Exploring the Links between Coaching and Psychology: 2

There are several links between coaching and psychology.

In my second blog in this series we will look at the some of the ones that have both global and specific influences on what we do as coaches.

The debate about whether coaching is a form of therapy or not will rage on and on and that is not something that I will address in this blog. However, whether we like it or not, some of the approaches used in counselling and psychotherapy have direct relevance to coaching and the links between coaching and psychology can’t be denied.

How does psychology influence coaching and which approaches in particular affect what we do as coaches and mentors?

Both Person-Centred and Gestalt therapies and psychological theories have as much an influence on coaching as they do counselling and psychotherapy.

The Person-Centred approach holds an assumption that our clients have an innate drive towards growth and optimal functioning. This fits well into a coaching context where we often work with a client’s strengths.

The founder of the person-centred approach, Carl Rogers, insisted that it was the client who knew best and that a practitioner, whether therapist or coach, should not try to ‘fix’ them.

From a person-centred perspective one of the ‘necessary and sufficient conditions’ for constructive change is that the coach/therapist experiences unconditional positive regard for the client. The coach should also experience an empathic understanding of the client’s internal frame of reference. This is one of the obvious links between coaching and psychology.

Is this enough to make what we do person-centred?

Not quite, we also need to communicate to our clients that we have an empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard, if only to a minimal degree. It’s a tall order but that is why we practice, develop, and seek supervision.

What does the Gestalt approach bring to coaching?

Gestalt coaching relates to the process of facilitating our clients’ awareness and using that awareness to create action. This awareness is generated from the whole person and not just from a limited context (e.g. work).

I once coached a senior manager in an engineering company who described himself as a ‘robot’ at work which contrasted starkly with his full and active family and social life. When he brought his whole self to work he started to enjoy it much more and developed closer relationships with his work colleagues.

The Gestalt approach comes into play when we are raising our clients’ awareness of their current situation. To relate it to a commonly used coaching model it is the ‘Reality’ in GROW.

So, Person-Centred and Gestalt approaches have a global influence on our coaching. What about when things get a little more specific?

Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (CBC) approaches

. . . can help our clients to enhance their problem-solving skills, particularly when working under pressure or stress. CBC helps to bring into awareness the beliefs and emotions that operate for and in an individual in a situation or context. This awareness can then be used to develop action and coping plans.

One of the aims of CBC is to enable our clients to self-coach by challenging their own beliefs and maintaining self-awareness.

This psychological background to coaching isn’t always made explicit and it doesn’t need to be. However, it does inform what we do as coaches and as we develop our knowledge and skills we could benefit from the empirical work being done by researchers and practitioners. At the time of writing there are moves by the British Psychological Society to promote the Special Group in Coaching Psychology to a full division putting coaching on a par with the other branches of psychology.

Would you consider attaining Chartered Status as a Coaching Psychologist?

In the next post we will look at how individual psychological theories can inform and influence our coaching. In the meantime try to spot where psychology might be informing your coaching (and your life!). Please leave a comment on what you notice.


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