Monthly Archives: December 2008

Counseling vs. life coaching

By Jim Paterson December 15, 2008

The relationship between professional counselors and life coaches is sometimes akin to that of stepsiblings. They are loosely connected because they share the same family name — “helping professional.” And because of that name, those outside the “family” sometimes link the two (like it or not).

However, like stereotypical stepsiblings, although counselors and life coaches are familiar with each other and even share some similar traits, they are sometimes prone to less positive feelings of competition and, at times, distrust.

According to interviews conducted for this article, many professional counselors and life coaches HeartinHandsagree that they can coexist — even flourish — and that clients will be better off if both services are available from well-trained practitioners. They generally agree that coaches should be certified through a strong, formal process that requires ample amounts of study and experience. And it is broadly believed that there are limits to what life coaches can and should do with clients, with both sides agreeing that coaches should refer clients to a therapist if a significant psychological problem is discovered.

There is, however, often a larger divide when the discussion turns to how coaching and counseling are defined and what each profession offers.

Coaching advocates say they provide a distinct service that helps clients work on their goals for the future and create a new life path. They say counselors spend more time examining the past, looking for solutions to emotional concerns and seeking a diagnosis required by insurance companies. Coaches suggest that the relationships they establish with clients are also more collegial in nature. Coaches and clients work in a less structured environment as a team rather than setting up a “doctor-patient” relationship.

Lynn Mitchell, a business executive and management consultant for nearly 20 years, is working on a master’s degree in counseling in Chicago but wants to be a life coach. She compares coaching with services provided by personal trainers, nutritionists or massage therapists, who help people with health concerns. “There are a lot of people trying to cope with life adjustments, anxieties and personal challenges,” says Mitchell, a member of the American Counseling Association. “Coaching can help, and there is something positive and preventative about it. Wellness is a trend, and coaching is part of it.”

Not all professional counselors, however, necessarily see the distinction. Although acknowledging the value of what properly trained life coaches offer to clients, many counselors maintain that coaches are simply utilizing theories and techniques taught to every counselor as a matter of course.

“We can do anything a coach can do. It is part of our training, and it is part of how we work with clients,” says Sue Pressman, president-elect of the National Employment Counseling Association, president of Pressman Consulting in Arlington, Va., and a longtime member of ACA. “There are coaches who go through good training programs. I’m sure they are skilled and effective, but that is not to say that counselors aren’t, nor that we don’t offer these services.”

Pressman believes professional counselors need to better market the services they are already qualified to provide that allow them to help individuals in the same way as coaches. “Good coaches should come out and make it clear they are not counselors and refer people for the proper services,” she says. “And it is also only fair that good counselors be encouraged to say that they do coaching.”

Larry Pfaff, an ACA member and associate professor at Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, Mich., was in private practice as a counselor for 20 years. He has been vigorous in raising concerns about the coaching profession, particularly when he served on the Michigan Board of Counseling. Based on his study of different websites for coach training and services, Pfaff believes many coaches are not adequately trained and might essentially be practicing counseling without a license.

“There are some good training programs out there, and coaches are often doing some good stuff and meeting important needs,” he says. “But there are also a lot of programs that don’t require much more than a few weeks of training.” Pfaff adds that he is also often cynical about the success some life coaches proclaim to have. “I think a lot of it is a placebo effect,” he says. “Clients pay money — and often a lot of money — to coaches, so they think they must be better.”

Despite these differences of opinion, most of the individuals contacted by Counseling Today agreed on one thing: A future in which life coaches and professional counselors can learn to coexist and collaborate is best for both professions — and their clients.

What is coaching?

The International Coach Federation (ICF), which claims to be the largest coaching credentialing and support organization in the world, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. Professional coaches provide an ongoing partnership designed to help clients produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives. Coaches help people improve their performances and enhance the quality of their lives. Coaches are trained to listen, to observe and to customize their approach to individual client needs. They seek to elicit solutions and strategies from the client; they believe the client is naturally creative and resourceful. The coach’s job is to provide support to enhance the skills, resources and creativity that the client already has.”

Patrick Williams, a psychologist for 28 years who moved into the coaching profession in 1990, helped to found ICF in 1995. He sees coaching as an “evolutionary step” among the helping professions and believes coaching’s definition and boundaries will become clearer with time. He further says that coaching is “the hottest trend to hit the self-improvement business” and regards coaching as being clearly rooted in well-accepted theory.

“Adler and Jung saw individuals as the creators and artists of their lives and frequently involved their clients in goal setting, life planning and inventing their future — all tenets and approaches in today’s coaching,” says Williams, who also points to Carl Rogers’ work with client-centered therapy as a “significant precursor to coaching.” He says coaching was born of advances in the helping professions that were then blended with consulting practices and organizational and personal development training trends. Coaching takes the best of all those approaches, he contends, to provide a new type of assistance.

An ACA member, Williams is likewise a strong supporter of counseling and does not believe that the emergence of coaching poses a threat. “Traditional therapy will not become extinct but will increasingly offer help primarily to those who need clinical services,” he says. “Therapy is about uncovering and recovering, while coaching is about discovering.”

Edward Colozzi, a career development expert and author of the book Creating Careers With Confidence, says although coaching has its limitations, its practice harkens back to times in many cultures when spiritual leaders, shamans, mentors or others in the community offered informal guidance. “It is, in a way, a back-to-the-future paradigm shift,” Colozzi says. “A life coach is like a mentor — a person who joins us on a journey. Many people have performed that role in the past. But in a society such as ours that starts to have rules and regulations … that may be where counseling was born. Now, perhaps, we are seeing a return to something more basic.”

In the early 1970s, Colozzi says that he, along with others, pioneered “career life” counseling, which may have been the precursor to coaching. Today, the distinction between the two is often described as a difference in thinking about the significance of the past.

“Coaching is more focused on the present and the future,” says Paula Padget Baylor, a graduate student adviser in Eastern University’s Counseling and Psychology Department in St. Davids, Pa. A trained counselor and coach who works in both areas and trains professional counselors to use their coaching skills, Baylor is an ACA member who has been in private practice for 10 years.

She explains that coaches generally work on four areas with clients:

  • Defining goals
  • Formulating a plan that will use the client’s skills
  • Holding the client accountable for progress
  • Providing structure, encouragement and support

“Through coaching, clients can learn how to use healthy and helpful ways of navigating through life,” she says.

What’s the difference?

Both professional counselors and coaches see similarities between the two fields, but also draw sharp distinctions. “There is a spectrum of need,” Mitchell says. “Currently, counseling focuses on moving people from a state of dysfunction to one of being functional. But there are many people who are very functional, yet maybe not highly functional or achieving their full potential. The only place they could turn is the self-help section of the bookstore. Coaching provides an alternative.”

“Coaching has a role, a narrower focus than counseling,” says ACA member April Summers, a counselor at a maximum-security prison in McLoud, Okla. Summers has herself used a coach and believes coaching is an important helping profession, although one with a limited reach. “It helps clients set manageable goals and reach them, especially someone who doesn’t know where to start or how to tackle a big change in their life,” she says.

Most counselors who contacted Counseling Today for this article said they see some similarities between coaching and popular counseling theory. Coaching’s emphasis on setting goals and focusing on the future reminds some of solution-focused counseling. Others see the work of Carl Rogers in coaching’s suggestion that clients themselves have the capability to find solutions to the issues that confront them.

But other counselors, such as Summers, are concerned by the prospect of coaches overreaching. “I think good coaching should start with the disclaimer that coaching is limited and that more serious, deeper issues may need therapy,” she says.

Peter Moskowitz, an ACA member who coaches health care professionals and is the executive director of the Center for Professional and Personal Renewal in Palo Alto, Calif., concurs that coaches need to understand the difference between the services they provide and counseling. “I do not take on clients who, in my judgment, have serious mental/emotional problems — problems such as substance abuse, major depression and personality disorders,” he says. “When I suspect any of those issues, I refer the client to an appropriate mental health professional for a thorough evaluation and resume work once the client is emotionally stable.”

Stephanie Baffone, an ACA member and Licensed Mental Health Counselor with her own practice in Newark, Del., has worked with a coach personally and says she found the process helpful “but only in regard to setting life goals and working on some of the more superficial challenges I run into while working on those goals. From my limited experience, the opportunity for psychological exploration is not inherent in the life coaching process.”

