Coaching vs. Therapy: Choose Wisely

Let's begin with the premise that Board of Directors, CEO's, and other major organizational stakeholders do not want to be responsible for the mental health of their employees. This premise begs the question, "How do we change behavior without providing mental health services?" 

For years OD consultants, coaches, therapists and other professional consultants have been using psychological and social science instruments to effect behavioral change, which places many organizations in the gray zone of providing mental health services.  It all depends on how you look at the situation, the approach, and the value of the person you are trying to help.  

For example, the recent NFL episode with Ray Rice, the LA Lakers' and Atlanta Hawks' ownership issues, and the University of Florida State's issue with Jameis Winston have expanded the national conversation to ask all organizations (public and private), "What's your policy regarding spousal abuse, public ranting, DUI's, etc.?"  "Is the solution to provide mental health services, dismiss the employee, or provide another approach to change the behavior?"

Since this national debate is escalating, we think it's important to understand the difference between coaching and psychotherapy in reaching out to help key employees and teams.  After all, psychotherapy and coaching intend to help the individual and/or group change behavior - using many of the same tools.

As opposed to psychotherapy, coaching is an unregulated business whereas psychotherapy is regulated, which affects there approaches, costs, and expected outcomes.

In therapy, the licensed therapist begins with the assumption that the person is the problem and he/she needs fixing. What makes choosing therapy as a solution confusing is that psychologist and psychiatrist both practice psychotherapy – yet, the professions are substantially different in terms of training and tools that they can legitimately use for treatment (see Cloud, J. ,2010; Psychology vs. Psychiatry: What's the Difference, and Which Is Better?). For example, in general psychologist can not prescribed drugs as part of the treatment.  However, even this situation is trending toward giving certain psychological professionals prescription authority (see New Mexico, Louisiana, medical psychologist in some federal agencies and departments, and psychological nurse practitioners, etc.). This trend should be alarming for organizational stakeholders because we live in a litigious society and, therefore, we can ask the question "How long will it take before a wayward employee sues the employer for not fixing him/her through psychotherapy."

In coaching, the coach begins with the assumption that the person and/or team has identified a problem that she/he wants solved and, if articulated properly, will set a time frame by when it needs to be resolved so they can move on. Even though the problem maybe exhibited as emotional and/or behavioral, coaches don't assume that they are going to fix the person from a mental health point of view. What often clouds the issue is that coaches often use tools from social scientist – including ones specially designed to produce psychometrics. Fortunately, neuroscience has started to give strong evidence that these tools are effective in pinpointing human behavioral issues that are often what needs to be changed for the problem to be solved. However, such instruments can give one the feeling that they are being psychologically examined, which is not very appealing or considered necessary to solve the problem. Yet, behavioral change is required to solve the problem - making it critical to shed light on the roots of the behavior.

So which solution is best inside your organization – therapy or coaching? If you are an organizational stakeholder, please email ROLC® your response to