Tracy Playle

Coach. Public speaker. Consultant

Coaching and therapy: a perfect match?

When you work with an ontological coach, there are moments when it feels like you’re really getting deep into yourself and your “mess”. At times it can start to feel a little like therapy. And regardless of how much mess you really are willing to work through, coachees will often talk about coaching sessions as being therapeutic. I certainly find time with my own coach to be therapeutic. But she’s not a therapist and doesn’t try to be so.

In recognition of it being World Mental Health Day this week (10th October 2019), it seems like a great moment to reflect on the difference between coaching and therapy. We’ll consider how they can work powerfully together to really bust up some of the “stuff” getting in the way of living our best lives, and create commitment to our growth and happiness. 

The distinction isn’t entirely as crude as this, but for the sake of brevity let’s consider that therapy typically heals experiences of the past, while coaching looks to design and create an empowered future. 

I’m going to shine a light on myself to explain further. I have a coach and a therapist. Two separate people. While I work with my coach to design breakthroughs in my life, I simultaneously work with my therapist to process and seek healing from some of the stories of my past that can sometimes act as barriers to my future. 

One such area for me is in relationships with other people. Through therapy I’ve learned that some life events as a child (the most ingrained beliefs and behaviour patterns are often formed from experiences we have before the age of 7) have led to me forming an attachment style known as anxious ambivalence. Crudely speaking it plays out as a fear of abandonment, and a life lived at the “edge” of groups and relationships. And it means that while I want strong attachments with other individuals, I can push them away or hold them at arms length - often “abandoning” them before they can abandon me. Or in simple terms, there’s some work in constant progress for me around trust, intimacy and support. See how breakthroughs in those areas can really serve me in making breakthroughs for my future? 

Therapy offers me a deeper access point to be able to notice ingrained behaviours. In coaching we look for survival mechanism or automatic ways of behaving and being. We look at the “how” and the “what” (how it occurs, what it stops). In therapy, we seek to understand and heal the “why” (how it came to be).

So, you see how therapy can beautifully support and empower the coaching experience? But what about the other way around? Can coaching also empower the experience of therapy?

In coaching we’re looking forward. We’re looking to create a life of joy and fulfillment. And that means we’re looking at the big picture: designing our life’s purpose, crafting commitments for our future, and creating goals and project plans from the place of life purpose. In other words, in coaching we get to explore the “what on earth is this all really for?” Through coaching we create the commitments and the vision that empower our will and determination to make breakthroughs in our lives. And thus we create the commitments which fuel us with the passion and drive to seek the support of therapy to get out of our own way. When we have a clear purpose in life, we’re willing to do what it takes to live that life. 

So, the perfect partnership perhaps? In a way it’s a little like an athlete having both a trainer and a physiotherapist. While one helps to heal the niggles, the other helps to hold us accountable to achieving our goals.

If you’ve experienced therapy but not coaching, or if you’ve had neither experience and are not sure what path to take, get in touch to arrange a discovery session with me. As an ethical coach, I stand for you getting exactly the support you need - sometimes that’s therapy, sometimes that’s coaching and oftentimes it’s actually both. Let’s chat about you and make sure you get the right support for you.