Williams wholeheartedly agrees that coaches should steer clear of certain areas and be quick to refer clients to the appropriate mental health professional. And he doesn’t view the client bases for coaching and counseling as being interchangeable. Coaches work with healthy clients who are striving to improve their circumstances, he says, and counselors work with persons needing help and hoping to identify dysfunction or trauma to heal and resolve old pain.

“Counselors assume emotions are a symptom of something wrong; coaches assume they are natural and can be normalized,” Williams contends. “Therapists diagnose and provide professional expertise and guidelines, and coaches help clients identify the challenges, then work in partnership with clients to obtain their goals.”

Another difference? Progress is often slow and painful in counseling, but it is typically “rapid and usually enjoyable” in coaching, according to Williams. Again, he attributes this to the differences between the client base of each profession. “(Clients who seek coaching) aren’t usually coming with a dysfunction or because they are in pain,” he says.

That distinction is what drew Mitchell to coaching, where she hopes to provide “wellness counseling and personal coaching.” She draws the boundary line as such: “If you are ill, see a counselor. If you are focused on prevention and maximizing your emotional health, see a coach.”

Michael Walsh, president of the Counseling Association for Humanistic Education and Development, a division of ACA, says the boundaries may not be that clear. “Like many things in life, rarely are things so simple. Clearly, there are counselors who focus on prevention, maximizing emotional health and achieving peak performance,” he says. “The difference is that counselors also have the additional training to help clients when things are not going so well.”

“I think that both coaching and counseling can be an incredibly beneficial process for folks,” Walsh continues. “The key here is the training of the counselor or coach and the personal fit between the client and the counselor or coach. I would encourage folks to first be sure that any professional has the requisite training and credentials in order to ensure the quality of the services provided. This is especially important in fields in which there is limited regulation and oversight, such as coaching. Then, I would encourage folks to look for a good personal fit with the style, approach and training of the provider. We know, based on the literature in both peak performance work and in counseling, that personal connections often foster the greatest motivation toward success.”

Straddling the line

Not every counselor would say they are focused on “dysfunction.” Many ACA members take a “wellness” perspective with clients and see their main purpose as helping individuals to reach their full potential. But as Williams points out, many people are reluctant to see professional counselors for any reason because there is still a prevailing notion that only individuals with serious problems seek out counseling or “therapy.” Young people, in particular, are much more likely to want to see a coach, he says.

Diane Bast, who received her counseling degree after 22 years in human resources and now practices coaching in Elm Grove, Wis., says professional counselors are often faced with a “mental health” label and an insurance reimbursement process that requires assignment of a diagnosis. “I see a lot of people in my practice who really want coaching and more direction, and they balk at having to fill out all kinds of paperwork implying mental problems,” says Bast, a member of ACA. “They want to talk about their careers and what is holding them back or causing them problems on the job.”

Joey Harman was a teacher before getting her master’s in counseling. She was working in a community mental health agency and in private practice when she decided to get her coaching certification through the MentorCoach program based in Bethesda, Md. Like Williams, she believes coaches have a unique role to play as helping professionals, primarily working with people who are generally healthy but still need support. Harman, an ACA member, says her understanding of basic counseling techniques makes her a better coach, and she still practices in both fields, although she keeps them entirely separate.

Pfaff believes most professional counselors are already qualified to also coach clients without additional training. “Counselors can use parts of what they had in training — some cognitive therapy and solution-focused work and a little Carl Rogers. Most counselors with very little other work can do (coaching). Eighty percent already are.” He says counselors simply need to do a better job of defining their expertise, highlighting their coachlike services and marketing themselves to the public.

But professional counselors who offer coaching services should understand that, legally, they are still practicing counselors. “Be aware that licensing boards do not necessarily differentiate between counseling and coaching activities,” says ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan. “Your licensing board may well view your coaching as falling under their scope of practice. Therefore, you should fulfill all mandated state licensing requirements — for example, obtaining informed consent, reporting child or elder abuse, etc. — with your coaching clients just as you do with your counseling clients.”

Because of the lack of differentiation, professional counselors who conduct “coaching” can have complaints lodged against them by their coaching clients with state counseling licensing boards. In addition, coaching clients can sue counselors for malpractice and attempt to hold them to the standards of Licensed Professional Counselors, even if the counselor was providing services as a “coach.” The bottom line, Kaplan says, is that counselors who identify themselves as “coaches” to clients must still maintain the same standards as professional counselors.

Coach training

Some professional counselors are using their high level of training and skill to also dip their toes in the coaching pool; others are concerned that too many unqualified or underqualified “coaches” are diluting the professionalism and true value of the helping professions. Pfaff, for one, complains that coaches charge considerably more than most counselors — $200 to $300 an hour — even though they don’t necessarily have the same level of training or experience. He suggests strict certification laws should be established for the coaching profession and that some coaches should be investigated for practicing without a counseling license.

Jason Newsome, director of clinical services for Family Counseling Connection in Charleston, W.Va., agrees. He claims there are no repercussions for ethical breaches in the coaching profession, no standards of practice and no guarantee of competence. “Life coaches are permitted to practice without a license,” says Newsome, a member of ACA and president of the West Virginia Association for Spiritual, Ethical and Religious Values in Counseling.

Newsome also believes that counselors have allowed “too many ad hoc services to be provided under the guise of counseling, diluting the value of the services we provide. As a profession, we have to be able and willing to stand up for ourselves.”

In the past, ACA has not addressed the issue of coaching, but President Colleen Logan says she believes it is now an issue to which the association should pay attention. “We’ll need to study it,” she says. “Certainly, coaching is a valuable service when offered by well-trained, caring people, but the public should be protected from those who aren’t qualified or those who offer counseling services they aren’t trained for.”

Williams and other coaches say the coaching phenomenon is market driven — that the public wants and needs this type of service. Coaching proponents also say that most legitimate training programs describe the boundaries of the coaching profession and make it clear that coaches should not offer counseling services. The ICF has three levels of
accreditation:

  • Associate Certified Coach — Requires 60 hours of coach-specific training and 100 hours of coaching experience with at least eight clients
  • Professional Certified Coach — Requires 120 hours of coach-specific training and 750 hours of coaching experience with at least 25 clients
  • Master Certified Coach — Requires 200 hours of coach-specific training and 2,500 hours of coaching experience with at least 35 clients

The ICF also sets objectives for ethical and professional behavior.

One program whose requirements for certification meet those set by ICF is Martha Beck’s Life Coach Training, which takes 39 weeks and costs about $6,000 for those wishing to be certified. Beck’s training for life coaches includes a prework homework packet that must first be completed, followed by six 90-minute classes, nine 60-minute classes and 15 75-minute classes, all taught by Beck, who holds a doctorate in sociology from Harvard University, has written and lectured broadly on coaching and is a contributor to Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine. All classes require completion of homework and include 25 students. Certification requires completion of 20 paid hours of coaching and passing a written test, in addition to being interviewed by Beck.

Williams’ program, the Institute for Life Coach Training, requires students to pass a 40-hour foundational course as well as a written exam. Other requirements include 50 hours of coaching, along with two 20-hour practicums with coaching sessions, an ethics class and 42 hours of elective courses.

Other coaching programs, however, require far less training. Pfaff and other professional counselors urge that something be implemented to ensure that coaches receive a set amount of minimum training. “My bigger concern here is that the next step might be a state legislature passing a coaching license law,” Pfaff says. “What’s to stop them from getting a 10-hour training program that would qualify them for a license? Then we will wish we had done something about it.”

Some counselors contacted for this article also said that, given some of the overlapping characteristics of coaching and counseling, they would like to see ACA play a guiding role in coaching’s future development, perhaps by stepping in to offer certification to coaches or by giving its blessing to some set of minimum standards. The main concern expressed by professional counselors, however, was that coaches need to be more closely regulated so they will not be tempted to cross the line and offer counseling services unless properly trained and certified.

 

****

Jim Paterson is a school counselor in Maryland and a frequent contributor to Counseling Today. Contact him at jamespaterson7@gmail.com.

