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Life Coaching: How can it help? 


Life Coaching: Isn’t it really psychotherapy? 

life coachingLife coaching is relatively new  for assisting people in finding more fulfillment in life, achieving their goals, and getting more of whatever it is that they are looking for. Individuals providing life coaching seem to be quick to define the differences between what they provide and those services provided by professionally trained counselors, psychotherapists and psychologists. In reviewing information on life coaching on the internet, I continue to find statements such as that psychotherapy analyzes “things from the past” and focuses on taking you from dysfunction to function, whereas, life coaching emphasizes “taking you from functioning to extraordinary“. As a licensed psychologist who provides assessment and psychotherapy services on a full-time basis in a private practice, I can appreciate some aspects of the internet-based information that I am reading, but call into question certain aspects of this information. 


Life coaching should provide a different emphasis as it is presented. Psychologists and other mental health clinicians are trained to diagnose and treat a continuum of mental health conditions from adjustment disorders related to life difficulties that many people experience, to the more extreme end of the spectrum, which involves serious mental health problems. Philosophically, the emphasis is quite different between these two different professionals (assuming that they have the training to be defined as a professional), with mental health professionals primarily focusing on impairment in functioning, while individuals providing life coaching emphasize growth and optimizing opportunity. In reality, these distinctions are frequently not as well-defined as many of the individuals providing life coaching services state, and certainly reflect a lack of understanding of the many varieties of psychotherapy, techniques and the various goals of mental health treatment. Contemporary psychotherapy (i.e. cognitive-behavioral, problem-solving approaches, rational emotive, some family systems therapies) frequently does not focus in-depth on issues from the past, as many individuals in the life coaching arena seem to imply. A significant emphasis of modern counseling is geared toward problem solving or dealing with feelings or other problems in the “here and now“. Often times, we do focus on impairment and subjective feelings or distress, but frequently these issues are not of a level of severity as to be disabling, but more of the quality which would more likely inhibit an individuals functioning to some degree, or limit their sense of fulfillment in life.  

Many of the life coaching web sites I have read recently, have stated these philosophical differences and quickly conclude that they do not provide psychotherapy. However, I don’t necessarily believe that an individual can usually effectively help others to optimize their life experience, without an in-depth knowledge of the “many faces of impairment”, their various levels of intensity, and how they are manifested in our daily experience. Various aspects of optimum functioning and dysfunction are not obvious to individuals who lack training in mental health. I’m not aware of how these individuals who lack training in mental health assessment and treatment would even recognize where an individual is located on a continuum from dysfunction to functioning , or would be able to analyze and assess the complex aspects of an individual’s functioning. Mental health professionals are trained to assess the many complexities of the individual, including biological, social and psychological considerations. To truly optimize functioning you must have some ability to comprehensively analyze their current bio-psycho-social state in order to determine whether your services are appropriate for their circumstances, in order to proceed from that apparent baseline level of functioning. I have seen frequent mention of dealing with mental health issues such as removing emotional blocks and eliminating or reducing the effects of trauma which may be inhibiting growth on these websites, although they seem to be quick to remind you that they do not provide mental health services. The reason that licensed clinicians are trained with a graduate-level mental health education, residencies, internships and state level licensing, is to provide a standard of quality for the public to ensure that people are not harmed by individuals who do not have proper, relevant training. For example, individuals who have been traumatized may go into flashbacks and harm themselves and others when being treated for their traumatic issues. In addition to being illegal (practicing without a license), the consequences of being treated by an untrained mental health clinician could possibly be catastrophic.  

Life Coaching - What I would recommend:

Life coaching may be a wonderful opportunity to reach toward your personal goals and optimize your fulfillment in life. In order to reach that level of satisfaction, I would recommend the following things: (1) Find an experienced mental health clinician who has transitioned at least part of their practice into life coaching. (2) Find someone you are personally compatible with and have really good rapport. (3) Search for someone who has completed an organized, accredited, systematic coaching program. (4) Check references from individuals whom have been coached by this individual (Who are not friends or relatives). (5) Make sure they have some type of malpractice insurance coverage. 

By Paul Susic MA Licensed Psychologist  Ph.D Candidate President/CEO Susic Psychological Consulting P.C.  

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