Williams and Davis: Therapist as Life Coach

Aimed at therapists and those in “helping professions” looking at making the crossover to work in life coaching, this book puts across the essence of this relatively new profession very effectively. For those who have made the decision to move to life coaching, it will be a support and inspiration. But does life coaching really offer anything different from core counselling principles like empathy, genuineness and unconditional positive regard?

Rating: 3

Therapist as Life Coach: An Introduction for Counselors and Other Helping Professionals, Revised and Expanded

By , 2007. ISBN 9780393705225. W.W. Norton. 224 pages.

What is it?

“Life coaching is a powerful human relationship in which trained coaches help people design their future rather than get over their past. Through a typically long-term relationship, coaches aid clients in creating visions and goals for all aspects of their lives and multiple strategies to support the achievement of those goals. Coaches recognize their clients’ brilliance and their personal power to discover their own solutions when provided with support, accountability and unconditional positive regard.” (p. xiii)

This book puts across the essence of the relatively new profession of life coaching very effectively. It is very specifically aimed at therapists and those in “helping professions” looking at making the crossover to work in life coaching. It will be a support, inspiration and of great practical use to those who have made that decision.The book covers the history of this relatively young field, theory, tips for making the transition, an investigation of the coach-client relationship, advanced coaching skills and examples of coaching techniques. The “Developing and Marketing Your Practice” section is particularly dense in information and contains plenty of useful practical marketing suggestions and the full text of a “Welcome Pack” for new clients. The book can be used as a coaching tool itself, with basic exercises for the reader to do (the life-balance wheel, decluttering) as well as ones specifically focused on the therapist transitioning to being a life coach. The exercises are fun, and they work. The book is comprehensive, clear and efficient; it does what it says it will do and more.

Personally, however, I found the relentlessly upbeat tone of the book (life coaching as “renewing the soul” and reclaiming joy for therapists) more than a little disturbing. The underlying, and sometimes explicit, message is that being a therapist is a bit of a downer, that working within the system (it is a US based book) is more and more difficult, and work with clients with serious mental health problems can take its toll on therapists. What to do? Get out while you can and take a job which consists of only the good bits, only the positive and self motivated clients who are really getting somewhere. Pick and choose the clients you like, avoid burnout, and make more money!

The question arises, who is going to do the therapy the authors consider necessary for those with ‘real’ problems? Or for those who have to stay within the managed care system because they can’t afford anything else? Maybe the second class or masochistic therapists who are not smart enough to jump ship?

I would have liked to read in more depth about the philosophical and practical differences between life coaching and counselling — it seems to me that the basic questions which life coaches encourage their clients to examine, touching on their deepest desires and visions for the future, are necessarily deep and fundamental ones with a painful as well as positive side. At what point does the life coach say “stop: I’m not a counsellor!” and send someone who has uncovered some material which disturbs their sense of self to therapy?

Is this rather simplistic division — life coaching equals positive/forward looking/collaborative relationship of equal partners, and therapy equals painful/backwards looking/hierarchical/based on “fixing” the client — really accurate and helpful? The authors repeatedly point out that many therapists do work with their clients in a collaborative way, focusing on their resources and looking forward to a fulfilling future.

The authors however insist that therapists who work in a goal-directed/collaborative/positively facilitating way with their clients are no longer doing therapy but doing life coaching. I am not sure what this distinction achieves. In my understanding, good therapists listen and respond to what their clients need from them, and this very often involves all 360 degrees of human experience, with the joyful, goal focused, putting our heads together in teamwork bit coming when the client is ready — whether at the beginning or at the end of the relationship.

In fact this collaborative model is characteristic of the way the therapy paradigm is changing, moving towards a short term, solution focused approach. The centrality of a nonhierarchical collaborative relationship has been in place in counselling theory and practice at least since Carl Rogers began the person centred tradition in the 1950s. So has, I would say, the idea that fundamentally the client is not in need of “fixing”, but fundamentally “a whole and not in need of repair” (p. 56) — a view the authors claim is a part of the world view of the life coach as opposed to that of the counsellor. Certainly the person centred counsellor’s belief in the actualising tendency, the tendency we have when given the right conditions, to grow and fulfill ourselves positively and creatively, seems to fit right in with the life coaching view, except that it extends to everyone, not just those who are active and self motivated at the start. In another parallel, for the person centred counsellor leading a life of integrity yourself is of great importance. Therapy cannot be a professional “act”.

The distinction between those “with problems” who go to therapy and those with a desire for self improvement but “no problems” who go for life coaching seems to me to reinforce old fashioned ideas of therapy as being for the mad and the bad, which have stigmatised those looking for a helping relationship.I am sure that life coaching fulfills a real need for some people, in its flexibility and the range of techniques available for mobilising resources and designing the life they want. These techniques are also available in books and on the internet. I am not sure that the actual coaching relationship, the critical factor in coaching success, offers anything quite as dramatically different from the old chestnuts of empathy, genuineness and unconditional positive regard, in action, as it would like (on the basis of this book) to imply.

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