Letters to the editor:
ct@counseling.org

****

 

Brief perspectives

Coaching can take many forms, dealing with everything from financial or job concerns to issues with partners or unruly teens. Counseling Today contacted several professionals whose counseling experiences have informed their perspectives of coaching (or vice versa).

  • Peter Moskowitz, executive director of the Center for Professional and Personal Renewal in Palo Alto, Calif., coaches health care professionals, particularly in managing stress and “burnout issues” and making career changes. A physician and clinical professor of radiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Moskowitz is also a counselor. He is a member of both ACA and the Professional Coaches and Mentors Association and has a coaching certification from the Hudson Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif.
  • Marit D. Weikel was a licensed counselor and ACA member in Durham, N.C. But when she began coaching at a weight loss center, she felt she needed to be thoroughly trained in coaching techniques to work with “highly motivated clients who want additional support and accountability.” She eventually became a health coach. “Coaching is based on the belief that the client has the answers,” she says. “My job is to listen and to ask the right question.”
  • Robert Yourell, a San Diego-based ACA member trained in counseling psychology, provides coaching and consulting on a range of issues and has written and spoken broadly on self-help concerns. He contends that coaching can soothe a wide range of problems, including family issues, attention deficit disorder, preparation for anxiety-filled events, neurological problems, brain injury and excessive stress (in which he offers a program of stress-relieving sounds). Yourell also says that coaching can be critical to the process of recovering from mental illness.
  • Martha Atkins provided grief and loss counseling and founded and directed the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, which now serves 300 children a month. An ACA member who has nearly completed her doctorate in counselor education, Atkins also recently finished coaching course work through the Martha Beck Life Coach Training program and began working with people who want to start a business in human services, which is her forte. “My clients got great things from counseling and wanted to do something that would help them move forward in a different way. They are delighted and elated with their progress, as am I. I’m having a blast,” she says.
  • Leslie Griffen, head of the Griffen Group in Lee’s Summit, Mo., is a veteran business executive who, after losing her job 15 years ago, decided to assist outsourced executives and others as they attempted to re-enter the workforce, helping them to find their fit and use personal benchmarks to move forward. A member of ACA who considers herself a coach, she believes she is qualified and experienced and wishes the counseling community would recognize professionals such as her for the work they do. “I am life qualified. I am experientially qualified,” she says. “I have helped hundreds of individuals to successfully move to new chapters of their lives.”
  • ACA member Nancy Duffee, a counselor in Columbus, Ohio, was trained as a coach and received coaching personally, but she returned to school to get her master’s degree in counseling. “I found early in my coaching career that many clients clearly had issues I felt unqualified to address, and I realized that my lack of foundational counseling and development concepts could potentially harm a client,” she says.

— Jim Paterson

 

A stockpile of counselor educator knowledge

Jenny Christenson December 14, 2008

The new ACA-ACES Counselor Syllabus Clearinghouse seeks to collect syllabi from counselor educators nationwide, creating an online library in which educators can share resources to create the most effective courses in counseling. The ultimate goal of the syllabus clearinghouse is to help provide exceptional educational resources to graduate counseling students so that they, in turn, can provide the best possible services to clients upon becoming professional counselors.

The syllabus clearinghouse is a joint project of the American Counseling Association and the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision. The clearinghouse had its beginnings in November 2007, when ACA and ACES realized the need for counseling faculty to have easy access to model syllabi. “It all goes back to our clients,” says ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan. “In order to provide the best possible services to them, we need to train the best students that we can. Providing the clearinghouse is really all about being the best teachers we can be to train the best students, who can then provide the optimal service to our clients.”

Becoming a better counselor educator can often mean learning from other faculty who have walked the same path in the same specialty. That’s why the ACA-ACES Counselor Syllabus Clearinghouse is accepting syllabi in a wide array of categories, including school counseling, professional orientation, counseling theories, child/adolescent counseling and spiritual/religious values, among about 25 other categories, to suit the varied needs of counselor educators. None of the categories is deemed more important than the others because, as Kaplan points out, “The most important syllabus is the one on the topic you’re putting together right now.”

The syllabus clearinghouse will be an active depository of syllabi that serves both first-time counselor educators and seasoned faculty members. New professors can get detailed information about developing their own syllabi from the samples available in the clearinghouse, while experienced educators will have an abundance of new resources to help them infuse creativity and variety into their existing class plans.

Counselor educators who submit syllabi to the clearinghouse will be recognized for their contributions, gaining professional recognition as well as widespread acknowledgment of their graduate schools’ counselor education programs. In addition, counselor educators responsible for the first wave of submissions through the end of 2008 will be recognized as charter contributors in venues such as the ACA and ACES websites, Counseling Today, ACAeNews and Spectrum.

The benefits of the syllabus clearinghouse to counselor educators will be twofold. They will be able to share tangible examples of their best work, gaining recognition and a wider network of counselor colleagues in the process. In turn, other counselor educators will be able to learn from these examples, improve their own curriculums and produce counseling graduates who are better equipped to meet the needs of people in today’s society. In the end, “the benefits trickle down to clients,” Kaplan says.

“This is really a very unique project,” says Vikki Cooper, ACA’s librarian and a key organizer for the clearinghouse. “It provides material that is not readily available to counselor educators.”

ACA handled the technical aspects of the project, which include housing the syllabi and making the webpage functional. But as Kaplan points out, “ACA is indebted to ACES for its professional expertise in delineating topics and areas for this project. They helped us choose topics, areas and rules for submitting syllabi.”

“The ACA-ACES Syllabus Clearinghouse is just one more way in which our organizations are looking at how best to help the counseling profession and, in this case, those who are entrusted with educating tomorrow’s professional counselor,” adds ACA Executive Director Richard Yep. “I appreciate the forward thinking of the ACES leadership who worked with us on moving this project forward.”

The syllabus clearinghouse is scheduled to be available online by early December.

Submitting syllabi

The ACA-ACES leadership has provided several guidelines for syllabus submissions. While submissions are open to all counselor educators, only ACA and ACES members will be able to search the clearinghouse, which will reside on the online library section of the ACA website. Submitted syllabi do not have to meet CACREP requirements or follow any particular format. Clearinghouse managers will periodically review the site’s content and contact syllabus authors to see if they would like to provide updated versions.

Syllabi will be searchable by author name, college/university name, syllabus title, key words and category. While counselor educators are not required to provide their phone numbers, it is recommended that they include their e-mail addresses so fellow educators can contact them with questions. There is no remuneration for the submission of syllabi.

“We have gotten a wonderful response so far (nearly 200 syllabi had been submitted as of early November),” Cooper says. “I think we will continue to get more syllabi every year as professors add new syllabi. And it will be a wonderful benefit for our members.”

In discussing the goals of the ACA-
ACES Syllabus Clearinghouse, Kaplan paraphrased a quote from Alfred Adler: “The road to mental health is helping others.”

“Adler felt it was really important to contribute to the common good,”
Kaplan says. “The clearinghouse is a prime example of how counselors can fulfill the Adlerian mandate to help their colleagues.”

Jenny Christenson is a past staff writer for Counseling Today.

Letters to the editor:

ct@counseling.org

Accessing the ACA-ACES Syllabus Clearinghouse

Visit the ACA Online Library at counseling.org/Resources/.

  • Click on “Library” and log in with your ACA member user name and password.

To submit a syllabus to the clearinghouse

  • Send an e-mail to syllabus@counseling.org and attach your
  • syllabus in either Word or Rich Text Document format.
  • Include your name, institution, office e-mail address and office phone number.
  • Delete any contact information that you do not wish to be made public.

Incomplete information may delay the posting of your syllabus. Direct all questions, comments and feedback to ACA librarian Vikki Cooper at syllabus@counseling.org or 800.347.6647 ext. 281.

How green is my valley – and mind

Jeffrey G. Borchers and G.A. Bradshaw

When only a few months old, Joey was taken from his birth parents. For the next 16 years, he was moved from house to house, physically abused and isolated in the dark for days on end. Today, in a stable home, his overall health has improved, but he will suddenly fly into a rage, scream and frantically tear at his chest until it bleeds. Because various therapeutic approaches have failed, psychopharmaceuticals are now prescribed.

