What’s the difference between therapy and life coaching, is the most frequently asked question we get. Even if you haven’t asked it, you may have wondered, so I am taking a crack at it.
I’ll start with caveats. Therapy has its place and life coaching has its place. They overlap in many goals, but they are not the same kind of experience. Not all therapists are alike and not all life coaches are alike. In my experience, most therapists focus on understanding your past, your feelings and your behaviors. Some people I’ve heard from complain they spent too much time in therapy mired in the past events or feelings, without creating a plan for real change. On the other hand, many therapists, (especially in Cognitive-Behavioral therapies) do address changing behavior in their practices. Where we stand apart from therapy in general is that life coaching emphasizes action. We even often hear from our clients that they’ve switched out of therapy or added on life coaching in pursuit of empowerment and an action plan.
That might leave you wondering if life coaches address emotions or thought patterns at all. Good life coaches address thoughts, feelings and actions, but not all life coaches are good at their job. Let’s face it- “life coaching” has a bad connotation thanks to many undisciplined practitioners invoking its title. Certainly therapy looks good versus general “life coaching” based just on the years of science behind it and the credentials required to be a therapist. This is where it is important for me to distinguish The Handel Method® from other forms of life coaching. At a glance, here is what makes The Handel Group® different and why we excel:
• We have a defined philosophical framework that tackles a person’s feelings, beliefs, thoughts and behaviors.
• Through our work with MIT and an independent study conducted by Dr. Donna R. Baptiste, of The University of Illinois in Chicago our methods have been demonstrated as effective. (Dr. Baptiste is Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine at UIC.)
• Our selection and training process for coaches is extremely rigorous (usually at least two years) and professional and personal development never ends.
• Our coaches “walk their talk.” They aren’t perfect, but they practice what they preach.
The most salient ways in which our version of life coaching is different from therapy include:
We are most successful with already healthy people who want to be happier and more at peace.
Because we aren’t trained to treat illness, we work best with people who are already healthy but are struggling to be really successful or happy in one or more areas of life. Our work is philosophical and action-oriented. People who want to make significant changes in their lives enjoy the challenge of coaching. People in emotional crises or dealing with mental illness or depression often find more comfort in therapy. Obviously, we can’t prescribe medication.
We focus on action as the main access to shifting patterns.
Thoughts lead to feelings, which lead to actions. It’s a never-ending cycle and a person can intercede at any one of those access points. In The Handel Method®, we intervene in all of them, but we begin with action. It’s kind of remarkable how un-intuitive it actually is. People tend to want to figure something out or feel “in the mood” before changing something about their lives. We teach that in order to break out of a pattern: of thought, of feeling, of mood, of stagnancy, in any area of life, the first place to start is to change their actions. So, we’ll encourage everyone to start eating more healthfully right away so they can start to see the connection between a change of behavior and a change of feelings and thoughts. We are as fascinated by the mind as therapists are, but sometimes we just instruct the mind to “shut up” its chatter and attend to doing the thing that would make us proud.
We teach Personal Integrity® as the key to self-esteem.
Rather than understanding all the roots of a person’s lack of self-confidence, we teach the concept and methods of Personal Integrity. People are barely good at honoring their word when making promises to others, much less themselves. We believe that by teaching people to make and keep promises to themselves, we are giving them the keys to increased self-confidence. If you don’t believe it, you haven’t tried it.
We can coach on a short-term basis.
Some people choose to keep a coach in arm’s reach at all times, but often coaches can be brought in on a project or goal basis. Often clients come to us to lose some weight, resolve a family crisis, figure out changing careers or get into or out of a love relationship gracefully. We work well on a singular goal OR across the board in your life and have no problem with the idea of a finite goal or relationship.
We have opinions and we’ll tell you what they are.
Most of what we find keeps people stuck is how they think about their lives. We want you to think differently in any area that you haven’t been successful. Mostly people need dire circumstances to change, (disease, divorce, death, debt, etc.) but what if the people around them said their real opinions about their bad choices? People would probably straighten out faster. But since most people have a tacit agreement like “I won’t call you on your stuff, if you don’t call me on mine,” people remain pretty stagnant. A coach will advise you about your choices, lovingly of course, so that you can grapple with YOUR real opinion about your choices.
We might argue with you.
Handel Group life coaches think our job is to have you examine your beliefs, logic and choices. Wherever you are not happy, there is some skewed thinking behind the scenes and we want to uncover it as fast as we can and hold it up to the light. Most people find that they have been dying for someone to start fighting for their dreams. Because people are slow and scared to fight for their own, a coach who is willing and trained to argue against your fear and your brattiness can be really helpful. Sometimes this means our clients will feel some discomfort as their coaches challenge them to think differently about what’s possible. We understand and even expect some resistance and we are ready to ride it out with you and see you to the other side of it, even if it means you don’t like us for a bit.
We tell on ourselves.
We believe in transparency. Our clients get to know exactly who their coaches really are because Handel Group life coaches share their own experiences of failure and struggle as well as their own lifestyle changes, triumphs and promises with their clients. Our coaches use their own lives as examples of our methods. You can ask a Handel coach anything. Unlike therapists, and even many other life coaches, Handel coaches tell all and publicly endeavor to live 100% by what we teach. We believe it’s important to “walk our talk” and to share about it: the failures and the successes of our own journeys as we go. This is part of why such an intimate bond is formed.
The Handel Method® is not for the faint-hearted, but it is also not as tough as it may sound. It certainly isn’t for everyone. I hope I have covered some of the most obvious curiosities you may have about how it works and how it is different from therapy. I welcome your questions right here on the blog and if you find yourself inspired to take on some areas of life and see them forever changed, do consider our upcoming Design Your Life Weekend.