Coaching v counselling 

Thanks to all who inspired me during the @LnDConnect #LDInsight chat on 5th June. If you missed it here’s the storify

It was definitely stimulating to hear different perspectives on the question ‘Coaching v counselling: what’s the difference? And does it matter?’. Admittedly it’s a big question for 140 characters. There were so many answers, and interesting discussions. Yet each inevitably leading to more questions.

A good follow up read was shared by Tony Jackson (@JacksonT0ny), you can find it here.

And after my head was left jam packed full trying to find a satisfactory answer – it’s time to emtpy it. 

So on request. Here’s where I’m at…

There are a range of psychosocial approaches currently employed in a therapeutic health setting to treat addiction, and low intensity mental health problems. These include Brief Solution Focused (BSF) approaches, Motivational Interviewing (MI) and Cognitive Behavioural (CB) approaches. Rather than a methodological structured approach, I believe such treatment is most effective when these approaches are used combinedly and responsively to the individual. Even though that doesn’t make for happy linear data or specific enough measurable outcomes; which are needed for funding and evidence of achieving organisational results. People, with their emotional relational social behavioural lives are not linear. To expect such is to work from a behavioural model and dehumanise, when a humanistic approach is needed. (And the whole reason we have a treatment system for substance misuse …or is it?).

And this links to coaching philosophies, which are often employed to meet a behavioural  demand. E.g. This is how we behave here, we do this, we don’t do that, we show these emotions, not those. Coaching can be used for remedial, goal focused interventions to improve performance. The socially accepted term of coaching implies investment in, and care for people and their entirety. Yet how easily this can mask another method of control and order.

Through comparing and contrasting (from a position of doing, experiencing, as well as reading) the skill set and specific approaches employed within the above psychosocial methods are visible across accepted coaching approaches, in this unregulated and undefined industry including Kline’s Time to Think model, de Hann’s Relational Coaching, Ericksonian roots to NLP, Positive Psychology, and emotional intelligence coaching. In addition MI, CB and BSF are also recognised approaches, that Torbert’s systemic alchemistic coach would strive to offer as a combinative approach. Coaching responsively and intuitively to the individual’s presentation, meanings and needs. Inclusive of social and organisation context.

Coaching without the influence of psychosocial theory would lack depth and richness. Failing to go beyond the presenting behaviours (what’s being said rather than what’s not being said) to understand the intrinsic human nature and functioning of individuals would keep coaching in a behavioural world.

If we are encouraging employees to be engaged, to align with values and bring passion into their work then we need to recognise that this makes work emotional. This is a good thing. We are humans. Yet it becomes exploitative when we pay for ‘positive’ emotions to be visible and demonstrated, and demand an absence of ‘negative’ emotions, to reduce disruption and discomfort. As is often implied (sometimes explicitly) by organisational guiding principles. By demanding good not bad we fail to appreciate the full hue of people and their emotional work which includes anger and frustration. Trying to lead change, whether 1:1 coaching, groups, work-stream or the whole organisation, without first hearing and listening to what’s going well and what the problems are fuels premature movement and transition from extrinsic motivation. Rather the very intrinsic drivers than humanistic psychology is all about.

The ethics to which I subscribe (my qual is accredited by) clearly state that a coach should explicitly define the difference between coaching and other helping professions. Yet I’m (and those prominent in coaching literature) struggle to find this clearly differentiating definition. So should this definition be mine? Or should it be specific to the relational context of each person I coach with as an agreed emergent meaning from our interaction? A fluid but always known definition.

This leads me to contracting. Do I decide on this definition and explicit boundaries? I know the difference between coaching and other helping professions, and I know when and what I’m doing when I’m doing it. So contracting can include a descriptive explaination of this. Am to define what’s ‘off-limits’? How does that allow for a free thinking environment where someone is truly heard and accepted? Contracting is a negotiated agreement between coach and coachee, which can be reviewed as the learning relationship develops and new themes emerge. To ensure safety and continued agreement in purpose and direction. 

And I’m not going to call stop if emotions appear uninvited.

And I very much like this by Phil Willcox (@PhilWillcox)

And I trust my professional judgement in recognising when to refer on and how to talk about the stuff without talking about the stuff. 

How to open

How to close 

Then I’m back to…if emotional intelligence coaching is experienced as a session that improved well-being and thoughts about the self. And also resulted in the coachee performing better. Is that counselling or coaching? Who says it is? And who decides what matters? 

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