Matty also grew up in a physically abusive home. Like his father, he joined the military and subsequently made a seven-month tour on the USS Eisenhower. Upon returning to civilian life, he developed a drug and alcohol dependence and was jailed for assault. He enrolled in a rehabilitation program for veterans but continued to have aggressive outbursts and depression and was unable to establish positive relationships. He was diagnosed with 70 percent disability for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and prescribed a regimen of nine psychopharmaceutical agents.

Two case studies with similar etiologies and therapeutic challenges. Two individuals struggling with recovery from violence. Little did they know they would end up together and change each other’s lives. As Matty recounts, “Joey didn’t just change my life, he saved my life.” By walking into each other’s worlds, the two have embarked on a whole new journey together. Or, to be more precise, Matty walked into Joey’s life; Joey flew into Matty’s.

Yes, “flew” is right. Joey is an 18-year-old parrot and Matty a 35-year-old man. They are part of a new program that partners veterans and birds to help each other transition from uncertain, violent pasts to futures with hope and meaning. There is more here than meets the eye, however. This isn’t just a new therapeutic fad. Joey and Matty are part of a radical new paradigm that is taking hold in counseling.

The brainchild of clinical psychologist Lorin Lindner, director of the Association for Parrot C.A.R.E., the parrot-veteran program is located at the Serenity Park Sanctuary on the grounds of the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Administration Hospital. More than 50 parrots like Joey have been rescued and brought to the sanctuary. They tend to and are tended by military veterans who are also in need of a home and quality care. Administrators describe the program as unconventional but also say that it works. After two months, Matty was no longer taking medications. Instead, he was prescribed “parrot therapy.” Joey also experienced relief from symptoms of PTSD, a condition that is now being identified in many animal species.

SerenityParkis an example of the greening of psychotherapy — known as ecotherapy — that is bringing counselors and their clients back to nature.

Bringing “eco” back into the equation

Ecotherapy is based on principles of ecopsychology, the theory that human mental health and well-being are connected to the quality of our relationships with nature. Despite its novelty today, “going green” for cures has a long heritage. Ecotherapy’s origins are found in the traditions of American Indian and other indigenous peoples, where nature is central. Even Erik Erickson, Sigmund Freud’s own student, sent his patients to alpine landscapes as part of their treatment. In what may be the first formal example of American ecotherapy, the Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth was established in 1886 in Canaan, N.Y., to serve troubled children and their families. In those years, residents of mental institutions worked in the gardens to provide food while simultaneously benefiting from being close with nature. Eventually, however, nature’s place in psyche and society was pushed aside by urbanization. Still, there are places where nature never left therapy.

Ecotherapy programs are well established in many parts of Europe. Holland boasts more than 500 “care farms” — places where clinicians send their clients to agricultural settings as part of their prescribed therapy. In the United Kingdom, the National Care Farming Initiative facilitates WildernessHikecollaboration among scores of care farms that provide nature-oriented approaches to treat a variety of mental conditions. But ecotherapy entails more than recreating in nature. It is grounded in the same principles as other psychotherapies but with some significant distinctions.

A decade or more ago, the union of “eco” and psyche remained largely in the realm of philosophy with little theory connecting it with extant psychology and scant attention paid to formal clinical applications. Now a literature has coalesced resonant with key principles of modern psychotherapy. Joey and Matty’s story provides a vivid example of how core concepts of attachment theory from conventional psychology also operate in ecotherapy.

Attachment theory says relationships, along with genes, shape how we think, feel and act. Evolutionary psychology includes our early interactions with nature as part of this relational hard-wiring, or what biologist E.O. Wilson terms biophilia. Knowing how to relate with the ecological surround was essential. Our closest genetic relative, the chimpanzee, and our not-so-distant predecessors had to rely on their knowledge of flora and fauna in the ancestral “hood” to survive. However, modern life involves very few encounters with nature. Such acquired indifference comes with a price.

Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods asserts that children suffer from widespread “nature deficit disorder” — a profound alienation from nature — and blames lifestyles that take us far away from the restorative rhythms of forest and stream.Ecotherapist Linda Buzzell, founder of the International Association for Ecotherapy and coeditor of Ecotherapy, concurs: “Many current epidemic mental health afflictions such as anxiety, depression and family dysfunction may be directly attributable to unhealthy and unnatural conditions of modern industrial society and not merely the result of chemical imbalance or childhood trauma.” Ecotherapy’s call to reawaken evolutionary inclinations to bond with creatures great and small provides a “powerful healing methodology” and explains why Joey and Matty’s paired treatment has proved so successful. But there is another reason.

Of common minds

For decades, neuroscience has known that brain structures and mechanisms governing affect, empathy, judgment, memory, culture and cognition are found across species. Now neuroimaging confirms theory and observation — all vertebrates, including animals as diverse as dolphins, cats, chimpanzees and parrots, share socio-affective patterns and homologous neural networks responsible for psychological disorders and suffering. This means that Joey and Matty share a common psychobiology and a mutual vulnerability to stress. In other words, trauma affects both man and parrot.

Trauma diagnosis is unsurprisingly similar across species. PTSD has been diagnosed in free-ranging African elephants that, like their human compatriots, suffer from the wages of war and genocide. The pit bulls recovered in the infamous Michael Vick case that were severely abused and forced to fight exhibit symptoms akin to soldiers in recovery from battle. Chimpanzees recovering from brutal lives as biomedical subjects face the profound task described by psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl as “meaning making.” What they and Joey the parrot have experienced — social isolation, shock trauma, prolonged incarceration — is analogous to what human political prisoners endure. Not surprisingly, both parrots and people have been diagnosed with what traumatologist Judith Herman calls “Complex PTSD.”

What holds for symptoms, holds for treatment. Parrot therapy conforms to what we know about psychotherapeutic approaches used to facilitate trauma recovery. For example, psychiatrist Jonathan Shay notes that in addition to contending with adaptations acquired to survive battles that carry over into civilian life, many veterans must deal with the loss of their capacity for social trust. Parrot-veteran therapy provides the medium for rebuilding this capacity in both species.

As Matty finds out what makes Joey tick — what Joey likes to eat, what he likes to do, how he expresses himself when he is happy, scared or aggressive — and, in parallel, as Joey finds out who Matty is, the two are establishing a therapeutic alliance. Bit by bit, each learns how to modulate his own behavior through the processes of feeding, communicating and grooming to match his partner. “You have to be real with a parrot,” Matty says. “And when you aren’t, the feedback is immediate. They can pick up every little emotion and feeling. Being with Joey, I had to be real. I had to be honest. And I could do it because I trusted him. I knew that no matter what, he would always be there to always try and be my friend.” Joey offers unconditionality, a quality often sought but, sadly, not so easily found in the company of humans.

Similar to a human therapist, Joey offers Matty an opportunity to try out new ways of relating in “session.” The results are transformative. “After spending time with Joey, and getting to understand what he’s feeling, I became a completely different person,” Matty told his human therapist. “I changed the way I was with people and how I interacted with them. Now, instead of seeing someone as an immediate threat, I try and see who that person really is and why they are doing and saying what they do. I am a lot more open to other people.”

Nature as social facilitator is a theme encountered in other ecotherapeutic settings. Numerous programs include wilderness or adventure therapies as core interventions. Horticultural therapy’s (HT) long history stems directly from the institutional farms of the 19th and 20th centuries. As practiced at a retirement facility near Portland, Ore., HT helps revitalize human-to-human bonds among elderly residents while it sharpens cognitive skills. “Something as simple as planting seeds and picking flowers can reap the most amazing bounties,” says Melissa Richmond, the facility’s HT specialist. “Gardening simply builds community.”

Going green not always rosy

Psychology’s greening raises some unique ethical challenges involving the natural world. Lori Marino, a neuroscientist at Emory University, has extensively researched dolphin-assisted therapy (DAT), part of the broader project of animal-assisted therapies (AAT) in which animals serve as therapeutic mediums. Marino and others warn that such programs are far from benign. “These programs not only constitute an increasing threat to wild dolphins who are often captured for these programs, but there is no solid evidence that DAT is effective as advertised,” she says.

