Thought for the Day: When I prepare Thursday's Psychology Trivia posts, I find a topic and look for research that supports the answer. I have been thinking about today's post for some time, but had trouble doing the research. Here's the question and I will explain why I went ahead and posted it:
True or False: Life Coaching Is Equal or Better Than Psychotherapy
The answer is: False. Although I can find many studies which report the efficacy of various types of psychotherapy, the research related to life coaching is meager and unreliable. There are virtually no regulations or ethical guidelines for life coaches. Anyone can claim to be an expert. There are good ethical life coaches, but it is hard to know which ones are competent and well trained unless they are also trained licensed psychotherapists. There are only a few programs that offer certificates in life coaching and many training programs are no more than intensive workshops.
This may be surprising to many readers since life coaches are extremely adept marketers and very skilled story tellers. Their websites are slick, clever and include all kinds of testimonials. If you base your decision on their claims to bring success, wealth and happiness into your life, you might believe that what they have to offer is equal or even better than psychotherapy to help you change your life. Psychologists and other trained therapists are restrained by ethics and law in how they promote their work. Until recently, they were not allowed to advertise.
Life and executive coaches have been so successful at convincing the public that they have all the answers for life's challenges that many psychologists and social workers have taken an, "if you can't beat them, join them" stance and have started "life coaching" businesses alongside their therapy practices. In life coaching, these therapists can become advice givers as opposed to therapists. Therapists, as opposed to coaches, help their clients work on and resolve their problems using tested treatment techniques. Many of these therapists who have tried on the coaching hat, have reverted back to psychotherapy, since lasting real changes tend to be more possible when using psychotherapy as opposed to coaching. To the general public, coaching may seem to be the easier route with less stigma attached, just "tell me what to do and my life will improve." The techniques they teach are loosely based on some psychological principles, some work others do not, since the "experts" may not have adequate training. As the saying goes, "a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing."
I visited a website of a highly successful life coach while thinking about writing this post. There was an article proposing that they had the one secret thing to do to changing your life. The answer was finding a way to turn work into play. The author had been unhappy in their work, quit their job and found bliss by only doing things that felt like play. Although this may sound like a way to improve your life, many people would end up bankrupt if they followed this advice without a backup plan.
The life coaching field has become like self help groups on steroids. There are certainly times when self help or coaching can be a valuable adjunct to psychotherapy. I often refer people to AA when they are recovering from alcoholism or to a coach who has found ways to cope with ADHD. These kinds of work can be enlightening and helpful, however, they are not replacements for psychotherapy. When psychological issues get in the way of the process of overcoming a problem, life coaches may not have the skills to help their clients.
A few months ago, a new client came to see me. When she saw that I had written a self help book she was worried that I was a life coach. She had been disillusioned and had wasted years and exorbitant amounts of money on life coaches. She, like many people, had been enticed at free or low cost presentations into purchasing expensive courses, workshops, and high priced platinum level individual coaching, which failed to help her resolve her issues. Since starting to work in psychotherapy for the past few months, she is making steady progress on achieving the changes she wants in her life.
Although we all would like quick miraculous fixes for our struggles in life, real change takes time and effort. A good psychotherapist has spent years in school, followed by years of supervised work and continuing education. Psychologists, psychiatrists and licensed social workers must maintain their licenses, malpractice insurance, follow ethical guidelines in their work and in he promotion of their practice. If you are unhappy with things in your life, any licensed psychotherapist's life experience and clinical training and expertise make them more qualified than someone who is just a life coach.