Coaching vs. Therapy: Two Different Approaches to Moving Forward
We each only have a finite number of minutes and hours on this Earth, and how many is a great mystery. It's one thing to relax and decompress, and another to waste time chasing your tail and doing the same thing over and over again getting frustrated that you're not getting different results.
Along the way, you may be disappointed in yourself, or even hurting yourself or others. It can feel awful, and the panic of wanting to stop immediately isn't helped any by a lack of tools and resources. There are people out there who are entirely invested in you maximizing your time left on Earth, and you can choose to build a larger team invested in your well-being depending on where y'all feel the most gains are to be had in your shared life..
Check out how life coaches and therapists help people move forward rather than being caught in a non-productive loop where goals and dreams are left by the wayside.
Life coaches are trained peer facilitators who are entirely on your side, focused on where you are right at this moment, and equipped to help you get where you want to go from here. In a nutshell, they help you focus on the non-clinical and non-crisis aspects of your life, such as achieving goals, identifying and building practical life skills, defining and developing values, vision of the future, hope-building, or in the case of plurals, we will go more into the specifics of what we can work on together below, or there's a list on our individual coaching page as well.
A life coach as a rule is not bogged down by anyone's definitions of what "normal" is, and is only concerned about your comfort with yourself, your comfort with who you are, and whether you achieve the things you set out to achieve. Your coach helps you work on your potential, using very specific methods of non-judgmental listening, an attitude of curiosity, and focused questioning to help you see yourself and your options more clearly.
A life coach will ask you to seek out professional assistance if you are in crisis, suicidal, or want to hurt anyone this is not at all what a life coach is equipped to deal with.
If you need a medical or mental health diagnosis, or need your costs to be covered by insurance, do not seek out a life coach.
Life coaching is always client-focused and client-driven. If you don't have a coaching agenda, a good life coach will work with you to determine what your agenda is. If your agenda is not suitable for coaching, your coach should inform you and choose not to work with you.
"Life Coaching" is a broad catchall and can be further specialized into sub-categories, such as career coaching, relationship coaching, health coaching, etc.
Therapists are credentialed experts (usually having both a specific level of college education plus supervised clinical experience before becoming licensed) who address both typical behavior and issues as well as clinically significant diagnoses (as defined by the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual) using evidence-based advice and models or devising treatment plans to "normalize" someone's behavior.
Talk therapy digs and pushes into past experiences to help inform an analysis of your current issues and behaviors over a long period of treatment.
Some models of therapy (i.e. cognitive-behavioral) have changed from a long-term talk model to shorter success-focused "value-based" and "results-based" therapies, however some diagnoses (such as dissociative identity disorder) still warrant long-term talk therapy treatment over the course of years.
Therapy is focused on whether or not who you are, how you think, what you believe, and how you behave fit into the current definition of "normal" and "functional" (as outlined in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual or DSM and by the culture that influences it), and thus there's a good bit of analysis and judgement going on, whether that is shared with you or not.
Depending on their credentialing, therapists may be able to diagnose or may have to refer you to someone with appropriate credentials for diagnosis, and may give or seek an opinion on whether you need pharmaceutical intervention (psychopharmacology).
Whether or not your diagnosis is official, therapists work from a philosophy of pathology and probably "suspect" a diagnosis for their client whether or not it is an official one. By its very nature, it's a labeling and stigmatizing paradigm and good therapists try to work within this paradigm with as client-focused a view as possible.
Why not both?
It is interesting to note that some clinicians have changed over to life coaching or incorporate coaching techniques in their practice. However, because of the mind-frame differences in attitude and observations made by the practitioner, one can really only have a life coaching relationship with your client, or be a clinician who borrows techniques from life coaching when they are helpful.
There are people who need both paradigms, for whom using both a therapy relationship and life coaching relationship at the same time is the perfect solution. There's a lot of ground that therapy and coaching can address with their different philosophical approaches, and some areas where one excels over the other.
If you feel you need your therapist to focus more on your problems, traumatic experiences, and unpacking your past while you simultaneously work with a life coach on where you are today and what progress you're making on your current goals and dreams then it may be best to consider both and start to create a "team" of professionals to help you get where you want to go.
Having separate appointments: therapy to handle trauma and reframing past events versus coaching on current events, goal-setting, project strategies, and internal community building, means that you no longer have to choose when you walk into the therapist's office whether to make progress on the underpinnings of your panic and anxiety reactions versus making sure you have someone to talk about recent accomplishments, tackling your goals and dreams, and working on getting out of each other's way as a group.
Coaching for Plurals
Therapists are becoming more curious about what it is that we will work on with a plural system versus what they work on.
First off, we will always ask and try to elicit whether or not your plural system is safe. While we don't provide crisis counseling, and are not trained or equipped for interventions in the case of personal safety we find that often plural systems are not physically safe, or relationally safe, in their living environment. Some therapists focus more on folk being a danger to themselves or others but neglect to ask whether they are in a bad situation. We will refer people to 211, hotlines, non-profits, domestic violence agencies, housing programs, food assistance, or other safety issues that are adversely affecting their system and either raising their anxiety or causing internals to be activated into defenses that may be harmful or throw their life off track. Often these issues can block any progress on goals whether in therapy or coaching. Sometimes these issues are extraordinarily subtle to the host, but activate internals anyway such as still being in contact with abusers in the family. Therapists: please check in and analyze more than just your client's intrinsic issues, it's exceptionally important to address this in both therapy and coaching.
Our first concern if left to our own agenda would be to continue from there on any internal trust or safety issues trust is enormous and your plural system will tackle goals and life challenges far better with high trust. So if y'all state a specific goal, we'd ask questions and determine how trusting you all are and whether there's any work to tackle regarding internal trust issues.
