What is coaching?

And what is not.

I cannot recall the number of times people have asked me – “What does a coach exactly do? ” –  It’s never a short answer. There are many branches within a coaching tree. In this interview with Emma from “Connect & Empower”, I cover the main questions and bring clarity to a service that is continuing to climb in popularity due to its proven effectiveness. 

Photo by Ronni Steen Hansen

Q: Isn’t a coach someone who helps athletes to improve their performance?

A: Not entirely. The term ‘coaching’ means many different things to different people but is generally about helping individuals to solve their problems and improve their performance. It doesn’t matter whether coaching is used in sports, life or business. A good coach believes that individuals always have the answers to their own problems. They just need help to unlock them. And, like a bus coach a COACH helps people to move from where they are to where they want to be. 

Q: Is a coach like a mentor then?

A: Not really. A mentor questions the WHAT, while a coach questions the HOW and mainly the WHY. A mentor is an expert who provides wisdom and guidance based on his or her own experience. It is a relationship between two people in which the individual with more experience, knowledge and connections can pass on what he or she has learned to a younger individual within a certain field. Mentoring may include advising, counselling, and coaching. The coaching process does not include advising or counselling and focuses instead on helping individuals or groups to reach their objectives. However, mentoring can be an integral part of coaching as long as mentoring is not confused with providing solutions. 

Q: How is it then different from counselling?

A: Counselling is much closer to coaching than other psychological therapeutic interventions. It is more focused on listening and asking. Though, its focus is still more on helping the client overcome past experiences, especially ones dealing with emotional traumas. Many subjects that traditionally were the counsellors’ space of expertise such as relationships, grief and loss are now capably handled by coaches using outcome-oriented approaches. 

Q: If they do not offer solutions what does a coach do?

A: The coach will not, and can not tell the clients what to do. The role of the coach is to listen to them, ask questions and challenge them. It will enable them to establish their goals, explore their self-limiting beliefs and remove inner barriers. The coach creates a safe non-judgmental space where they can share their thoughts and feelings, explore their behaviour, be authentic and allow their emotions to come to the surface. The coach has no other agenda than to facilitate the change they want.  Coaches, like mind trainers, will keep them focused on their goal throughout the change, challenging the status quo. 

Q: How do you do that?

A: We start by establishing trust and building rapport with the client; then we assess priority areas; identify challenging areas; define goals; create an action plan; set the commitment to achieve desired goals; measure progress; hold accountability for the result; celebrate success.

Q: How long does a coaching journey last?

A: The coach will usually offer to work with the client over a specific number of sessions. The duration of coaching is up to them. There can be an immediate impact on the desired change after only a few sessions. They can stop at any time when they feel they’ve reached their goal or feel it is no longer working for them. 

Q: Can anybody be coached?

A: Individuals with psychological or psychiatric disorders may not be coached and referred to a specialist. Coaching does not involve the diagnosis or treatment of mental disorders and coaching is not to be used as a substitute for counselling, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, or other professional advice by legal, medical or other qualified professionals. It is the Client’s exclusive responsibility to seek such independent professional guidance as needed. If the Client is currently under the care of a mental health professional, it is recommended that the Client informs the mental health care provider of the nature and extent of the coaching relationship agreed upon by the Client and the Coach. However, coaching paired with psychological treatment gets optimal results. Although most people need a life and business coach in their life, not everyone is coachable. I have met a few clients who were not ready to release their attachment to old habits because it was serving other scopes in their existence, thus, coaching would have been a mutual waste of time. People who expect a quick fix, or expect the coach to fix it for them, despite having the process explained from the start, are not coachable. Some clients are simply not ready to implement any change, blaming this and that to stay rooted in their comfort zone; coaching will not work for those who are not transparent and beholds pertinent information on why a specific plan will not work. Last but not least, coaching is not for those people who only seek validation.

Q: Can you briefly describe what coaching is not?

  • Coaching does not analyse the client’s past but will merely use it as information.
  • Does not deepen past experiences but considers the present situation to lead to a fulfilling future. 
  • Does not offer psychological or psychotherapeutic treatment. 
  • Does not prescribe drugs or other substances.
  • It is not a passive practice.
  • It is not procrastination but action!
  • It is not healing.
  • It is not asking: Why me? Why now? Why this?
  • Asks instead: What? How? When? Who? Where?
  • If a life coach concludes during the sessions, that the client needs support from a doctor or a therapist, then the coach shall redirect the client accordingly in his/her/their best interest.