When it comes to coaches, there is a host to choose from.
Life coaches, Career coaches, Performance coaches, Business coaches, Relationship coaches, Executive coaches, and even Coaching Psychologists. This is only a sample of the various specialisms within the coaching profession. Since I consider myself to be a Coaching Psychologist, I’ll highlight how this differs to a Life coach, and the advantages of working with one.
Let’s begin by outlining what a Life coach is, arguably the most well-known. According to the research, A Life coaches’ aim is to facilitate sustained cognitive, emotional and behavioural change in a client . More simply put, the Life coach supports the client in their self-development by exploring their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Goals are then set to help promote positive change. For most people, Life coaching is the first specialism that they are introduced to. These are the generalists of the trade, dealing with various life issues from quitting smoking to starting a new business venture. Sessions with a Life coach usually take place one-to-one, in either the coaches office, or online.
A Coaching psychologist has a similar approach, but uses psychologically supported methods to achieve long-term positive change. As members of the British Psychological Society (BPS), Coaching psychologists are trained to look at the world with a scientific eye. Their rigorous education lead them to prefer tools that are backed by a large quantity of evidence. In other words, a coaching psychologist will only use tools that they are confident will work. This is the main difference compared to a life coach, who’s qualification does not demand them to use this scientific approach. However, this position gives the Life coach a significant advantage, they have the freedom to be creative with the techniques they use in their sessions.
To counter this, Coaching Psychologists are required to constantly read up on current studies and theories to make sure that their practice is still relevant. This scientific approach means that clients can rest assured that any content offered in sessions are effective and up to date.
Managing client wellbeing
There is a fine line between coaching and therapy, but it is an important one to maintain. One big difference is that coaching is designed for functioning clients who desire self-development, while therapy focusses on people diagnosed as having some form of mental disorder . This promotes the dangerous assumption that clients within coaching will not be suffering from any mental disorders. In reality everyone is susceptible, and it is the coaches role to be aware of this. For example, addiction, stress, burnout, and depression are growing issues within organisations, and most Business coaches are at a disadvantage to deal with it. However, because of their training, Coaching Psychologist are well placed to manage the emotions of the client, and monitor for any potential mental disorders . Studies show that they are able to identify any mental health issues sooner, ensuring a safer space for clients to open up. These clients can then be referred to the relevant specialists quickly and safely.
For myself personally, my background in psychology has meant that I have built a network of accredited therapists and Counselling Psychologists. I rely on this network to support me when I need to refer a client who has become aware of any underlying mental disorder. In addition, being trained in Organisational Psychology has given me experience working with common wellbeing issues such as burnout.
Coaching using personality tests
An added benefit to working with a Coaching Psychologist is that they are often trained to use personality tests. Personality tests are a great way to gain insight into your own personality, strengths, and weaknesses. Using the results of these tests, rich sessions can be conducted to help you become more aware of your development needs. For example, by exploring the results with a coach, a client may discover that they have a heavy preference for tried and tested methods of working. After discussing the potential downsides to such a preference, the client becomes aware that this has stopped them from being creative in the workplace. The coach and client then work on forming a strategy centred on helping the client become more innovative.
Some psychometric tools such as DISC or MBTI highlight personality differences, and make you aware of how other personalities view your behaviour. For example, personality types who prefer to gather all the information before making a decision may find that they aggravate other people who prefer to make quick decisions using a brief summary. Gaining insight into your own personality can help you build better relationships. Once you are aware of how you and your colleagues differ in personality, you can start to adapt your communication style to maximise collaboration effectiveness.
Each coaching specialism carries its own strength. For a Business coach it’s their understanding of the corporate environment, for a Life coach it’s their ability to have an impact on a huge range of clients. Nevertheless, the primary benefit of working with a Coaching Psychologist is the scientifically supported and methodological approach to reaching your goals. Furthermore, Coaching Psychologists have been trained to work with the human mind, making them knowledgeable on subjects such as wellbeing and personality. Clients should feel confident that their coach is of a high calibre and will offer content that is supported with scientific evidence. This should encourage clients to feel comfortable trusting the coaching process and to invest in their self-development.
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 Lai, Y. L., & McDowall, A. (2014). A systematic review (SR) of coaching psychology: Focusing on the attributes of effective coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 9(2), 120-136.