As a Coach and Therapist: My Underlying Approach To Get Positive Change


I think the traditional line of thinking from the general population is that therapists work with the unconscious mind and past issues with clients, while a coach works with the conscious mind and the future to make healthy clients better.  Many think that a therapist solely works with pathology and illness.

Yes, there are ethical boundaries about what a coach can practice compared to a therapist.  While this controversy is probably one worth discussing for ethical reasons,  too much emphasis has been placed on who can do what, which has created a “turf war” between therapists and coaches.  And I believe my own profession of psychotherapy has contributed to this whole controversy.  Unfortunately, we’re too caught up on prestige and egos.  What’s also unfortunate in the psychological world is that our theories are not patient-specific, but instead focus on expert knowledge over symptom relief and behavioral change.  I fundamentally disagree with this, along with the rules and norms on therapist behavior that are not flexibly related to client outcome.    Regardless of the fact of whether I have my “therapist hat” on or my “coach hat” on,  I make sure to tailor my approach according to the client’s needs.  By that I mean:

  • I am concerned primarily with concrete changes in a person’s real life, including actualizing their potential, promoting their growth, improving their efficiency and productivity at school, overcoming inhibitions, and resolving symptoms.
  •  I only delve into a person’s past if it significantly helps that person understand and take control of those habits, feelings, and thoughts that hold them back from achieving their most important goals.  When triggers come into play and a client can’t move forward, I will utilize EMDR to weaken past traumatic memories to reorganize the “files” that are disorganized in the brain.
  •  I often work in a time-limited manner  and have specific behavioral outcomes in mind at all times as an empirical measure of success.  I continually track progress with my client, and use a 1-10 rating system to assess change in different categories including emotional health, personal care, coping skills, trying new things outside of one’s comfort zone etc.
  •  I work to make relatively healthy people healthier as well as to alleviate the suffering of people who are may be very sick.  People are all different stages of mental health, and it’s important to meet them where they are at and create attainable and realistic goals.  Some need to move slowly and others need to be nudged a bit more off the bat.  It all depends.
  • I work with the client’s conscious experience, while helping him or her understand that sometimes their self-limiting behavior is brought on by thoughts and feelings and beliefs about which they are unaware.  It’s extremely powerful once a client is able to make a connection that I do not explicitly point out.  Instead, I guide them to an “aha moment” of self-discovery.
  • I focus a great deal on the client’s real interactions within the various social systems in which he or she is embedded. The more I understand the social realities of a client’s life, the better I am able to be of assistance.  By looking at a client’s Tier I, Tier II, and Tier III friends and mapping them out, I can work with the client to see where an improvement can be made.  By creating a genogram, I can see a client’s family system and where he/she is getting energy/support from and where he/she is giving off energy, and potentially not getting enough back from others, for example.
  • I am always reevaluating about whether I’m on the right track with someone.  I can tell almost immediately if an intervention is useful or not.  It’s important to constantly adapt and try new interventions, as some will undoubtedly fail.  It’s all about opening doors and trying new things.  Psychotherapy, in many ways, is a trial and error process.
  • I explore client’s strengths and positive memories as a way of increasing self-esteem and motivating client’s to push themselves outside of their comfort zone and to embrace temporary discomfort as a means for positive growth.  I always do strength-building at THE END of a session to leave a client feeling stabilized and comfortable about moving forward.

Finally, what I know about myself is that I will operate in the best interest of my client based on my capabilities. Sometimes it will be based on my insight, while other times I will provide experiences that are corrective in nature.  The fact of the matter is that clients who seek help from coaches or therapists all want to get better.  They are undoubtedly held back by maladaptive expectations, beliefs, and emotions.  It is the job of either the therapist or coach to figure out how to get on the client’s side to overcome these irrational feelings and beliefs.  Simple enough.

I am in the business of psychotherapy/coaching to deliver positive change for clients.  What that requires is not a therapist that utilizes one specific, narrow-based theory, but a therapist who utilizes a wide array of efficacious psychotherapeutic modalities that are appropriate for the client that provide a reduction in symptoms and positive behavioral change.

Speak Your Mind


Ryan Long, MSW, LICSW


verified by Psychology Today

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