As a unified concept in psychotherapy, life coaching is a recent addition to the field—and many psychotherapists still do not consider life coaching a legitimate part of the psychotherapy process. They see life coaching as a resource for emotionally together people who want to expand themselves in new ways with higher aspirations and psychotherapy as a process of exploring the past with emotionally disturbed people in order to help them understand how dysfunctional early life has negatively impacted them as adults. They see therapists as listening in a non-directive way, allowing clients to come to realizations on their own at their own pace.
However, psychotherapy is much more complex than empathic listening and realization. Many clients have never learned to develop the skills needed to grow up in healthy ways. Their “foundations” are weak and very vulnerable to self-loathing, anger, depression, anxiety and feelings of helplessness from lack of good-enough parenting. Or they may become traumatized later on by things like rape or war-related horrors. Clients who come to us are lost, anxious or depressed, and often act out their pain through anger and have little internal sense of reality to help them deal with the world.
And while it is important for therapists to help clients understand their past and how it impacts the present, it is also vital that they feel they can ask for advice and concrete help and that we therapists feel comfortable in giving them that guidance. They often need very direct tools on how to deal with troubling issues, education about how healthy relationships work, how to be better parents, how to deal with difficulties regarding jobs and career, sexuality, spirituality, separation, etc. This is what good-enough parents do for their children and what good-enough therapists must often do for their clients. And when they are successful in dealing with issues in which we have guided them, they need our reinforcement and our pleasure in their learning and growing. Surely this is a form of life coaching, whether acknowledged as such or not, that is vital to the therapy process. I am quite sure good-enough therapists have always been life coaches, even before it was called “life coaching.”
Lucille Barish is a licensed clinical social worker.
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