Despite the rising popularity of coaching in recent years, there is still a surprising amount of misinformation and confusion surrounding it, so I thought it might be useful to write a blog post to clear a few things up.
The most important thing to note is the difference between coaching and counselling. Counselling is a therapeutic, or clinical, intervention which aims to eliminate psychological problems and dysfunctions, whereas coaching is a non-therapeutic intervention intended for individuals who wish to enhance their performance and/or improve their work or personal situations.
Coaching can be defined as “unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them” (Whitmore, 1992, based on Tim Gallwey, a tennis expert). I like this definition because I firmly believe the answers lie within my clients and that my role is to facilitate their discovery of them. Some people might read this and question why they need external help if the answers are already inside them, to which I would respond that the coaching process is a powerful thing. When left to our own devices we often fall into the same old traps and fail to see things as they really are. The coaching process takes people on a journey of discovery, shining a light on the things that need changing in their lives and revealing how they can be changed. When done properly – i.e. with a coach who has the appropriate training and qualifications – it can be truly transformative.
When choosing a coach, it is important to check their credentials. In the UK, life coaching isn’t regulated, so coaches don’t have to have qualifications to begin practising. This means they could be using techniques that haven’t been proven to be effective. It also means they may not be adhering to an ethical code of conduct. As Whitmore (1992) noted: “In too many cases [coaches] have not fully understood the performance-related psychological principles on which coaching is based. Without this understanding they may go through the motions of coaching, or use the behaviours associated with coaching, such as questioning, but fail to achieve the intended results.”
It is precisely because coaching should be conducted using proven techniques that coaching psychology exists. Coaching psychology has been described as “for enhancing well-being and performance in personal life and work domains underpinned by models of coaching grounded in established learning theories and psychological approaches” (adapted from Grant and Palmer, 2002). In other words, it brings the evidence base to ensure that coaching is successful. So whatever your motivation for starting coaching, be sure to find a coach who is trained in techniques that have been proven to work.