At it’s essence, coaching is one person helping another along the path of life in a skilled, learned manner, holding space while inspiring greater awareness, insight, and clarity in the person being coached, with the coach placing their complete focus on the growth and goals of the “coachee” (as they are often referred to as).
A bit more specifically, it’s about supporting someone as they 1) identify their wants and needs as precisely as possible 2) become clear on where they are at in the here and now 3) determine their challenges as they perceive them to be and 4) discover options and a path forward so that “goals” are achieved as completely and efficiently as possible. As part of their work together, a methodical process is co-created and agreed on by both parties, with the coach holding the coachee accountable during the process.
When challenges do arise (generally due to old patterns, limited belief systems, etc) they are brought to the surface so that beliefs can be updated, new patterns formed, and new choices made that better serve their current situation and their goals moving forward. Challenges, more often than not, are opportunities to draw from in service of the goal.
Furthermore the coach helps to expand the perspective of the coachee by helping them to see both the limitations of their personality as well as the ways it continues to serve them, and to help them understand, explore, utilize, and benefit from the many other dimensions of who and what they are beyond personality.
This is done via curiosity, compassion and wisdom, taking the form of deep listening, open-ended questioning, mirroring, restating, clarifying and respectful confrontation among other approaches. It requires a willingness and ability to be present, vulnerable, courageous, non-judgmental and always, always involves the recognition that the person being coached has everything they need within them to move forward and deepen into whatever they are meant to be.
While there are as many approaches as there are coaches, the best possible outcome can only be achieved by a combination of openness, trust and commitment on the part of both coachee and coach. The process also involves coaching skills and abilities that are less easily defined: heart, intuition and wisdom among others, as well as the ability to follow the coachee rather than lead them, with the coach allowing themselves to be guided moment-to-moment as the journey unfolds. The best coaches develop a transcendent ability to tune into the deepest layers of the process and have a tremendous amount of kindness, compassion, and empathy.
Coaching is not consulting, it’s not mentoring, it’s not teaching, it’s not giving advice, and it’s not therapy, though elements of all of these are occasionally used by a skillful coach when applicable, a pinch of spice added here and there to support the coachee’s own insights, drive, and growth.
Anyone and everyone can benefit from coaching, as again, at a fundamental level, its just people helping people. Every single human being on this planet can benefit from having an extra ally in their life that wants the best for them and is skilled at passing on the tools and techniques they require to grow towards self-actualization as swiftly and enjoyably as possible.
It’s particularly appealing for those who are aspirational, ambitious, and goal oriented. It’s well suited for those with significant responsibilities, whether they be new mothers, career-minded employees, entrepreneurs or leaders who are committed to honoring their roles in the best way they possibly can. It’s also very helpful for those in transition, who may be unsure of which direction to take or who may even feel “trapped”.
Since our full consciousness includes the part of us that observes our personality with non-judgmental awareness, our physical body and our emotions with their inherent wisdom, and our intuitive sense (which is a 100 times faster and more powerful than our rational mind) all of these dimensions can be accessed and utilized to bring us a much wider, richer and more enjoyable experience of every aspect of life, be it our careers, health, creative pursuits and aspirations, personal relationships, or our relationship with ourselves.
As stated earlier, there are many approaches, and in any given moment in the coaching process, both coach and coachee may utilize any number of tools and techniques, often several concurrently, to achieve results.
Broadly, a good coach is completely focused on their client so as to increase the experience and benefits of connection, which ultimately results in a powerful attunement to, and a tremendous depth of compassion for, the one being coached. Within this kind of dynamic, trust is established, vulnerability is honored, and insight can arise within both parties that is then shared, celebrated, and supported. A primary, fundamental, underlying question a coach holds throughout the process is some version of “From a place of genuine care, what is the most helpful thing I can offer this person right now?”
In practice, a good coach tends to listen more than they speak, and when they do speak, they tend to ask insight-inducing questions, clarify, mirror, and convey compassionate support more than anything else.
Coaching also works by rewiring the brain and nervous system of the coachee (by way of neuroplasticity) to perceive and respond in less reactive and more responsive ways. By necessity, this involves an emphasis on regular, sustained “practice” over a period of time so as to create new neural pathways and reduce the energy of the older, less effective ones, while at the same time recognizing, reinforcing and sustaining the “strengths” of the individual. In other words, it is a way to train ourselves to get beyond our “autopilot” and to switch to “manual override” where our higher functions reside. To use yet another metaphor, it is a way to update and optimize the software that is our “operating system” in the same way we do with our computers: with patches, plug-ins and other new code. Otherwise, as is the case with our computers, our operating systems become increasingly outdated-slow, inefficient, redundant, ineffective, inflexible and unresponsive.
In the end, part of the inherently empowering process that is coaching involves training the coachee to become their own coach, so that they discover the depth of wisdom within, learn to trust their own abilities (and are therefore able to provide comfort and support to themselves and others) become self-sufficient, creative and innovative in regards to life’s challenges, possibilities and potentials, and so that they ask for help whenever they need it without self-judgment.
