Just the other day I was challenged by another doctor that coaching is not evidence-based and that I’m convincing people to buy a service that’s no better than snake oil. This to me is the equivalent of being called a charlatan.
However, it’s not a bad question to ask because coaching is not regulated and anybody can say they are coach.
So, for the curious or skeptical, I thought I’d address here what coaching is, who it can help, the evidence behind it, similarities and differences to therapy, my qualifications to provide coaching.
What is coaching anyway?
There are many different definitions of coaching as it is a new and rapidly evolving discipline that is not yet regulated. However, most definitions have a number of elements broadly as follows (1):
Coaching is a unique discipline drawn from elements of therapy, mentoring and consulting – however these are put together in a way where coaching has quite a different ‘flavour’ to the disciplines it has emerged from.
Importantly, coaching is NOT therapy and is not designed to directly ‘fix’ psychological problems or directly manage distressing symptoms. Rather, coaching is focused outwards and designed to help people set goals and create positive and purposeful change through developing new insights and actively experimenting on new ways of being in the world. Depending on the training of the coach it utilises well researched and established theories and methodologies grounded in psychological and behavioral science. This is known as ‘evidence-based’ coaching.
Studies consistently show evidence-based coaching helps people better manage stress, reduce anxiety and improve mood as well as have a greater feeling of wellbeing. Therefore, even though coaching is not therapy, evidence-based coaching can end up being therapeutic with a common ‘side-effect’ of improved psychological functioning.
OK – got that! So what is coaching for health and wellbeing?
Coaching for health and wellbeing involves (2):
- Client directed goal-setting – as my client you are firmly in the drivers’ seat and you set the agenda
- Conversation to build self-discovery and new insights into self and the world that can inform change and new ways of acting and being in the worlds
- Building the appropriate knowledge and skills needed to meet your goals
- Development of self-management and accountability to promote sustained change.
A geeky bit for those who are evidence minded (but still super interesting)
Evidence-based coaching approaches, can help people make behaviour changes and improve health outcomes in people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. (3-6) This is of growing global importance for helping people prevent and managing lifestyle related chronic diseases (3).
Coaching vs Therapy ??
Now, even through I said above coaching is not therapy, the evidence is that coaching can also be appropriate for helping people manage their mental health (3, 7). And the key here is the word manage.
This is not so much about symptom reduction but as helping people develop and strive for appropriate goals and build things like connectedness, hope, identity, meaning and empowerment – which are things needed for recovery from mental illness and positive mental health. (8-9) Evidence-based coaching approaches can also be used to support ‘distressed but functional’ people strive towards their goals and build positive mental health in addition to addressing symptoms. (10-11) Remember – Coaching is NOT therapy. It does not seek to replace psychology, psychiatry or general practice. Rather, it can be a great complement to therapy.
Therefore, in a simplistic way you can consider that the priority of therapy is to help people manage symptoms and as a result people are better equipped to manage life. Whereas the priority of coaching is to help people manage life and as a result symptoms improve.
So perhaps we could say, the end goal is the same – improved health and wellbeing. But the way of getting there is different. Broadly speaking therapy focuses on fixing what is broken, whereas coaching focuses on strengthening what is working well.
Again – remember there are shades of grey and overlap here – but the idea is that just as goulash and curry both contain very similar ingredients, and both can be nutritious and relieve hunger very – the spices and emphasis on different ingredients and proportions means the end result is a quite different. You couldn’t say one is objectively better than the other – it comes down to personal preference. And so too with coaching.
Who can benefit from coaching?
Coaching can help a broad range of people and may be particularly useful for people who want to try a different way of personal development. It is a real option and pathway for people wanting to improve their wellbeing, manage their health, manage stress and improve coping etc.
It’s also a good option for people who are NOT sick but need help coping with a challenging or distressing life or work situation. What they need is not therapy – but new skills, information and perspectives so that can better manage themselves in that particular situation.
So am I qualified to do all this
Well first of all I have been a doctor for nearly 25 years which means I really understand how health conditions affect peoples lives and the physical functioning of the body – and the types of lifestyle changes often required for good health.
Secondly, I have undertaken focused post-graduate study in evidence-based coaching and counselling. This means I have learnt the techniques of coaching along with a sophisticated understanding of motivational and behavioural science of how people function, grow and change. This is critically important for helping people make and sustain healthy lifestyle changes.
Thirdly, I am currently studying meaning-centred therapy (logotherapy) which is a more ‘spiritually’ focused approach.
All this means I can tie physical, psychological and ‘spiritual’ health together and see people as a whole – rather than just focusing on one part.
I fundamentally believe that you are the expert in your own life and my goal as coach is to to empower you to take charge of your health, work and life – so you can build a positively healthy life. My role is to create a safe and trusting space and provide options, tools and frameworks for you to explore, question and grow.
- Grant AM. An integrated model of goal-focused coaching: An evidence-based framework for teaching and practice. International Coaching Psychology Review. 2012;7(2):146-65.
- Wolever, R. Q., Simmons, L. A., Sforzo, G. A., Dill, D., Kaye, M., Bechard, E. M., . . . Yang, N. (2013). A Systematic Review of the Literature on Health and Wellness Coaching: Defining a Key Behavioral intervention in Healthcare. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 2(4), 38-57.
- Moore, M., & Jackson, E. (2014). Health and wellness coaching. In E. Cox, T. Bachkirova, & D. Clutterbuck (Eds.), The complete handbook of coaching (Second ed.). London: SAGE Publications.
- Newnham-Kanas, C., Morrow, D., & Irwin, J. D. (2010). Motivational Coaching: A Functional Juxtaposition of Three Methods for Health Behaviour Change: Motivational Interviewing, Coaching, and Skilled Helping. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching & Mentoring, 8(2), 27-48.
- Olsen, J. M., & Nesbitt, B. J. (2010). Health Coaching to Improve Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors: An Integrative Review. American Journal of Health Promotion, 25(1), e1-e12.
- Wennberg, D. E., Marr, A., Lang, L., O’Malley, S., & Bennett, G. (2010). A Randomized Trial of a Telephone Care-Management Strategy. The New England Journal of Medicine, 363(13), 1245-1255.
- Oades, L., Crowe, T., & Nguyen, M. (2009). Leadership coaching transforming mental health systems from the inside out: The Collaborative Recovery Model as person-centred strengths based coaching psychology. International Coaching Psychology Review, 4(1), 25-36.
- Andresen, R., Oades, L., & Caputi, P. (2011). Psychological Recovery: Beyond Mental Illness. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell
- Leamy, M., Bird, V., Le Boutillier, C., Williams, J., & Slade, M. (2011). Conceptual framework for personal recovery in mental health: systematic review and narrative synthesis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 199(6), 445-452.
- Grant, A (2007). A model of goal striving and mental health for coaching populations. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2(3), 248-262.
- Keyes, C. (2003). Complete Mental Health: An Agenda for the 21st Century. In C. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.