Coaching: What it is and isn’t

Our mission at DiscoverYourPathU is that we believe every life can teach and everyone can grow. I know that I personally have done a lot of this work through coaching, although I’ve also done a lot of work through therapy, counselling, self-help, and even with a psychologist.

If we look up the word “coach” – whether as a noun or a verb –  we will find definitions for coach such as:

  • to train or instruct a team or a player
  • give someone extra teaching
  • give (someone) instructions as to what to do or say in a particular situation — such as a lawyer coaching a witness how to respond on the stand 
  • give (someone) professional advice on how to attain their goals

Now, if you look at these definitions, and then look at many people who are life coaches, or nutrition coaches, or spiritual coaches, you might begin to ask yourself, how did they get from that definition to what they are doing now?  A really fascinating look at the history of the word and how it carries into the coaching world was written up by Keith Webb.  From this – I love his conclusion that the client is carried along to their destination of choice!

Coaching - Envision a world where authentic connection and kindness are creatively expressed in communal practice.

So, while a consultant or an adviser will have quite a say in the end result for their client, the coach is really working with their client, through questioning and possibly providing scenarios or options that the client was not aware existed, and allowing the client to choose their final destination.

On the other hand, a coach trains to help you see where you are today, and then discover the ways that you move forward towards your goals – where you want to be and what you want to do.

I would like to take a moment to accept that there can (and often is) an overlap between what the following professions can and will do and what a coach does.  But, there are also differences.

What it’s not:

Psychologist, Psychotherapist or Therapy

Typically, a therapist has specialised training and licensing for therapy, especially if they are a psychotherapist.  In this case, a psychotherapist can determine and diagnose illnesses and pathologies so their patients can be clinically treated.  On a broader scale, therapists analyse the client’s past, in order to better understand present behaviors.

Because these professions might diagnose and/or medicate, they are often regulated and supervised.  This might limit their scope of practice – especially geographically – as well as their ability to offer a range of services.

This allows the therapist to focus on “why” this behavioural pattern happens and often recurs as a theme.  A coach, on the other hand, will simply identify problematic behaviors, habits and thought patterns, so the client can work to modify them. The goal – for both the therapist and the coach is that the patient/client – changes their behaviour and builds a better future – but there can be a significant difference in how they go about doing this.

Counselling

Like therapists, a counsellor is typically trained and has a level of licensing that might not be required for coaching. They might be marriage counsellors, grief counsellors, Christian counsellors, career counsellors, mental health counsellors, or even substance abuse counsellors. Typically, a counselor will create a safe and supportive space for the client to explore who they are and what they want in life, helping them to identify and solve problems.

On some levels, counselling is about “coping”, whereas coaching is about moving forward.  So, quite often, a client might first need counselling, just to cope, before being ready to be coached about moving forward.  In other cases, they might be ready to go straight into coaching.

Another difference is feelings and mindset: counsellors will invite you to feel and recognise what you are feeling, whereas a coach may focus on how those feelings are caused by your thought patterns.  As your thought patterns are addressed, you may notice a change in how you are feeling.

On a broader scale – coaching might often be about specific goals that you have, whereas counselling is often about your life in general. In this sense, the coach looks at the potential of who you can become, whereas the counsellor might focus on how you can be at peace with yourself and who you are.  Because of this, a coach might challenge you, whereas the counsellor might show more support, empathy and understanding, only challenging you gently.

Consultants & Advisers

When you decide to hire a consultant or an adviser, you are choosing them for their professional or technical experitise, advice or opinions.  A consultant understands the problem AND presents the solution.  This differs from coaching, because in coaching we start from the premise that the client is the expert and has all the answers and simply needs help to draw out these answers.  A coach will provide you with strategies to discover those answers, but in consulting you will be provided with strategies to move forward and execute.  Some might say that this is the difference between advice versus empowerment, but I personally believe that these are different situations in which you hire what you most need.

In many ways, this is because a coach wants to you to learn for yourself how to solve the problems in the future.  Rather than resolving a particular business challenge for you, the coach will guide you in the process of discovering how you solve problems and challenges for yourself.  This brings us back to what we indicated about the primary difference between a consultant and a coach:  the consultant is the subject matter expert providing professional or technical advice.

Mentoring

One of the most common mistakes is confusing the role of coaching versus mentoring.

A mentor is a more experienced individual willing to share knowledge with someone less experienced in a relationship of mutual trust. – David Clutterbuck

It is my personal opinion that the biggest difference between coaching and mentoring is the relationship between the parties.  Coaching is more likely to be a relationship for a set period (possibly 2-3 months, 6 months or possibly a year), whereas mentoring may span years of a person’s career and growth.

In a similar vein, coaching might be focused on a particular goal or aspect of a person’s life, whereas mentoring will typically cover many areas and issues that affect the mentee’s professional (and personal) success.  Therefore, during the course of the relationship, the mentoring relationship may work on work/life balance and then at another time preparing for a new professional role, learning self-confidence in their new role or other aspects of their personal life that influence their professional life and performance.  Mentoring is not about developing this individual for this particular job or role, but rather takes a longer view of their future within a company or industry.

So, why do people hire coaches?

Why hire a coach, stuck, rut, leveling up, growing, sounding board, transition & change, leaving your comfort zone

Clients will typically hire a coach because they feel stuck and that they are not progressing in a particular aspect or area of their life.  They are ready to move up to the next level, but they realise that they have exhausted all they know how to do, and need to get out of their comfort zone another way.

Another reason that people hire coaches is because it’s lonely at the top – they are busy being the sole decision-maker, and this has brought the isolation.  They need someone outside of their typical circle of influence to hold space for them as they explore decision-making scenarios and possibilities.

Likewise, people in transition often hire a coach to help them through a period of change. A coach will support them through leaving their comfort zone, facing risks, and learning from their mistakes (or avoiding them altogether).

Niches

If you have a look at coaching niches, you will find that some articles mention there are 12 coaching niches, 21 coaching niches, 57 or even 99 niches for coaches!  So, if you had a look, for example, as health and fitness coaching, you might find:

  • wellness
  • natural healing
  • chronic illness
  • fitness
  • weight loss
  • muscle or strength building
  • sports performance.

On the other hand, if you look at an area like relationships, you might find that the niches vary to include:

  • dating
  • marriage
  • parenting
  • sexuality & intimacy

At the same time, you might look at different niches in spirituality:

  • inner peace
  • intuition
  • life purpose
  • manifestion
  • law of attraction
  • meditation

And the list goes on.

That is why, at DiscoverYourPathU, we suggest that each coach should learn according to their personal path.  We recognise that while there might be essential skills in life coaching that are useful across the board, your niche will be exclusive to you and your life experience.

After you have studied the basic coaching skills, we invite you to look at the smorgasboard of possibilities that align with your personal life experience and desires.  Then identify your WHO and WHAT – ‘who’ is your ideal client – the person that you are aiming to attract, and ‘what’ is the solution that you provide for them.

We hope that here you will find what you are looking for!