In the big picture, expansive coaches are also doing their part to help a higher consciousness bloom in the world, a world that includes people supporting each other, living and leading from their hearts and souls (with the head supporting) and nurturing their connection with the larger whol
A smart question to ask, and a common one. A standard and succinct answer is that coaching is about the present and the future, while therapy is about the past. It’s also said that coaching is goal oriented and therapy is about healing old trauma. While these answers are “true enough” they don’t tell the whole story. While they can be viewed as two sides of the same equation, there can be and sometimes is a small amount of overlap between both practices. Sometimes, one cannot be practiced effectively without the other, either concurrently or, as is more commonly the case, with a period of counseling and therapy prior to coaching. The person being coached needs to be well and healthy enough to benefit from this modality, as it can be harmful to try and deepen and move forward before attending to issues from their past.
Another important factor here—many counselors and even psychologists are understandably unhappy with the sudden wave of relatively untrained and inexperienced individuals flooding the market, taking work away from them that they trained and studied years for, with stringent regulations, oversight and strict codes of conduct governing their practices, not to mention continuing education, necessary malpractice insurance, etc. Many of these individuals are having to rebrand as “coaches” after all of their work and commitment in order to stay relevant, as in some circles, “counseling” “therapy” and “psychoanalysis” are seen as expensive, slow-moving, long-term commitments that don’t demonstrate as many obvious, short term benefits as coaching does.
A big concern some of these individuals have—perhaps the most important one—is that some coaches may be applying a superficial understanding of psychological dynamics, without the ability to respond effectively if a coachee starts to relive trauma, and not be taking on a suitable level of professional obligation and responsibility should the relationship result in harm.
In turn, many coaches respond by saying that therapists require their clients to revisit and live in the experience of trauma, that they tend to focus on what’s wrong (pathology) rather than what’s right, that it is an industry set up to retain long-term clients rather than empower people in the short term with effective tools that help them liberate themselves and move forward.
There are points to be made by both sides, perhaps, and the best-case scenario is that both professions will learn, grow, and ultimately be enhanced by each other. This is the probable outcome after a period of adjustment.
For further reference, here are a couple of links that might be helpful:
It’s about a lot of things. At it’s best, it’s an outward sign that humanity is evolving, which in part involves a re-awakening: to our inherent interconnectedness, to the reality that we absolutely need each other, and to the deep fundamental need we have to support everyone else’s growth. Coaching is “booming” because people are now realizing, whether it be via recent discoveries such as neuroplasticity or some other source of knowledge, that effective change is not only possible but that we are literally wired for it, and that having a skilled ally whose sole purpose is to help them be better at what matters most to them is invaluable. People are seeing their friends, families and associates reboot their lives. They see coaching works. And they’re all over it.
It’s also an indirect response to the ever-increasing isolationism of the modern world, despite and because of our increasingly sophisticated and continuous means of communication. Even as these methods and devices have the potential to expand our experience of life, they commonly relegate us to echo chambers and projected, showcased images on social media—”avatars”—where many present themselves at their very best, if not as an idealized, untruthful version of themselves. As we know, this can cause and/or exacerbate the experience of depression, low self-esteem, etc. Coaching, on the other hand, is about connection, keeping it real, and accessing the clarity and motivation that always exists below the surface of our increasingly busy, distracting external and internal environments.
Now, it’s also true that because it’s a relatively new field, still in it’s infancy despite certain pioneers having been around for decades, there are, and will continue to be, growing pains. One of which is, it’s largely unregulated, despite organizations such as the ICF (International Coaching Federation) working to provide minimum/high standards. On the flip side, associations such as ICF have been criticized as “coaching mills” that result in standardized, cookie cutter approaches, limiting innovation and restricting certain types of beneficial methods because they don’t adhere to the definition(s) of coaching as set forth by these organizations.
Yes, anyone can call themselves a coach at this point in many countries, without having had any training whatsoever. There exists a subset of “coaches” who believe they can just get people to pay them for their opinions about the world, offered in the form of “advice” and that such people will be grateful for it. There are also people who are falling into coaching as one of what I call the “default professions” so they can enjoy the benefits of self-employment, including location independence. That’s all fine and well, unless they lack the training, skills and experience—not to mention the deep sincerity, humility and wisdom—necessary to serve in such a capacity.
Thus, it’s of the utmost importance that one does their research, takes personal responsibility, and trusts their intuition as they explore both coaching styles and coaches before making the kind of firm, usually long-term commitment required to reach their goals. Even then, if it doesn’t feel right, you can always say no, at any point. On this note, while there are benefits to committing financially/pre-paying for a period of time, I highly recommend that you do not get involved in such an arrangement unless/until you are very sure that it serves your best interests and that the coach is absolutely solid.
In the end, the proof is in the pudding—if the coaching relationship moves you forward in a way you are satisfied with or better yet delighted with, then it’s working.
Remember, ultimately, it is never about the coach. It’s always about YOU!