Do I Need a Business Coach or a Therapist? Which do I Prioritize?

October 18, 2018

Do I Need a Business Coach or a Therapist? Which do I Prioritize?

By Hina Khan

Because I practice as both a psychotherapist as well as a business coach, quite often people come to me with the question: do I need a business coach or do I need therapy?

Being confused about which option is best for you is not uncommon: after all, from a distance the lines between the two fields appear blurry, and both are focused on you as an individual.

There are however important distinctions between therapy and coaching which I will attempt to tease out here.

The first question I ask anyone who comes to me with the coaching or therapy question is, “what brought you here today?” If the person is focused on achieving a business goal or improving their performance at work, I almost immediately recommend coaching.

Coaching is a very forward-thinking and results-driven activity. In order to grow, executives need to constantly challenge their mental paradigms by thinking differently about their business, their offering, the market, the competition, etc. Coaching, especially Thinking into Results, begins with a specific goal and then requires developing the inner skills and mindset to achieve that goal. We monitor our progress towards the goal and we maintain an active conversation about how we get there. Engagements can also take place over a fixed period of time.

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Therapy, on the other hand, is an activity that focuses primarily on the past over an indeterminate period of time. A very processes-driven activity, therapy is often dealing with something that happened in the past and how the incident or incidents are affecting one’s behaviour. Therapists take a long time to get to know a client in order to build trust so that the patient will open up about the most intimate details of his or her life. Therapy patients share things with their therapists they sometimes haven’t told anyone.

Just as you likely wouldn’t expect your therapist to provide you with business advice, many coaches might not be prepared to delve into psychotherapy. For one thing, therapists receive training in order to be able to accompany their patients in their moments of despair. Having often dealt with dire cases, I know it’s very hard for patients to shock a therapist. No matter the issue at hand, therapists are trained to manage the situation.

Many coaches, on the other hand, haven’t received training in psychotherapy and may feel highly uncomfortable delving into the details of someone’s life. They may not be prepared to hear the worst.

Having now distinguished between therapy and coaching, it is worth pointing out that often times the two fields can overlap. I have had coaching clients who have become psychotherapy patients, and vice versa. Sometimes, as we work through their work-related issues, clients admit that something that happened in the past may be influencing their behaviour. How we operate on a day-to-day basis in the office cannot be separated from the experiences that have formed us throughout childhood and adulthood.

Business problems can be personal problems in disguise. For example, for someone who has a problem with alcohol, a dip in performance at work is the manifestation of something much larger and deeper.

Taking care of our mental health is key to performing well in our jobs. Because therapy can carry a stigma, some people prefer to seek out a coach as a more socially acceptable form of therapy, but we shouldn’t confuse the two. The truth is that some people require only one, or the other, or both, and only through consultation with a professional can we know for sure which is the best route for us.

Regardless of what route we take, because no-one else can truly know what’s going on inside each one of us, we owe it to ourselves to be our biggest advocates. Reaching out is the first step to self-care.

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