Business Coaching

As in any developing area – in terms of theory and practice – there are any number of “relatives” we use as a reference to define ourselves, voluntarily or otherwise.

To avoid boring you with unnecessary detail, I will consider just two key relationships here, which I will call sister and aunt.

The relatives

Business coaching has a (probably older) sister called Life Coaching. This is a type of coaching for private individuals; that is, outside the corporate environment. The themes it addresses are usually different to those covered by business coaching.

It doesn’t cover leadership, promotion or dealing with micro-politics, focusing instead on “specific” themes such as family, style of life led and partnerships. No doubt there have been discussions on these themes since the dawn of man. However, the term life coaching was coined only quite recently.

Other concerns include professional (re-)orientation, or work-life balance. These areas thematically overlap into business coaching territory.

This is why I define life coaching as the area of interest to (and paid for by) the client, whereas business coaching is the area paid for out of the corporate budget. Private (not “personal”) themes are often off limits.

The aunt” is what we call Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is used to treat mental illness, e.g. in patients who suffer from depression, are at serious risk of suicide or engage in substance abuse.

I think it is fair to say that coaches and their clients (or coachees) alike have a range of different views on this subject.

There are:
Coachees who explicitly (and forcefully) reject psychotherapy.
Coachees who are explicitly or implicitly looking for psychotherapy.

Coaches who are trained (and approved) psychotherapists.
Coaches who come from a non-psychology background, but have a strong interest in psychotherapy and invest in appropriate education and training in this area.

Coaches who avoid psychotherapy like the plague.

In my view, only the last group is problematic.

Why? Even a cursory glance at the literature shows how hard it is, in a “real world” process, to keep “normal” coaching and psychotherapy permanently and neatly sepa-rated from each other.

Just because a question touches on past history, sibling hierarchy or one’s relationship with the parents, that does not automatically make it psychotherapy. And yet a committed, discerning coach will find himself with surprising regularity at exactly this point – a borderline which is not scientifically defined and is very much subject to interpretation.

The coach has to decide whether to ask the next question, which experience often suggests could lead the coachee to a new – and telling – insight. Or should he, bowing to uncertainty and the “No psychotherapy ! dogma, stop right there? Ultimately, that is a decision which depends heavily on the coach’s own personal ethics – and on how he views his own responsibility. Generally speaking, when faced with such a decision, the answer is: attitude first, experience second, and supervision third. And sensitivity …

Christopher M. Cooper | Friedensweg 32 | 53332 Bornheim | Germany | T +49 2227 90 91 097 | F +49 2227 90 89 648 |