Coaching and Psychotherapy

In General by Dr. Keith Witt


I've looked with interest at the rise of coaching as a discipline over the last twenty-five years. I love the movement and admire all the men and women who are called to help others in their lives. People are by nature social, and everything we do, any developmental progress we make, involves intimate connections with other people, and we all do better with wise guidance.

Human societies naturally produce teachers, healers, and guides. Preliterate societies all have their Shamen and healing traditions. Every faith includes spiritual consultation and advice from wise others. Modern medicine and psychotherapy have evolved in the last two hundred years as attempts to wed ancient healing traditions to emergent modern science.

In my opinion, coaching and psychotherapy draw from the same well in helping others, but have had a specific distinction--at least theoretically. Coaching helps people become more successful in business, relationships, personal development, and health, and deals with psychological/habitual blocks when they interfere with progress. Psychotherapy diagnoses and treats psychopathology, with an underlying agenda of helping people progress in health, development, relationships, and business.

Integral psychotherapy sees this coaching/psychotherapy distinction as mostly artificial and generally impractical. As I detail in my text on Integral Psychotherapy, Waking Up: Psychotherapy as Art, Spirituality, and Science:

The purposes of therapy are to remediate symptoms, enhance health, and support development.
The process of therapy is cultivating compassion and depth of consciousness to support healthy perspectives and actions.
Therapists and clients co-create cultures in which the client and the client's universe are cherished, each moment is experienced as a gift and an opportunity, and healthy perspectives and actions are considered beautiful, good, and true.
These definitions apply to coaches, spirituals advisors, and any other relationship where one person is contracted to help another grow and succeed.

Integral psychotherapy explicitly acknowledges the shared roots of all interpersonal helping--including coaching--and makes practical distinctions depending on the training/expertise/responsibilities of the practitioner and the needs of clients. What matters is that people are well served, not what the certifications of their practitioners are. (For instance, I have multiple degrees and licenses, have been in therapy numerous times, and my current therapist over the last ten years never graduated from college.) I predict such cross-paradigmatic understanding will increasingly be the norm of the 21st century.

I've been observing more coming together in the realms of coaching, consulting, and psychotherapy, and I welcome the rich syntheses that I already see emerging.


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