Complications can develop when facilitators of animal therapy aren’t thoroughly educated in their responsibilities to care for their animal therapists. Evidence indicates that animal therapists are, like human therapists, vulnerable to compassion fatigue and other hazards of the trade. Because animals do not sign consent forms, AAT can turn into exploitation or even abuse. This has happened in the DAT industry as well as many other AAT programs that use horses, elephants, dogs, cats and others.

The parrot-veteran program differs from most AAT settings because its first and primary goal is to support animal well-being. Human healing and transformation are not ignored, but they take place in the process of being in service to animals. Eileen McCarthy, director and founder of the Midwest Avian Adoption & Rescue Services, has developed what is essentially an emerging parrot counseling center, where volunteers, trained in principles of trauma recovery, work in service for the feathered residents.

A kinder, gentler green world

Ethical concern for nature’s well-being lies at the core of ecotherapy, but it also reflects broader social forces of which the new green awareness is a part. This is perhaps best illustrated by one of the oldest ecopsychological institutions, The Animas Institute in Durango, Colo., founded by Bill Plotkin. The organization’s teaching is “nature-based soul-initiation, whose central goal is the descent to soul for the purpose of maturing or deepening the ego, rather than healing it.” Echoing Louv, Plotkin says, “My clients’ discontents are often rooted in an unmet longing for wildness, mystery and a meaningful engagement” — an engagement that seeks to embrace “radical cultural change.”

As an agent of cultural change, ecopsychology extends therapy beyond the personal to the deeper “whys” and “hows” of existence, thereby embodying an implicit critique. Craig Chalquist, ecopsychologist and coeditor with Buzzell, argues that clients are tackling questions “core to postmodern survival such as ‘What does it mean that I live in the middle of the greatest environmental crisis in history? What can I do about it?’” According to Chalquist, ecopsychology offers a way to “heal the cultural split between self and world that underlies the environmental crisis … and bring psychology into the environmental crisis discussion, diagnose the crisis and offer sustainable alternatives.”

Obviously, there is more than meets the eye when “eco” is added to psychology, with much still to be explored and studied with caution. But with reports on global warming and the ever-increasing list of species extinctions, it is clear that the welfare of nature and human psyche are interdependent. Species reconciliation is long overdue and the need for healing even more urgent. A 2007 Department of Veterans Affairs survey conservatively estimated that nearly 14,000 veterans in the Greater Los Angeles area were homeless. Nationwide, the National Alliance to End Homelessness collated figures showing that between 23 percent and 40 percent of homeless adults are veterans. And as Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans return, numbers are expected to rise significantly. As for parrots, there is a nearly $1 billion industry that continues to drain wild populations, pushing the demand for bird rescue and sanctuary.

In the words of Buzzell, ecotherapy emerges as “the reinvention of psychotherapy as if nature mattered.” Clearly, a minding of things green brings a greening of minds. Nature and human nature are indelibly linked in a single web of life that is as much mental as physical. The greening of psychology represents a radically different perspective on healing humans and other animals. Counselors everywhere are challenged to become part of this larger project and explore new methods of diagnosis and treatment that include healing of the natural world from which we have become so estranged, thus embarking on the creation of a kinder, gentler green world.

 

****

Jeffrey G. Borchers, a member of the American Counseling Association, provides nature-based counseling as part of his private practice (commensa.org). He is director of People Programs at Sanctuary One, a nonprofit animal sanctuary, and cofounder of the Oregon Coalition for Consumer Mental Health Protection and Choice (oregonmentalhealth.info). Contact him at borchers@commensa.org.

G.A. Bradshaw is founder and executive director of The Kerulos Center (kerulos.org), a nonprofit organization that studies transpecies psychology and trauma recovery, and cofounder of the International Association for Animal Trauma Recovery. Contact her at bradshaw@kerulos.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Counselor Career Stories – Counselor by day, cop by night

Rebecca Daniel-Burke December 13, 2008

Marvin Bornschlegl, a Licensed Professional Counselor from Illinois, called me one day to discuss suicide rates among first-responders. He was advocating for his fellow police officers and other first-responders. I found his story very, very interesting. The career moves he spoke of seemed so disconnected at first, but in actuality, his is one story with three distinct chapters.

Read about Marvin as he moved from chef to cop to counselor. Perhaps some of his experiences will resonate with you as you follow your career path.

Rebecca Daniel-Burke:I know you were a police officer before you became a counselor. What led you to become a police officer?

Marvin Bornschlegl: I had gone to trade school to become a chef. I was working in the culinary field, and it was very demanding timewise. I often worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, holidays, Mother’s Day, etc. I wanted to find a place to socialize. I had never been a drinker, but I really liked to lift weights, so the gym became the place for me to hang out and reduce stress.

I met a police officer there, and we were talking about our jobs. I told him about the long hours and working holidays and he said, “Why don’t you take the police officer exam?” The police department had a rotation schedule at the time, and I would get at least some of the holidays off, and it was an eight-hour workday, so I applied. They said I had good people skills. I took the exam in my county and was sent for physical and mental exams. I placed 20th on a list after about 1,000 initial applicants. I did the same exam process in another county and got the job. I became a police officer and was promoted to police sergeant three years ago. I’ve been on the job 18 years.

RDB: Tell me how that work has been for you.

MB: It is definitely the helping people part of it that I always liked. I liked the same thing as a chef, making people happy with food.

RDB: How about the violent part of it? How has that been for you?

MB: Like most first-responders, I can get hooked on the adrenaline of intense situations. But in reality, the majority of a police officer’s work has nothing to do with adrenaline or violence. We talk to people and try to resolve problems.

Also, I am about 6’1” and weigh 240 pounds. Since I am a power lifter, I carry a lot of weight in muscle, so that tends to be a deterrent. Because of my size and presence, I usually do not have to resort to force. Some guys called me “Bornschlegl the Bone Crusher,” but more called me the “Gentle Giant.”

RDB: What led you toward a career in counseling?

MB: There was this social worker named Richard Zembron. He died a few years back, but he was incredible. We would respond to a domestic violence situation at 2 a.m. He was of small stature and he was soft-spoken. He was very empathic. He would arrive at this domestic violence situation, and we were in bulletproof vests, but he would walk in and sit close to the family. He would begin making small talk with them. Then he would say, “This is a great family. I would like to work with them.” He would point to us and say, “Look! These guys take such good care of me.” He was telling them, “I am not the big guy, but these guys will take care of me if they need to.” He sparked my interest in counseling.

RDB: I know you had to go back to school to get your undergraduate degree first. What made you actually see that through?

MB: I realized I was not the “arrest them all and throw away the key” type of cop. I wanted to get more knowledge on recidivism. I wanted to know how to reduce the potential for harm. I majored in criminology and got lots of information on those topics. I then thought I might go on to law school. A friend of mine said, “You don’t want to be a lawyer. They are always in a fight. You don’t like fighting. You like to resolve things and you like to help people.” I knew this guy was right, so I applied for a graduate program in counseling and got in.

RDB: So you were working full time and getting your master’s. What kept you going? What was your motivation?

MB: The thing that kept me going in graduate school was the interest of the other students. They kept telling me they never envisioned that a police officer would be like me. It kept me going. I wanted them to know that we cops were more than just tough guys.

RDB: So now you are an LPC. You have a private practice during the day and work as a police sergeant at night. Tell me a bit about your counseling practice.

MB: Mostly I am drawn to (Carl) Rogers and to solution-focused counseling. I am somewhat cognitive, as I often look at classical conditioning versus operant conditioning with a client.

RDB: How did you determine what area of counseling you were passionate about?

MB: I fell in love with the theories of Carl Rogers. The Rogerian counselor-client relationship is the cornerstone of healing. I have a lot of clients with alcohol and drug recovery issues. I use my knowledge of the 12-step program with them. Mostly though, I engage in empathic listening and show unconditional positive regard to the client.

RDB: What mistakes have you made, and what lessons did you learn from those mistakes?

MB: My biggest mistake is that I expect change to occur quickly. My lesson is in patience. My clients have taught me to trust the process and accept that, for some, it takes more time. There is an unraveling with a client that takes place over time. I have to be patient with that process.

RDB: Was there someone who saw something special in you early on in your life?

MB: I was in the senior year religion class in the Catholic high school I attended. I was an average student and I didn’t party. I worked at a fast food joint nights and weekends. I had fun with the other kids who worked there by throwing the Frisbee after work in the parking lot. I worked, studied and went to school.

