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Lucy Ball is a leadership coach and facilitator

Coaching or Couching

This entry explores the area between Coaching and Counselling or Psychotherapy which some practitioners are now calling Couching.

In entry level coach training much is rightly made of the clear boundary between coaching and counselling. The safety of clients and the ethical responsibility of the coach is paramount, especially when some coach training takes only a matter of weeks. Coaching clients are whole people with whole life issues and however good we are at compartmentalising, what comes up in a coaching session is not always controllable. It is essential therefore that coaches do no harm, do not abuse their power nor dabble outside their competence.

As a result of my own professional development, the boundary between coaching and counselling has become more blurred than it felt when I first trained in 1998. I think it is also more blurred for clients and buyers of coaching for the following reasons:

1 Clients are more open: The psychology of work, mental health and well-being are more than ever in the press and in the public consciousness. Although this is true, there is still stigma attached to seeking therapy. Coaching can be an accessible and less stigmatised way of accessing a supportive professional.

2 Buyers are more psychologically aware: A Director seeking coaching for an executive on their team is now much more likely to say that they are aware of how the client’s beliefs, self-identity and history are playing out in their current performance. They want a coach who can work at this level.

3 The world is more complex: Clients and coaches alike are more aware of the VUCA nature of the world and it is not unusual to see a client whose work issue is systemic and spans several realms e.g. family, team, organisation, cultural and socio-political factors.

4 Coaching is maturing: As coaches mature, their professional development often takes them into psychotherapy and counselling theory and practice.  Similarly more counsellors and psychotherapists are entering the coaching market.

My own view is that responsible coaches with psychological skill and, most importantly, high self-awareness can add a huge amount of value in organisational settings. Human development is a subtle and complex process that does not always fit neatly into the TGROW model. It can be individual and relational, conscious and unconscious, rational and somatic, behavioural and emotional. It is about strength and it is about vulnerability, it can be quick but it can also be very very slow.

My guidance to coaches is to embrace the wholeness and humanity of their clients whilst staying ethical, responsible and humble.  Clear contracting, continuing professional development, supervision and psychotherapy, communities of support and a network of experts to refer people to when a boundary is reached are all ways to ensure safety.

I’d like to thank William Devine and Helen Holgate for a generous and enlightening session on this topic organised by Trayton Vance of Coaching Focus. And thanks also to Sue Houghton whose article ‘Couching’ can be found in January 2013’s edition of Coaching Today Magazine.


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