therapist can help you get your next promotion. In my opinion, good coaches and therapists extend their boundaries of practice to work within the client’s needs, while being mindful when to refer to another professional.
I have, for instance, conducted coaching sessions where the client felt very vulnerable. The goal for our session was for her to process her emotions. I used tools from Gestalt-therapy, and helped her name and understand her experience. After we did this, we were again able to focus on her business-goals in the next session. If I hadn’t had this level of flexibility, she would not have been able to think clearly about her work in the following sessions.
Separate the woods from the trees
So, to help you decide which route to go first, here are 5 questions that might clarify the most appropriate avenue to meet your particular need:
1. On a scale of 0 to 10, how able-bodied to you feel?
If we were to compare your emotional and mental wellness with physical wellness, where would you plot yourself? With zero being the mental equivalent of bed-ridden, and 10 being the mental equivalent of running 5km? If your answer is between 0 and 4, therapy maybe the best option. if, on the other hand, your answer is between 7 and 10, coaching might be the best route.
Numbers between 4 and 7 would potentially benefit from either coaching or therapy, and my advice would be to find the kind of professional that you feel you can trust. It is the responsibility of the coach and therapist to refer you if they are not able to meet your needs.
2. Which do you need more right now: a safe space, or a positive challenge?
If you’ve ever sprained your ankle, you’ll know that we use the R.I.C.E protocol for the first stage of healing: Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate. The emotional equivalent of this, is therapy: it’s an environment where the therapist offers you a ‘resting’ space to work through the pain, and fully recover.
Once the swelling has gone down, though, we enter into the grey area: you need to move your ankle just enough to get stronger, but not so much that you re-injure it. The pain may be manageable, but you still need crutches.
This part of the process can be managed by either the therapist or the coach, and is often managed by both. I have seen a few clients who has been in therapy for a while, and then saw me for coaching. The therapist would work on healing and recovery in one area, while I help the client strengthen and plan their future in another.
3. Do you feel stuck with your coach?
I’ve worked with several clients on typical coaching topics, such as new business ventures or time-management. After a few weeks, though, they hit a ceiling, and find they can’t seem to move past a certain issue.
If you find yourself spiraling the same issue, and not able to break through, it may be an unconscious wound or previous hurt that prevents you from moving forward. Discussing this with your coach could be helpful, and it could be resolved in coaching. However, it may also be a good idea to see a therapist, and explore whether this block might be an unresolved – and often unconscious – emotional injury.
4. Do you feel frustrated with your therapist?
On the other hand, I’ve had clients sign up for coaching after therapy. Comments would often be along the lines of: “the therapist just keeps asking questions. I’m not moving anywhere.” or “I’ve been in therapy for 3 months. Initially it was really helpful, but now it just seems like I’m sharing about how my week goes. I feel frustrated.”
In these cases, a coaching session may be a useful change, transitioning you from the ‘healing-stage’ to the ‘strengthening stage’, as it were.
5. How do you choose the right person?
The last question – and the most important one – relates to something that is tricky to define. It’s the intangible ‘6th sense’ you get from the person sitting in front of you. It’s their ‘vibe’, the ‘x-factor’ or your ‘gut-feel’.
Studies have shown that the main indicator of success in therapy (and this could be extrapolated to coaching), is the quality of the relationship you have with the other person. It doesn’t matter what model they use. It can be Freudian, Jungian, Psychoanalyical, Transactional or Integral. What matters, is that you feel they are the right fit for you.
In coaching, we call this ‘chemistry’. I like to think of it as alchemy. It’s the magic that makes relationships vibrant and the energy that inspires, heals and transforms us when we connect authentically with others.
When in doubt, shop around. The most famous coach or therapist in the world may not be the best person to help you achieve your goals. In the end, it’s your life. Be picky, and don’t let others make this choice for you.
If you’re still in doubt about the best person to meet your needs, why not drop us a mail? Even if it’s not us, we’d love to point you in the right direction!
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