Coaching & mentoring

by Ida Peťková for those who want to grow

What exactly is “coaching”?

During my professional life as a coach, I have come across various definitions of coaching and have met many people who asked me what coaching was. I had my first coaching client around 2007, and since then my personal approach to coaching has changed quite a bit.

​As I see it, coaching is a process during which a coach accompanies a client on the way to his destination so he can reach it as quickly as possible, “walking” the path that suits him best. This does not mean, however, that the coach tells a client where to go. Rather, she will see to it that he finds the best path for himself. And how is this done? A coach’s work often consists mainly of using good open questions, watching the whole process over time, taking notes for a client and also focusing on the goal the client set for herself.

​Only questions?

​The International Coach Federation (ICF) emphasizes the need for neutrality of a coach, seeing him or her primarily as an expert in asking questions. The coach in general should not be seen as an expert on managing the client’s situation. A good coach does not act like someone who knows more than the client, rather he or she performs as an equal partner. However, in my years of practice, I’ve seen coaches struggle to maintain a neutral position, especially in situations where an internal coach coaches his or her own colleagues. In these circumstances, the coach has often shown his expertise, and the client sometimes seeks specific knowledge or insight.

What has proven to work for me with some clients is to offer them my own experience and expertise where their topic matches my skill set. In these situations, I train or mentor. But whether I remain in a neutral coaching position or (intentionally and with control) deviate from this position, I do so always with respect to clients and their needs in an effort to help them achieve the goals they set for themselves. When I offer specific expertise, it is always up to clients to decide if they want to hear my input or if they prefer to go on with the coaching arrangement.

In all this, I respect an individual approach to each client and his needs. At the same time, I ask my clients to tell me whenever there is anything in my approach that does not work for them.

Coaching or psychotherapy?​

Sometimes my clients who have experienced neither coaching nor therapy ask me what the difference between these two approaches is. And those who know I wrote about eating disorders in my Bachelor thesis and about suicide of artists in my Ph.D. work ask me why, as a psychologist, I decided to be a coach instead of a therapist. Since 2007, I have been working as a coach with people who are considered to be “normal” as seen from the perspective of health insurance companies and various diagnostic manuals. Moreover, these people have often wanted to build their own futures, and that has always been close to my heart.
Buddhist teacher Padmasambhava supposedly said once:

“If you want to know your past life, look at your present condition. If you want to know your future life, look at your present actions.”

This is the substantial difference between psychotherapy and coaching, although nowadays approaches of some coaches and therapists are overlapping in many ways. But traditionally, coaching, unlike therapy, is particularly devoted to building the future through actions carried out in the present. Coaching also usually ends where it appears there is a need to “fix” the current state by deep analysis in the client’s past.

Diagnostics, treatment of symptoms, and analysis of past traumas are the domain of psychologists and psychiatrists, but not coaches. Psychotherapy clients, more often than the clients of coaching, need to change their current status through the investigation of the past, not merely through building a better future. In the process of coaching, clients may never talk about their past, and if they do, it is never at such a depth as in therapy. Furthermore, the task of a coach is never to unblock trauma. Most coaches don’t have the necessary knowledge and skills to do that.

Future oriented clients focused on action and change who have experienced both coaching and therapy often mention that coaching is the preferred approach for them, because it quickly leads them to their goals, while psychotherapy is usually quite understandably a longer and often more painful process.

Nevertheless, coaching and psychotherapy can go hand in hand. In Canada, for example, there is a treatment center for those addicted to alcohol where a psychotherapist works with clients on their past, and a coach takes over after therapy is completed to help clients build a better future after returning home from the center.

A candidate for coaching?​

If you plan to make a change, solve a problem, move forward, or start something up, don’t waste time talking about your childhood or letting someone else make decisions for you. Find a coach who will partner with you to help you find your best course of action.

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