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Coaching or Therapy? What do you need?

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

Ashley was rubbing her temples to try to soothe her pounding headache. She began to breathe more slowly and deeply as she felt anxiety growing in her chest. Sales had been dropping at her family business since she had become CEO when her father chose her over her older brother to lead the company. Ashley was preparing her first annual report to the board of directors and it was taking too long and her anxiety was preventing her from focusing.

Ashley knew she needed to get help to manage things better, but she was not sure what kind of help. Should she call a life coach, a leadership coach, or a therapist? Just getting to the point of recognizing that we need help is a big step and requires a fair amount of self-awareness. However, even though Ashley is growing in humility and courage, it still can be highly confusing to determine where to turn in today’s world where Googling for help can result in a confusing array of options.

If she chooses a life coach, she will get support to find balance and fulfilment in areas of her life where she wants to make changes or achieve meaningful goals. A leadership coach would help Ashley to have more productive and rewarding work relationships while simultaneously making progress on organizational goals and objectives. Life and leadership coaches usually focus on the ‘here and now’ and help a client identify goals and plans and how to achieve them. Sessions are focused on removing obstacles and providing support and accountability.

Meanwhile, if Ashley chooses a mental health professional, she can expect to have a thorough assessment to determine the deeper causes of her behavior as well as any diagnosis of a disorder (she may be experiencing an anxiety disorder or depression that is starting to impede her ability to function at work). After an assessment a treatment plan will be developed to alleviate her symptoms. Treatment could include a focus on the here and now (i.e. learning mindfulness approaches to manage anxiety) or on understanding how trauma or unresolved issues from the past could be impacting symptoms in the present.

In deciding who to work with, Ashley may also want to explore the training background of the potential helpers. Mental health therapists have at least a Master’s Degree (in counseling, social work, psychology or marriage and family therapy) or a doctorate in psychology. She also should determine if the therapist may specialize in treating her type of problem. Psychology Today has a website where many therapists have listings where she could determine which therapist is a good fit.

Training programs for Life Coaches are accredited by the International Coaching Federation and require a minimum of 60 hours of training. Because the training of coaches is often less than that of a mental health professional, Ashley may want to learn more about the educational background and life experience the coach brings to their services. Leadership coaches may be therapists or coaches who have been accredited in a certain type of leadership assessment and coaching. Certification usually requires a 4-5-day training and follow up mentoring.

So where should Ashley turn? If her anxiety is temporary and started recently, maybe should could turn to a coach. A life coach could help Ashley reduce her anxiety by clarifying her values, helping her set priorities, and supporting her to feel more confident. If Ashley is struggling in her role as a leader and feeling stretched in her ability to lead her team, she may want to find a leadership coach. She would gain a deeper understanding of her leadership strengths and weaknesses and then develop a plan to work on them to become more effective. If Ashley’s anxiety is something she has experienced at other phases of her life and has been ongoing for a while now, she may want to seek the services of a therapist who will help determine the underlying causes and a plan to treat the anxiety disorder.

Another option for Ashley could be to work with both a coach and a therapist to focus on achieving personal “here and now” goals as well as addressing the anxiety disorder (as long as their approaches are compatible).

Questions you could ask during a consultation with helping professionals can include:

· What are your certifications or licenses?

· What is your specialty? Who do you normally work with?

· How would you describe your approach?

· What does it look like to work with you?

It takes humility and courage to admit the need for help. Even if you don’t find the perfect “helper” right away, don’t be afraid to keep looking for the right fit. For people who desire the path of personal growth and self-discovery, you may even find transformative breakthroughs that make it all worthwhile.

I co-authored this blog with my colleague Elias Ursitti:

Elias Ursitti is a certified leadership coach and practitioner of the Leadership Circle Profile (LCP) 360-degree assessment. Elias is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and served many years abroad in multi-national and cross-cultural environments. His passion is helping professionals raise their level of consciousness and develop a global leader mindset.

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