Father Zinn was giving his goodbye to the senior religion class, and someone asked him what was a memorable thing about our class. He said there was this big kid who always sat in the front row and always had a smile on his face. He said he would see that kid’s smile and he would know his day was going to be all right. I was that kid. That meant something to me.

Another person who saw something in me was Dick Zembron, the social worker I already spoke of. I remember asking him what his secret was to helping people. He drew a picture of a face. He said, “You see one mouth and two ears. That means we need to listen at least twice as much as we talk.” He died a while back, but his work goes on in me.

RDB: Do you have a theoretical hero, a theorist who inspires you?

MB: Rogers’ techniques open the door. You can’t go wrong by deeply listening to your client. I also like Linda Seligman and her work on borderline personality disorder.

RDB: So many counselors dislike working with clients diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

MB: I agree, but Linda Seligman says there is a reason for that. She said the risk of the client with borderline personality disorder is they are experts in finding flaws. She said that at some point, a counselor has to come to terms with the fact that the client with a borderline personality disorder will find your flaw and point it out to you.

RDB: Is there anything I have not asked that you want readers to know about your career story?

MB: Yes, I want to say that my career doesn’t define me. My career allows me to be who I am. That is what counseling is about — finding who you are and then being who you are. My calling is to learn, practice and give back. The next generation will take it from there.

The American Counseling Association values the opportunity to honor the career paths of working counselors with Counselor Career Stories. The hope is that the career lessons these counselors share each month will be very helpful to working counselors and students alike as they seek employment. For additional assistance with career and employment issues, visit the ACA Career Center at counseling.org/CareerCenter/, which also includes current online job listings.

Rebecca Daniel-Burke is the director of the ACA Career Center. She was a working counselor for many years and went on to oversee, interview and hire counselors in various settings. Contact her at RDanielBurke@counseing.org if you have questions, feedback or suggestions for future columns.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

ACA member perspectives on counseling vs. life coaching

December 5, 2008

When Counseling Today announced it was going to be publishing an article on counseling vs. life coaching, responses poured in from ACA members. While we didn’t have enough space in the magazine to include them all, we wanted to offer some of the other perspectives here CT Online.

“The majority of my work is coaching. I still do clinical work, but not with the same clients I coach. Coaching clients and therapy clients are kept separate. I enjoy the work I do with clients, working by their side to make healthy changes in their life. The clients I work with choose my service as an addition to their program, are highly motivated and want additional support and accountability to help them achieve their goal of a healthier weight and lifestyle. Coaching is based on the belief that the client has the answers. My job is to listen, and to ask the right question.”

Marit D. Weikel, Durham, N.C.

*****

“It is my opinion that coaching actually supports counseling. As a coach, holding the client as complete and whole, I support the client in being responsible for the outcome of their life. This includes their well-being and any therapeutic work needed to support them in being present to their current life situation and the future they desire. If this occurs for the client, I hold it as an opportunity for them to be supported by another professional along with their coach to fulfill their dreams. I hold it that this provides a win/win situation for everyone. It is up to the professionals involved to keep clear boundaries and support each other on behalf of the client and in keeping the client’s best interest and requests at the forefront.”

Laura Bushnell, McKinney, Texas

*****

“I am a licensed and board-certified mental health therapist who at one point considered going into life coaching. I began the process of life coaching myself with a local life coach so I could gain a better understanding of this line of work and the process itself.

In my estimation, both personally and professionally, coaching is NOT therapy and many times the reasons that people get “stuck” is because they are dealing with some old wounds (subconscious many times) and old patterns of behavior that only through true therapy with a trained therapist can those wounds and patterns be uncovered and addressed in order for change to occur. From my own limited experience, the opportunity for psychological exploration is not inherent in the life coaching process.

What gives me cause for concern is that the distinction between the two processes are not clear to the general population (much less our own profession), and those who are in need of real therapeutic support might not seek out the proper therapist to treat them. Furthermore, since life coaches are not as yet regulated, people without proper educational training and schooling can and will be practicing.”

Stephanie Baffone, Newark, Del.

*****

“Coaching has become the frontier, like the Internet. There appear to be some legitimate people using mentoring approaches; however, the vast majority that I have seen are usually people who have no license, training or are skirting the laws for some reason. At AASCB meetings, we have had discussions about this, and most of us don’t quite know what to make of coaching. To borrow that old line about a duck, if it looks like counseling, walks like counseling and sounds like counseling … Well you get it. States with title laws are often prevented from acting as long as you use a different title (coaching). Practice law states can look to see if it “looks like a duck” and take action for practicing counseling without a license. I would like to see counselor educators be proactive with students (and I am not saying they aren’t) to ensure that they leave our programs being clear about the scope of practice and the potential deceptive qualities of using the term “coaching” for what is mostly counseling.

We have taken a strong position on coaching in our licensing board activities. We have taken action against a few counselors who we either revoked or accepted surrender of their license and are now “coaching.” Often these people did not even change their office locations.”

Barry Mascari, Union, N.J., Acting Chair, Counselor Education Department, Kean University

*****

“I am an LPC in private practice specializing in career counseling. After personally experiencing a career transition utilizing a coach, I took courses to become a life coach. I worked in the coaching profession for three years and found that the industry was not getting itself together in terms of training and credentialing. I also found that some of my clients were (to use a coaching term) “circling Dallas” — i.e. stuck. They had other personal issues to deal with, and I was not equipped to counsel them through these issues. At this point, I opted to earn my M.S. and Ed.S. in professional counseling, focusing on career counseling.

Career counseling (or career therapy, as it usually turns out) is the safe door into counseling that many are willing to walk through. The majority of the people I work with are dealing with some issue other than simple discontent with their life work. I can tell you firsthand that as a coach, I was not prepared to deal with life trauma, ADD or ADHD, addictions and other life issues that may be complicating the work life of an individual. I do feel that the coaching and counseling professions are very complementary, but I did find some limitations to my effectiveness as a coach.”

Patrice Hinton Oswalt, Birmingham, Ala.

*****

“I have experienced both coaching and psychotherapy, and I have colleagues in both areas. I have studied the commonalities between various modalities that are reputed to get rapid results for anxiety and trauma, such as EMDR, and have a clear, direct way of describing those “active ingredients,” as well as their relevance to self-help psychology and unlicensed coaching. It helps explain the popularity of Emotional Freedom Technique and its use by both coaches and psychotherapists.

I am very concerned about the failure of the mental health field to appropriately assess, counsel and refer for brain injuries, and have experienced this firsthand as a brain injury survivor. I can see some valuable additional applications of coaching for this population because of the high resource demand and long course of recovery from this kind of injury.

I advocate for using coaching for families with underachieving adult children and write about this problem here: www.Yourell.com/hostage. I have worked with such families as a licensed therapist and as a coach.

I am concerned about changes to the MFT licensing process in California and risks to coaches that appear to be the result of a guild mentality. At a time when we have increased demands for mental health practitioners, and a scarcity of such resources resulting from factors such as the graying of the field, there are numerous ways that coaches can be of value in augmenting these services. But artificially and arbitrarily screening out good therapists with an arcane testing system is bad policy, especially now.

Properly trained coaches could be a very cost-effective resource for improving recovery from mental illnesses. Research tells us that cognitive issues are MORE disabling than psychosis (negative signs are more disabling than positive signs). We are learning that second generation antipsychotics work, at least in part, because of their neuroprotective and neurogenerative aspects. This has been studied since 2000 and is increasingly well documented. Therefore, cognitive rehab is a very important aspect of mental illness recovery. Coaches may prove to be an excellent resource for this and will need to be well integrated into mental health services delivery in order to be maximally effective.”

Robert A. Yourell, San Diego, CA

*****

“I have worked as a life coach for 15 years with a major international company, delivering many workshops on strategies to present yourself better and “how to clinch that next new better suited for you job.” I traveled for the company to many countries in South America and learned a lot about the different interpretations of what this term means in different countries and cultures.

What is the difference between counseling and life coaching? The major similarities are that as counselors, we try to have our clients understand themselves better in terms of their personalities, characteristics and skill set. The life coaching is much more of a superficial understanding of who the person is and how he/she presents him/herself to the world and how can you present yourself in a more acceptable manner and work better in your environment and with your peers.