All our other work branches off from there. We specifically help plural systems with internal community & culture building, being trustworthy, trust repair & building, co-awareness skills (communication, sharing information, etc.), mapping or inner world exploration & inner worldscaping/landscaping skills (like creating a meeting room or an inner world safe space), and in a pinch we can, as a trained provisional peer specialist, help your system work on a system safety plan (though we have created a course to help with this as well so that the actual lessons and instructions are not on paid time, however we can still hold clients accountable and help with any sticking points).
We also help plural systems figure out exercises or projects to help increase their team's skills. So we might suggest some assignments or exercises that y'all can try to build specific skills, explore an idea together, or improve communication as a few examples. As coaching is always client-led, these are all suggestions not requirements. If something else comes up and/or y'all have internal resistance to a suggestion, that's great. Take care of what's important, or be curious why someone is resistant.
Coaching leverages and helps clients develop presence, compassion, curiosity, humor, hope, introspection/observation & listening skills. These are all strengths that increase your& resilience and open up more options in life internally & externally.
Abuse Issues - Therapy & Coaching
This needs to be addressed head-on. Coaching should always be client-focused, and the psychology industry research backs up the same conclusions that client-centered/client-led treatments are more successful and cause less distress.
The vast majority of abuse, regardless of who the perpetrator is (coach, therapist, family, partner/spouse, etc.) revolves around power & control issues. Any situation in which there's an imbalance of power can result in someone being taken advantage of in some way.
Some folks may hang out a counselor, specialist, therapist, coach, etc. shingle and still be abusive deliberately or not. Power & control games can be overt and covert.
If we hear about issues of power/control in what is supposed to be a therapeutic relationship, we will suggest to a client that we work on their skill of selves-advocacy. And we will coach folk on how to identify abuse, and how to evaluate issues in their relationship with their therapist, or how to change therapists if that is what they desire.
Our advice to therapists, and we've presented on this topic at length, is to help clients become empowered at every opportunity. Most especially with plural & DID systems, the root of much of our C-PTSD issues we've experienced is a loss of power & control. It's not only healing to return power & control to us as we heal, it's actually (in our not-so-humble opinion) a cornerstone to being able to heal. This means, as a rule, we need to pick our support & therapy team, choose our goals from a menu of options, throttle our own trauma work, and it is the job of our therapist to work with us not on us.
As a life coach we monitor our involvement in our clients' lives by the same rules. Are we empowering or disempowering? Are the goals driven by the client or our own agenda? Are we giving options and choices or prescribing a list of "cures" or steps for a problem? We provide a mirror, a font of options, wisdom of a great deal of experience with our own & other plural systems and what has worked for others, stories & examples when appropriate, and creativity in how these ideas might apply to the specific client system and their issues as well as a heap of intuition and fresh new ideas when something we've never heard of presents itself. Our overall philosophy is that folk will come to us when they need us, get what they need, and move on when they are done and ready. We care more that they're doing well than that they are a repeat customer. We work with people so that they hopefully will not need to work with us some day soon and that they only work with us because they want to because we may help catalyze changes for them, or because they are looking to speed up a process they probably could cobble together on their own. We are not the sole source of all progress for plurals.
Frankly, neither are therapists. It's very dangerous to suggest otherwise, and unfortunately there are many therapists (and support communities!) who disempower folk by implying that therapists are the sole gatekeepers to system health.
Choosing Therapy or Coaching
With some regional and cultural exceptions, both therapy and life coaching have become fairly well-accepted in the mainstream. The end results of either one can be similar: you are able to move forward on your goals and dreams.
In spite of significant progress in de-stigmatizing mental health issues, it has not been vanquished. Some people are still attacked, dismissed, or blamed for having a therapist or a diagnosis, and others are simply "bothered" by the entire idea of therapy, whether it's from stigma, past experience with lousy therapists, or simply a philosophical disagreement with the ideals and methods of therapy and the entire medical/pathology paradigm.
If that's your situation, you're in luck because you can hire a life coach without being labeled, stigmatized, etc. while still getting the benefits of setting aside specific time for examining where you are now and where you'd like to be tomorrow, planning for goals, getting accountability to achieve them, etc.
A case where therapy is definitely indicated is if you have issues of self-harm, cutting, suicidal thoughts, extreme depression, panic attacks, irrational behavior, uncontrollable anger, or if you may hurt someone.
Where either may be helpful are the areas between the extremes: if you have no particular issues or arguments with therapy, no extreme distress or issues with endangering yourself or others, then both methods, or even both at the same time, can be helpful for you.
Where life coaching really shines is when you are frustrated with your current circumstances, are looking to make big change in your life, want to get better faster results, are confused about your options in life, have big decisions to make, are overwhelmed by big dreams or goals that you want to examine and break down into smaller achievable goals and milestones, or you are looking for a very specific outcome such as in our case, with our experience and expertise developing your own tools for personal (dis)stress management, or improving your internal relationships with your headmates (if you are DID/OSDD, multiple/have multiple personalities, or are plural).
The best thing to do from here is probably interview your potential helpers and take a lot of notes on how their personalities mix with these different methodologies. Not every coach or therapist is the same. Attitude, demeanor, personal energy, focus, attention all mix with the philosophies described in this article to create very unique practitioners and varied experiences for their clientele.
The only way to tell who you want to work with is to request a sample appointment.
Contact the Crisses
Potential clients can contact us with the form below, by phone, or text to schedule a 30-minute fully confidential sample session. During this appointment we determine what you are looking for, we deliver value and show you how we work, and hopefully we both get the information we need to determine whether we would like to pursue a coach-client relationship together.
Please feel free to call and leave a message. If you do not reach us, please keep in mind that we often work with clients by phone and please leave a message so we can get back to you.
845-820-0262 (Eastern Time/NY Time)
You may also email me: