Become a Counselor, Become a Coach—Yes, It’s Possible
–by Jim Nolan, Ph.D., LPCC, Former President, Southwestern College/New Earth Institute
What Is Coaching? And How Is It Related to Counseling?
To me, Coaching involves working with the healthy, aspirational, highly functioning aspects of a person’s life with the aim of the Client realizing even greater joy, life satisfaction, effectiveness, and success, however the Client defines those terms.
Every one of my private practice clients, bar none, has such areas in their lives, with strengths, skills, resources, hope, and will to apply to the pursuit of their dreams. We work together with those qualities and aspirations to amplify and manifest the best that they can become.
The fact that they may also have problem areas that require innovative strategies and solutions does not in the least detract from the fact that they have a lot going for them. They may temporarily have a diminished capacity to access or marshal all their resources completely at this time. That’s where we as therapists/coaches come in.
A flat tire does not mean your car sucks—in fact, in may be a truly great car—with a flat tire. So right this red-hot minute it may not be going anywhere, but it will. You don’t tow it to the junkyard—you change the flat. And while you’re at it, you might as well do a tune-up, alignment, rotate the tires, and check the air pressure all around. Those things will help the overall driving experience once you’re back on the road, and may have contributed to the flat.
What About DSM?
All of my clients carry a DSM diagnosis. Believe me, I don’t like it any better than you do, but when people (people being me, you, your uncle, my mom, and the barista at Starbucks—in short, anybody) meet criteria for a DSM diagnosis, even though that may be only the smallest or most temporary aspect of who they are, we can apply it, work on that diagnosable issue, and access insurance benefits to help cover the costs of the sessions. That is the business we are in, like that or not.
One might ask “Is it OK to use the DSM diagnosis for the insurance and then do Coaching in the sessions?”
Good question. You can probably find lots of answers, depending on who you ask. To me, Coaching and Counseling are inextricably entwined. I need to be able to help you access your strengths, your hopes, your aspirations, your resources to help buoy up your whole/holistic being, to put you in a position to address and move beyond the problem areas that brought you in to my office. I can’t do therapy without doing coaching.
To deal with, say, a relationship problem, you need to feel empowered, you need to become aware of what you want in your life, you need to access all your self-esteem so that you feel certain that you deserve better than what you’re experiencing now, and you need to identify and be able to access resources to either successfully address the problems, or, if that is not going to happen, to move on with other high quality life options. Coaching toward alleviating the “Therapy Issue.”
If you experience “Depression,” we have to access your capacity for joy, If “Anxiety,” your capacity to feel confident, safe, and efficacious in shifting physiological processes and cognitive processes to move you in a more optimal direction. In other words, we need to work with your strengths, and we need to identify what more joy-based place you want to move toward. Again, Coaching toward diminishing the depression or anxiety experiences.
The “Medicine” is derived from your strengths, your capacity (perhaps as-yet untapped) to be a joyous, fulfilled human being. We “Coach out” the resources and hope and confidence you need to help shift the areas of distress—the so-called “pathology” (sorry, I hate that term when used in the psychological realms, but “psychopathology” is what insurance companies pay us to ameliorate. So it goes…I so prefer the term “Life Problems,” or something like it…)
Can You Do BOTH Counseling and Coaching?
A physical trainer works with optimizing your physical fitness and well-being. Nobody would argue “But you can’t work with clients’ attitudes, mindsets, or motivation, because those are not physical—they’re outside your scope of practice.” That would be crazypants. The two go together. Working with strengths, and using dreams, aspirations, and hope to help pull clients out of the mud in which they are stuck just makes sense.
You Can’t Avoid the Naysayers
You can and will find therapists, coaches, and blogs online that take issue with my perspective, and that’s OK with me. For anything, you can find somebody online who is anti-that thing.
I’ve been on the planet 64 years and running, and began in the field in 1983. I have earned two coaching certificates, and have been licensed as a Psychologist in Ohio, Florida, Texas, Hawaii, and New Mexico. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and Drug and Alcohol Counselor in the state of New Mexico. I am feeling pretty good about my “practice-based evidence” in this area of Counseling and Coaching.
There are fewer “rights” and “wrongs” in the field than you would imagine. My belief that my approach is “right” for me, and the clients who read my blogs and seek me out, does not mean that a very different approach or perspective wouldn’t work for you, or other therapists, or your clients. That’s the beauty of this field. One size never did fit all, though some researchers seem to be hoping they will find that size. I think they might find a Unicorn first.
I offer this piece by way of encouraging you to think creatively and innovatively about your own career and career options. I hope you found it thought-provoking and helpful…
Dr. James Michael Nolan