January 18 , 2018 /


March 17, 2017

My background includes training in a type of psychotherapy that resulted in a practice of educating, counseling, mentoring and consulting over some 43 years. Thus my work was based on client-centered change that I began in the early seventies, much of it based on Rogers, Maslow and Perls. One thing that I learned, primarily from a study by the late Fred Fiedler, was that regardless of the orientation or training, the three variables that accounted for positive change in a client (or organization) were empathy, genuineness and warmth from the practitioner and I believe that extends to therapist, counselor, consultant, mentor, coach or leader. Popular success often comes by making the product or service more available, easily attainable and desirable. Witness Starbucks, a marketing bonanza. Whether or not that’s a good thing you can decide for yourself. I doubt the intrinsic value of a $10 cup of coffee regardless of flavor.

For a rather succinct history of coaching, if you’re interested in history, the following link outlines the beginnings and the evolution of coaching over some eighty plus years. You can see how coaching grew out of earlier concepts and practices: https://rapidbi.com/history-of-coaching-a-true-insight-into-coaching/

As an historical artifact, I did not call myself a coach, although I had a stint as an assistant football coach for a few years at a prep school in New England. And I played on several winning sports teams that were very well-coached. A coach, by definition, provides the necessary training and skills to both individuals and teams so they can improve their “game” and “play” to their highest potential. While that definition may seem simplistic, it applies not only to athletics but also to one’s professional or personal life which is one reason it was easy for the executive and personal coaching profession to pick it up and run with it. Stop here with that analogy!

By making coaching desirable and perhaps less onerous than therapy, counseling, consulting or mentoring, coaching has become enormously popular. Therapy and counseling suggest that there is a need that deserves attention, or at the least, changed for the better. I put coaching into that same category and I do not call it a softer approach because it is also real work and can make a positive impact on people and organizations.

I believe that when you combine all the definitions of coaching they boil down to one major component and that one defining variable is change. That, as we know, can be a complex and challenging process. It is much easier if positive change is desired and the motivation to change is firmly in place. That is not to say that all will be smooth sailing because as you get to the heart of the matter there are bound to be some unanticipated bumps in the road. And, since change is inevitable, why not plan for it as best you can? If you’re interested in improvement and increasing your skills or performance, laying out a blueprint for change is a good start.

How coaching is distinct from other service professions is outlined below among a list of FAQ’s from the International Federation of Coaching. I think it’s a stretch to manufacture the differences as delineated in the third question among the eleven questions posted here. http://coachfederation.org/need/landing.cfm?ItemNumber=978 In most psychotherapy practices the client also initiates the contact so coaching is not distinct in that regard.  Coaching may not be as distinctive as many believe it to be although I understand the desire to create a separate and different application.

With regard to consulting and mentoring I have a similar response. I find the practices of psychotherapy, coaching, counseling, consulting and mentoring more similar than different although there are some minor distinctions among them and one approach doesn’t work for everyone. The good part is that all are intended to help people remove obstacles and enjoy a positive, productive and fulfilling life. When people begin to draw dividing lines within a given discipline the separation is most often personal, political or economic and has little to do with substance. I wondered if it was March Madness that inspired me to publish this post?   I know that some of the best coached teams will win and some will lose. It’s how the game is played and who makes fewer mistakes that often determines the final four.

Comments (2)

  1. I’m a member of the ICF (International Coach Federation) and I agree, they draw many distinctions among coach, therapist and mentor and consultant too. What I do know is that over time I’ve discovered that standing strong in any one of those silos doesn’t really best serve my clients. There is wisdom in sharing our experience, brainstorming, etc – not only asking great question to help someone examine their own.


Please share your thoughts and opinions