What exactly is "Coaching?" and other Q&A.

I am often asked what "coaching" really means and how it relates to other fields. I know the questions are meant to be strictly inquisitive, but often they are loaded with stereotypes and doubt. Truthfully, I don't blame the askers for it. I have been there too.

Because coaching is a relatively new and exploding industry with no standardization, regulation, or clear licensing for the title "coach," my path within has been a love/hate journey. I've had to fight daily to define what coaching means to me and to justify my worth and service over and over again as waves of uncertainty and doubt beat hard.

This is not a path I picked for myself. I have, consequently, spent years observing, analyzing, and defining my relationship with other coaches in the field trying to find my footing within as my own business has grown. In sharing these Q&As, I hope to give a fresh and somewhat non-conventional approach to detailing what "coaching" has come to mean to me along this journey.


What is Coaching?


The modern coaching industry, in general, is incredibly diverse, highly complex, and evolving drastically in both demand and services in the last 30 years (centered largely on the Emotional Intelligence or EQ movement that began to emerge in the early '90s). It is now considered a billion-dollar industry and growing every year.


Because most people do not understand its modern application or think of it in comparison to counseling or therapy, coaching is typically undervalued by the general public (especially medical society) and, unfortunately, sometimes discredited altogether.


What is Coaching intended to do?


When used effectively and implemented correctly, coaching can be the solution to a variety of social, emotional, business, and temporal health issues in increasing efficiency and output as well as enhancing the direction and well-being of clients in a variety of ways. Hence why many functions are now being outsourced to coaches.


What defines a coach's qualifications? Is there a license or certification they must obtain?


The simple answer to this is - no. The qualifications of a coach are their experience, professional training, network, marketing, and output. There are paths of accreditation and certifications (the International Coaching Federation, ICF, being one of the largest and most reputable). However, there are currently no licenses or filings you have to hold with the state to practice. Each path (even within ICF) is unique and laced with a variety of taught skills, specialties, and red tape. For instance, I know "career coaches" with psychology degrees, even PhDs, and/or a background of 30 yrs HR Director experience and then I know others that quit their day job in a completely non-related field and just started a business "career coaching" overnight. This applies to the innumerable niches of coaches that currently exist.


Do you foresee this changing in the future? And the field being regulated?


As demonstrated above, the field of coaching is so diverse in what it accomplishes that it would be impossible to hold each coach to a regulation, discipline, or standardization. I personally, have come to appreciate that. I will be honest, it has taken me time to come to this conclusion. However, through years of building an excellent network of career, business, life, and other coaches I have learned each one is unique and "crushing it" in their own way. I frequently recommend or consult coaches in my network for very different and specific reasons because I know and understand that within their competency or realm they will do the best job.


In other words, when you deal effectively in this space, you look less at a degree as a gateway and more at coaching foundations, outputs, services, professionalism and competencies delivered. Though degrees and certifications are extremely important especially in building a foundation and refining philosophy, excellent coaches must above all be able to apply successful principals, engage client buy-in, and produce results desired.


Another example of the effective and also evolving pick-and-choose qualifications model in coaching is the current regulations themselves. ICF has been certifying coaches for 25 years (since the coaching boom started). The ICF certification is sometimes considered a beginning and sometimes a crowning accomplishment when it comes to coaching career paths.


However, from a more modern lens, other coaching organizations such as, Forbes Coaches Council (an "invitation-only" organization), provides no internal requirements or qualifications need for coaches other than to pay an entrance and annual fee. The Forbes Coaches Council has become another title and way for coaches to distinguish themselves and network together. The success of these coaches reflects the diverse acceptance of non-regulated coaches.


So, if coaches counsel, assess, and recommend based on scientific or even medical research (which they should) then what is the difference between a mental health professional that is degreed AND licensed and a coach?


Mental health professionals/counselors are trained from a clinical-based foundation with a focus on diagnosis and medical treatment. Coaching, on the other hand, is never intended for severe illness treatment, never touches medical intervention, and is more about connecting with your client (never patient) to leverage motivation, energy, EQ, or other soft-skill and technical competencies to generate systematic and research-proven success.

Additionally, coaching is goal-oriented and conducted more in the methods of project management vs clinical trial, investigation, intervention, and analysis.


It should be understood that even though the foundations, techniques, and approaches of coaches vs. mental health professionals vary drastically, sometimes services and concepts taught may overlap in certain psychological areas such as personality assessments, brain manipulation/retraining, and emotional balancing research.


How do I know if I need a mental health professional or a coach? And if a coach which kind?


Well, mental health professionals should always be consulted for clinical, severe, or chronic illnesses. They are also trained to support trauma and extreme health cases, situations, or solutions.


Coaches, on the other hand, are great for life and business efficiency training and enhancement. Talent, competency/area assessment, transition, improvement, and management are where many coaches thrive.

When seeking a good coach, it is important to:

  1. Start by understanding clearly what it is you want to achieve.

  2. Assess within the area you are seeking how the coaches you find compare in those areas. As described above, a coach's quality is defined by his or her experience, professional training, networking, and output. Referrals are some of the best ways coaches generate and maintain business if they are good.

  3. Don't be afraid to ask to speak to a referral or for a free consultation before you start. A good coach will want you to be a good fit so that they know they will be able to help you specifically reach your goals before starting.

  4. Finally, because coaches are not regulated, it is important to find ones that are relevant/current in research and application, have professional training or a foundation related to the help you are seeking, experienced in coaching others, good listeners, and also teachers/mentors that speak to your style.

Why would anyone want to be a coach?


Yes, the spectrum of experience, training, knowledge, and types makes coaching an extremely complex and deep industry to put your arms around. But, the incredible and exciting thing about the growth of the coaching industry is its wide range of applications, research generated, and the amazing places, ways, and projects that coaches are being used! Coaches are discovering new research daily on how to do things better, are constantly improving lives and businesses, and overall solving every-day issues that would otherwise go unanswered without them.

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