In counseling, the counselor is generally more directed to help a person with a specific issue and aid in the understanding of that issue from a personal point of view and how to deal with that issue more effectively so that the person does not get hurt more or can get rid of some of the hurt they are dealing with. Counseling is a much more in-depth and longer process, since we are trying to help the person understand the why, what and how to deal with issues and stop the ’hurting.’

In lilfe coaching, we help the person adapt better to the outside world and become aware of their own shortcomings and change those to be able to handle the outside world issues in a more effective manner.

Recently, I attended a six-week course on grieving for HIV/AIDS patients and how we as counselors can help the patients and their families grieve before and after the passing of the patient. One of the participants was a life coach, and he had been sent to the course to become ’more empathetic’ toward his clients!!! As you can imagine, the person was exactly the same unpleasant, nonempathetic person after he finished the course as at the start of the course. I do not believe we can ’learn’ empahty. This is an innate part of an effective counselor or life coach.

I have lived in South Africa for the past eight years and find it fascinating how counselors here are viewed. You are either a life coach or a social worker. A counselor here is someone who gives you advice on finances or on a host of other mundane issues such as: ’What kind of windows should you install in your home?’ A counselor will come around to advise you! Wow … fascinating.”

Martha Iskyan, South Africa

*****

“In my area (northern Idaho), there are a few life coaches, but unfortunately, not all of them have counseling degrees. The ones that I have seen are bachelor-level people who have a degree in either developmental psychology or basic psychology, and then they go into business as a life coach. I disagree with how they represent themselves because some people come away thinking that counseling and coaching are the same thing!!! I have also known people in counseling programs say that their life coach was doing what the counseling program was teaching them to do and they (the life coach) didn’t have to go through all the requirements the university and the state of Idaho was expecting them to do!!!

So if there are requirements such as licensure for life coaches, I would like to see standards that all states adhere to, similar to how LPCs and LCPCs are licensed. That way it is clear to the public about what service you are paying for counselor vs. coach. And/or have a requirement that all life coaches are licensed counselors.”

Emily M. Hart, Coeur d’Alene, ID

*****

“I am completing a counseling degree at NLU in Chicago. I plan to use my degree to pursue a career in personal coaching. This is a very timely topic, one I have given much thought and analysis to. I believe personal coaching should be considered a specialty area within the counseling umbrella for the following reasons:

  1. Not all people who would like to utilize the skills of a counselor are ’dysfunctional.’ There is a spectrum of need. Currently, counseling focuses on moving people from a state of dysfunction (DSM diagnosis) to one of being functional. There are many people who are ’functional’ but still not ’highly functional’ or achieving their full potential. Coaching can address this side of the spectrum. There are so many people who are trying to cope with life adjustments, anxieties and personal challenges. Their concerns limit their productivity at work and the quality of their relationships. If they go to see a counselor, then they are given a DSM code and treated like a diseased person. There still exists a negative social stigma around counseling. There is something more positive about the coaching industry. People and companies are more receptive to it.
  2. Wellness is the trend. In the medical model, people can see a doctor if they are ill. However, if they want to prevent disease and illness, then they can see a personal trainer, a nutritionist, a massage therapist. Wellness programs like these are well accepted in corporate employee assistance programs. I believe this model can be applied to counseling. If you are ill, see a counselor. If you are focused on prevention and maximizing your emotional health, see a coach.
  3. I think counseling has come a long way in legitimizing the profession. Licensing and accredited master-level degrees exist. The coaching world is all over the place in this regard. By including coaching as a specialty area, it would benefit from the level of industry professionalism. I also believe counselors can be good coaches, but coaches (untrained) should not attempt to counsel people.

I would like to see personal coaching legitimized and brought into the counseling fold. In the meantime, I will continue to develop my ’wellness counseling’/personal coaching business.”

Lynn Mitchell, Chicago

*****

“Regarding counseling versus coaching, as a current grad counseling student, I have the following comments:

Counseling is a means to an end; it allows counselors to work with clients to help resolve their issues. It is my belief that coaching is a value-add to counseling as it provides a life-long learning experience for the client. I am considering adding coaching to my future counseling practice.”

Jaime Rohadfox

*****

“I am a licensed clinician who conducts life coaching in addition to face-to-face counseling. I have a contract with The Dr. Phil Show to provide ’aftercare’ with some of their guests after they appear on the show and consult with the show’s staff. I work as a long-distance life coach via phone and e-mail. I believe by observing appropriate guidelines for issues, clients’ mental state and techniques, I am able to provide quality care for these clients. I also have helped clients connect with counselors in their areas as needed.

I do believe licensed counselors are better prepared and governed than non-licensed life coaches. My training allows me to better assess an individual and their issues for life coaching versus true counseling and make appropriate referrals when needed.”

Andy Sibley, Shreveport, La.

*****

“I am a five-year life coach who is now seeking an MHC degree. I have predominately worked with divorcees. I have heard an interesting comment from at least three of my coaching clients that coaching was more beneficial than years of therapy.

I think this is an important issue that is becoming convoluted by many using the coaching terminology loosely on one end and counselors penning the title without coach training on the other. It is important that the consumer understand what services they can expect and the training of those providing those services.”

Laura Meyer

*****

“I am both an LPC and CPC and enjoy delivering both modalities, but my passion is for counseling. As part of my private practice, I coach therapists to become professional coaches. It’s a perfect match. We therapists have been trained to listen to clients tell their stories while taking notice of the common patterns in their thinking, feeling and behaving embedded in each story.

Frequently, I am asked how therapy and coaching differ. Therapy focuses on the client’s past while working through trauma, depression or any other presenting problem in order to help the client see their patterns and why they are using these outdated defenses. Once that is achieved, the client can then learn how to use healthy and helpful ways of navigating through life.

Coaching, on the other hand, is more focused on the present and future. I see the primary functions of a coach as one who helps the client:

  • Define his/her goals
  • Formulate a plan that will use the skills of the client
  • The coach holds the client accountable for his/her progress * The coach provides structure, encouragement, support

It is imperative to remain ethical throughout both processes. Psychotherapy has no place in coaching. At this point in time, certification is not required for coaching, but hopefully it will be soon.”

Paula Padget Baylor, St. Davids, Pa.

*****

“I did grief and loss counseling with children for close to 15 years, started and ran an agency, then went to school to get my doctorate — I’m a few months shy of defending my dissertation. I finished a coaching course in the spring with Martha Beck Inc. and have started my coaching practice. My website isn’t even up yet, and I’ve got clients. All of them are at a major crossroads. All have had counseling in the past and wanted to do something that would help them move forward in a different way than counseling did for them. All of them got great things from their counseling experiences, and I know that’s helped them as we’ve worked together.

The benefits for me: I have clients who are motivated and emotionally healthy (I don’t take them if they aren’t both). I can work from my house in my pajamas if I want to. I can support myself very well with no insurance hassles. One of my clients got her first ever consulting contract with a school district yesterday. Another is working on making a CD of her piano music — she’s 66. My clients are delighted/elated with their progress, as am I. I’m having an absolute blast.”

Martha Atkins, San Antonio, Texas

*****

“I do have a concern: The screening out process of prospective coaches is unregulated. I recently visited with someone who wanted to help others but barely moved to healthy notches of interdependence from her codependent status. I’ve also observed others who think coaching is a great way to get into counseling and a less costly shortcut to do so. This is particularly keen in the church. With well-meaning individuals who want to ’coach’ and sign up for ’coaching courses/seminars,’ the outcome in practical life is not always positive. A seeming arrogance may prevail rather than the discernment to refer to a professional. The mentality, I suspect, may not be limited to the church but to a broad population of those who are interested in taking the fast route, circumventing a college education and rigorous exams.”

Pat McLean, Point Lookout, Mo.

*****

“They are certainly not the same, yet I have found my counseling skills invaluable as a career counselor and would love to be able to still consider myself to be a ’counselor’ if I ever delve into a private ’life coaching’ practice.”

Amanda G. Flora, Charlottesville, Va.

*****

“I am a Licensed Professional Counselor. My clients are individuals, couples, families, groups. My area of expertise is with SMI and crisis intervention. I have worked with abused, abusers, trauma victims and suicidal clients as well as many others.

