For mental health professionals, the line between coaching and psychotherapy can sometimes feel blurry. Yet both professions hold the same goal — to help the client change.
In her new book, Therapy with a Coaching Edge: Partnership, Action, and Possibility in Every Session, psychotherapist and business and life coach Lynn Grodski draws upon the powerful techniques and strategies used by coaching professions to demonstrate how, through focusing on possibilities not limitations, strengths not deficiencies, and promoting full engagement in life, clients can be moved to powerful behavioral change.
The difference between coaching and psychotherapy, Grodski tells us, can be summed up in one word: style. “I think that pure coaching, the way it is taught, defined, and recognized by the International Coach Federation, has its own modus operandi, a recognizable manner of interaction, a style of relating that seems distinct, to me, from other models of therapy of personal growth,” writes Grodski.
While the psychotherapeutic relationship is often hierarchical, in a coaching relationship, the client is recognized as the expert and the source of his own transformation. Working in partnership with the client, the coach then is collaborative, action oriented, and optimistic about possibilities.
Bringing a coaching approach to psychotherapy, however, requires some modification. Grodski writes, “Although I might have tried to borrow the coaching skills I learned and taught and insert them into my therapy sessions, coaching skills addressed a different type of client, setting, purpose and process.”
Coaching clients, unlike therapy clients, must be relatively stable, functional, and able to follow through with a plan of action between sessions.
Grodski describes the partnership that ensues between coach and client: “Imagine you are learning to ride a bicycle for the first time… A coach would climb on the seat right behind you and ask, ‘Where do you want to go today?’”
As oppose to observing your behavior, a coach works with a client in an intense partnership that keeps the client motivated toward action.
“This collaborative position is the greatest leveler when used in many forms of coaching: Since it reduces the friction of hierarchy, it promotes faster behavioral change,” writes Grodski.
Instead of exploring negative transference, for example, a coaching approach seeks to diffuse it quickly and then restore the collaborative relationship.
Utilizing a coaching approach in therapy is also measured in client satisfaction and client retention.
“In my coach training, I was reminded that the client should end each session feeling that it had been worth the time and money spent, and have verbalized a compelling reason to return, all before the session ended,” writes Grodski.
Through identifying client needs and wants, working them through, and consolidating gains, coaches leverage gains session by session, and as a result, client satisfaction and retention improves.
Much of the coaching process relies on asking the right questions, which Grodski tells us, fall into three categories: creating sudden insight, challenging existing beliefs, and prompting new options.
Coaches are also strategists, and in the therapeutic setting, work with clients to uncover hidden possibilities and find solutions for tired problems. Grodski writes, “By focusing your strategizing on client-based control, partnership, action, and possibility, clients can take a big step from being passive to active.”
One strategy Grodski offers is to start slow, tie small steps to a larger vision, and perhaps most important, make it all a game.
Grodski describes her own experience working with a personal trainer to recover her strength after a double mastectomy: “Andrew often told me, “We are just here to play.” We played games, but games that got me to think, work hard, and stay in action. I got winded and red in the face, but I laughed too. The framework of playing a game helped me suspend judgment and stay engaged.”
Client resistance can also be reduced by experimenting with ways to make action easier, keeping action steps relevant, and the focusing on learning and improving. Grodski writes, “Talking about action as an experiment, rather than as a step in a plan, can reduce pressure.”
Through shared accountability, client’s willpower can be strengthened, much like a muscle.
“Shared accountability is not an invitation to set up dependency with a client. It’s not designed to break the framework of therapy or to overburden the therapist with more work, especially uncompensated work, between session, Instead, it is a stance, based on partnership and the desire to further behavioral change,” writes Grodski.
A partnership that aligns core values with decisions, uses metaphors to expand understanding, finds solutions within the client, and ultimately develops a life plan that encompasses growth and learning is what defines a coaching approach to therapy, and what, according to Grodski, promotes powerful and lasting behavioral change.
Balancing the strengths-based strategies of coaching with the necessary empathy, boundaries, and ethics of psychotherapeutic practice, Therapy with a Coaching Edge should be on every clinicians shelf.
Therapy with a Coaching Edge: Partnership, Action, and Possibility in Every Session
W.W. Norton & Company, May 2018
Hardcover, 288 Pages