Doing so, however, requires that the coach has a powerful intuition and knows how to use it well. Furthermore, some background in psychology may offer better support for the coach, since tough clients are generally more vulnerable than those who are psychologically healthier. A coach needs to show maximum sensitivity and patience when coaching them.
It has been noted that repetitive cycles occurred also in coaching non-coaches who have a low self-awareness, or do not have enough knowledge of coaching dynamics and jargon. To ensure a successful communication and accurate understanding between client and coach, a coach needs to communicate on the same level of the client.
The Need for Psychology in Coaching vs. Making Mistakes
The need for some psychology training can be highly beneficial for coaches. It can help them determine more accurately whether a client is qualified for coaching, whether s/he is going to be a tough client, and most importantly assuring that coach does not cause clients with hidden psychological disorders any harm. Grant (Coutu et al. 2009) argues that
coaching those who have unrecognized mental health problems can be counterproductive and even dangerous.
He adds that
contrary to popular belief, it’s not always easy to recognize depression or anxiety without proper training. An executive is far more likely to complain of difficulties related to time management, interpersonal communication, or workplace disengagement than of anxiety.
He raises an important question; whether it is ‘ethical’, in the first place, for a non-psychologist coach to work with a client who has an anxiety disorder for example. Other psychological disorders requiring psychotherapy that may not be easy for a non-psychologist coach to diagnose are:
- Borderline Personality
- Obsessive Compulsive
- ADHD, Depression, etc.
Therefore, a coach may do very little to help clients overcome them.
Berglas (2002) argues that coaches lacking the rigorous psychological training may do more harm than good to their clients:
By dint of their backgrounds and biases, [coaches] downplay or simply ignore deep-seated psychological problems they don’t understand. Even more concerning, when [a client’s] problems stem from undetected or ignored psychological difficulties, coaching can actually make a bad situation worse.
He suggests resolving stubborn or severe symptoms that plague a client by first addressing the unconscious conflict within. This certainly requires that the coach has some psychology training.
However, a good coach refers a client to a therapist. Yet, many clients who had tried therapy in the past have resorted to coaching instead, as they believe therapy did not help them. The researcher has positively managed to coach such clients into success and lightness. Yet, a coach needs to stay closely connected to his/her own intuition, and watch signs of when coaching is not working. Then, therapy becomes the only option.
Grant (Coutu et al. 2009) argues that highly functional clients are not necessarily healthy ones:
the notion that candidates for coaching are usually mentally robust flies in the face of academic research. Studies conducted by the University of Sydney, for example, have found that between 25% and 50% of those seeking coaching have clinically significant levels of anxiety, stress, or depression.
Maccoby (Coutu et al. 2009) warns of dangerous shifts made by actual coaches in business: One is when a behavioralist coach (one who monitors behavior) seduces the client into a form of psychotherapy without saying that explicitly as it is not within the coach’s province to handle. The other danger, he says, is when a personal coach turns into business adviser.
Diane Coutu (Coutu et al. 2009) says that coaching is troubled with conflicts of interest, ‘blurry lines’ between what is the province of coaches and what needs to be left to mental health professionals, and sketchy mechanisms for monitoring the effectiveness of a coaching relationship.
Berglas (2002) suggests combining psychology and coaching services to better support clients. He says at least every executive scheduled to receive coaching should first receive a psychological evaluation that can be ‘gratuitous’. He believes that by screening out employees unprepared psychologically to benefit from coaching, spare companies from putting executives in deeply uncomfortable- even damaging- positions. He also advocates that companies should hire independent mental health professionals to look over coaching outcomes, to ensure that coaches are not missing or ignoring underlying problems, or creating new ones.
Berglas (2002) argues that even coaches who accept that a client has problems may require time to address that. Coaches still tend to rely solely on behavioural solutions. He says executive coaches ‘unschooled in the dynamics of psychotherapy’ often use the ‘powerful hold’ they develop over their clients. Sadly, he comments:
misguided coaching ignores- and even creates deeprooted psychological problems that often only psychotherapy can fix.
He also adds that in this environment of quick fixes, where psychotherapy has become marginalized and shied from, executive coaches may have stepped in to fill in the gap, offering a kind of instant alternative. He recites Warren Bennis’s observation that most of the
executive coaching is really an acceptable form of psychotherapy.
Bennis says it is easier for a client to say:
I’m getting counselling from my coach’ rather than saying ‘I’m going to see my therapist. (Berglas, 2002)
Berglas (2002) says coaching may seem more attractive for clients as therapy usually requires a greater time and commitment, travel to and from the therapist’s office, and causing client to take even more time away from work. He argues that CEOs (who put the bottom line first) may like the idea that coaches can help employees improve performance quickly. Yet, that approach tends to mask any unconscious conflict the employee might have. It can have disastrous consequences for the company in the long term and can exacerbate the psychological damage to the person targeted for help.
This paper discusses some of the challenges a non-psychologist coach may face while training to become a professional coach. These challenges were Coaching for Fulfillment vs. Securing A Financial Return, Creating Awareness to Unblock Repetitive Cycles vs. Giving Advice and The Need For Psychology in Coaching vs. Making Mistakes. The need for some kind of Psychology in coach training can prove quite beneficial for the progress and success of the coach, without causing the client any potential psychological harm.
Berglas, S. (2002), “The Very Real Dangers of Executive Coaching”, Harvard Business Review, June, Vol. 80 Issue 6, p86-93.
Coutu, D., Kauffman, C., Charan, R., Peterson, D., Maccoby, M., Scoular, A., & Grant, A. (2009), “What Can Coaches Do for You?” Harvard Business Review. Jan., Vol. 87 Issue 1, p91-97.
Sandlund, C. (2002, Dec.), “Coaching To The Couch”, Chief Executive, Vol. 184.