While seeing a seriously mentally ill woman who was stable at the time, she told me she was interested in becoming a life coach. It was the first I had heard the term. Because she had successfully controlled her symptoms, she felt qualified to help others. The information she provided was that the course was weeks long and cost in the area of $5,000.

My thoughts are that, like the midwife controversy, when things go well, it might be a fine choice. When things go wrong, it can have dire consequences. In any profession, there are people who are gifted. So an intuitive life coach may have something to offer. But as my title implies, there are years of education, testing, training and certification requirements to achieve. Even after that, there is continuing education to remain certified. Becoming a counselor requires a long-term investment.

My concern is for the client who places trust in a well-meaning individual who has the position to do harm. If a client understands that they are getting one person’s opinion and uses a life coach as a friendly ear rather than assuming they are a trained professional, the outcome might be the same as talking to a friend or family member. With that in mind, someone seeking that level of input would have realistic expectations.

Society will probably make a space for life coaches. It is imperative that clients are aware of their training when consulted so effectiveness is in perspective.”

Barbara Mehnert, Kansasville, Wis.

*****

“I am a former VCA member and am licensed as an LCSW and LSATP in Virginia. I have been providing life and executive coaching services for two years. I have completed 60 hours of training and am proceeding with continuing my coaching education. I have found the coaching relationship to be quite different from the clinical relationship. Converting from a pathos orientation was challenging at first, but engaging with individuals around creating excellence is energizing and tremendously fulfilling.”

Neely R. Conner, Roanoke, Va.

*****

“I am certified professional coach and coach trainer. I am currently working with a coach once a week and have done so for five years. Additionally, I see a therapist two times a week. They provide vastly different expertise for different purposes. My therapist works with me to shore up the foundation. Dealing much with the past. Whereas coaching works on the premise that we are perfect, whole and complete, and from that place, works to create the future.

I have a colleague who was formerly a therapist and now works as a coach. She is one of the rare instances where a therapist respects and understands the distinction sufficiently to go get trained and certified. It’s not just therapists who take for granted the distinction coach. Many folks think that because you sit with any human being and have a conversation that you can call yourself a coach. This in my opinion is a great disservice to those of us committed to coaching as a profession.”

Tara Padua

*****

“Professional coaching can be a viable professional activity, provided that the person offering coaching services clearly distinguishes it from professional counseling. Coaches should also provide clients a professional disclosure statement outlining the nature of services, fees, education, training and limitations of coaching.

The issue that most concerns me are coaches with no counseling training who delve into the mental health arena. Additionally, unlike counselors, psychologists and other mental health professionals, what professional ethics board would clients lodge complaints against?”

Shannon Hodges

*****

“My view, as a counselor educator, is that ’life coaching,’ if that is what one wants to call it, is one of the primary differences between counselors from psychologists. In my opinion, counselors are best prepared to help people get through regular, common and typical life issues. Psychologists, in my opinion, are best prepared to help people with the heavier, more mentally unstable issues. Another way of looking at it would be counselors are better prepared to address neurosis, and psychologists are better prepared to address psychosis. I believe that the profession of counseling has a great opportunity to ’grab’ a corner on the market of well-being, wellness and the practice of life therapy. Even though the term ’life coaching’ implies the work of the life therapist, the term ’life coaching’ has been given a bad reputation and seems to carry baggage that seems to be less than professional or misguided. There are several other reasons the term ’counseling’ is less than ideal in terms of the name counseling. For one, it is so generic and nondescript; for another, it might be time to change or ’update’ the image of the profession of counseling so that more people can become aware of the work of the professional counselor.”

Joseph D. Dear, Sacramento, Calif.

*****

“I am an LPC with my master’s degree in counseling. I love counseling and decided to start my own private practice. It took me time to decide on the name for my practice. I finally decided on Life Coach Services: offering counseling and life coaching. I thought this name would attract clients who would otherwise be shy about seeking help.

One client came to see me and said that she wanted life coaching. I asked her to tell me her story. She made it clear that she had had counseling before and did not want that. She just wanted to know how to move forward with coaching. After hearing her story, I knew that she needed counseling. She was not going to be able to move forward without that. Her son needed counseling too. He had suffered through many painful experiences during his childhood. Life coaching would not be enough or even appropriate at this time for either of them. It felt awkward concentrating on helping her set goals and being a cheerleader, when my training could offer them so much more. With my background and training in counseling, I missed not being able to serve my clients that way.

I decided to change the name of my practice to Carol Klenda Counseling and DROP the ’coaching.’ Sure, there is some coaching involved when we see our clients, but I do not want to feel like I am limited in the direction or skills that I use to assist my clients. I am happy that it is clear to me now where I should put my professional time and focus: into counseling, where I can use my years of training to make a difference, helping individuals get better and move forward in their lives.”

Carol Klenda

*****

“I am of the opinion that life coaches should be licensed in much the same way as a counselor. The requirements may not necessarily be at the master’s or doctoral level degree (as in counseling), but at least some kind of standardized level of practitioner training (including some kind of ethics standards) should be required so that those who are looking for life coach services have some idea of the quality of service to expect.

Because of the stigma attached to seeking mental health services, I also believe many clients would prefer to seek the services of a ’life coach’ rather than a ’counselor.’ There is still this perception that counselors are going to delve into past history rather than offer real-world solutions to living life, which is why I think life coaches have become popular. Perhaps our biggest problem as counselors is that we have not done a good enough job at marketing ourselves as those who can offer assistance in helping clients cope with current life issues.

For the last 12 years, I have been working part time at the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland providing in vivo assistance to clients with anxiety disorders, using a CBT-based treatment modality, and am currently working on finishing my master’s in pastoral counseling at Loyola College in Maryland. I have been an ACA member ever since I began working at ASDI and have always tried to adhere to ACA ethics guidelines, which includes having insurance coverage. When HPSO took over as the insurance provider with ACA, I had a discussion with HPSO as to what level of liability insurance I should have, given the kind of services that I provide to clients. The result is that I am now listed as a ’life coach’ as well as a student professional member.

Clients who otherwise cannot afford to see a licensed provider at our clinic can usually afford my fees (and yes, I do offer a sliding scale), since my fees are often close to what they would be paying under their health insurance plan anyway. Before I started on my master’s degree, I was always careful to limit the scope of my practice to life skills coaching and still will refer clients to a therapist for psychotherapy issues as needed.

It is my opinion that there is a definite need for trained, unlicensed providers who can offer life skills coaching to clients who otherwise cannot afford to seek services. It is also important that such providers understand the limits of their expertise and be willing to refer clients to trained and licensed counselors as appropriate.

At the other end of the spectrum are small business owners and corporate executives who seek the services of a life coach in order to improve their business skills. Life coaches practicing in this arena should have a background in business administration in addition to basic relational skills training. Again, standards of service should be met before providing such services.”

Stephnie Thomas, Towson, Md.

*****

“As a counselor, I am very concerned about ’life coaching’ as it relates to mental health in general. Life coaches are permitted to practice without a license. As such, there is no accountability for their profession. There are serious ethical issues at stake as a result:

  1. Ethical breaches have no repercussions.
  2. Standards of practice have no ’board’ to approve them.
  3. There is no guarantee of competence – of course this is the case for all professions, but licensure at least gives SOME security.
  4. In many ways, life coaching is counseling, which requires a license.

As a profession, counselors must be available and willing to ’stand up’ for ourselves. We have allowed too many ad hoc services to be provided under the guise of counseling, diluting the value of the services we provide. Life coaching, I believe, is one of those services that undermines the purpose and value that counselors bring.

The International Coach Federation defines coaching this way: The International Coach Federation adheres to a form of coaching that honors the client as the expert in his/her life and work and believes that every client is creative, resourceful and whole. Standing on this foundation, the coach’s responsibility is to:

  • Discover, clarify and align with what the client wants to achieve
  • Encourage client self-discovery
  • Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
  • Hold the client responsible and accountable

This appears to be a combination of humanistic and reality therapy approaches. As can be read on their website, coaching is a reality therapy-based model and, whether admitted or not, is based on Glasser’s WDEP model.”

Jason Newsome, Charleston, W.Va.