Are Executive Coaches Therapists in Disguise?

Executive coaches sometimes get accused of playing psychologist or psychotherapist. Let me try to clarify the differences between executive coaching and psychotherapy.

What executive coaching and psychotherapy have in common is that both are trying to change behavior, not by telling people how to change, but by having them realize the need for change and guiding clients on a path toward more effective behaviors. However, there are two important differences between executive coaching and psychotherapy. First, they use very different methodologies. Executive coaching draws heavily from an understanding of business and methods based on psychological theory. Executive coaching has its roots in learning theory, perception and social psychology. Therapy, on the other hand is based on analysis of anxieties and coping mechanisms. It draws heavily from theories of psychoanalysis and clinical psychology. Behaviors needing therapy are usually seen as abnormal and self-destructive, I am not saying that executives are excluded from psychological problems needing therapy. What I am proposing is that executive coaching uses different methodologies and the context of business to work through problems and create lasting behavioral change. Therapy deals primarily with psychological adjustment to life experiences while coaching deals with becoming a better executive. Executive coaches need to stay away from deep analysis of the coachee’s psyche. And psychotherapists should not pretend to understand the life of an executive, with its complexities not only in leadership and interpersonal relationships but also in business topics like finance, marketing and supply chain management. Whenever I see behaviors that need therapy, I refer the coachee to a psychotherapist. And Psychotherapists that know their limitations refer business executives with work related problems to executive coaches.

The question for my readers is: does this differentiation between therapy and coaching help in choosing the right professional? Does it guide the executive coach and therapist on whether to take on a client or refer them to an expert who is trained to deal with the problems at hand?

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