This episode is an interview with Dr. Katherine Barteck, PsyD, about the differences between counseling and coaching. She starts with definitions of therapy and coaching.

Counseling, or therapy, is about taking an in-depth look at what is creating the current problems. The person can benefit from psychotherapy without necessarily having a diagnosis. Simply having the desire to explore one’s past this efficient to gain benefits from psychotherapy. Also, the person who lacks a specific diagnosis may be going through a stressful period and needs help in sorting things out.

The therapeutic process can be used to directly impact behaviors and business. This can be, at times, an essential component of change management. Gary describes, in line with that, the client he worked with who’d been chronically abused as a child. It’s critical when doing this work for the coach to understand when it’s time to bring a therapist in. On the flipside, work may be required to perform the basic act, e.g., negotiating with others, which a therapist can help with but where there really is no underlying pathology.

Dr. Bartek points out coaching is not a protected medical privilege. If subpoenaed, a coach can be required to reveal details of the relationship in court. The coach can benefit by having discussions within the therapist’s office, where privilege does apply.

The coach can maintain privilege by generating a list of action items, to do lists, or behaviors that need changed in taking those lists with the client out into the business world where they can be discussed and worked on without referencing the therapeutic process. In the end, what needs to be considered is whether or not the client needs a therapist, a coach, or both along with where the boundaries lie between the client and these professionals.

The conversation switch to the differences between how therapy and coaching are framed. In therapy the client is in a protected space where they can open up fully and flesh out their entire frame of mind and associated feelings in order to work on improving. In other words, it is a safe space. The client can safely choose what they want to take to the outside world which is where they would work with the coach. The client can then explore in the outside world and bring the results back to the safety of the therapist office. Coaching, on the other hand, can be more open and more diverse and application because the working assumption is the coaches working with the healthy components of the client.

Consequently, a psychotherapist has to be careful when they are coaching to avoid going back into a therapeutic session during the actual coaching engagement. It is important to maintain the distinction between the two.

The issue of shame and seeking counseling was brought up. An article, “The Very Real Dangers of Executive Coaching,” by Steven Berglas was discussed. He talks about how important it is to avoid downplaying psychological issues when coaching powerful people. Specifically, there can be prestige associated with an executive having a coach which can enhance his or her sense of grandiosity. Berglas goes on to distinguish between a “problem executive” versus and “executive with a problem.” The former is able to be trained to function effectively while the latter is best helped by psychotherapy.

Coaching may also be viewed as a way to get simple answers with quick results while therapy typically is more involved and takes a longer period of time to show results. It is important to set expectations accordingly. Gary provided an example where inability to follow through thoroughly with therapy led to hampering of the client’s company’s performance leading to the eventual sale of the organization.

Dr. Bartek went on to talk about two cautions critical for coaches to pay attention to. The first one being the overplaying of behavioral techniques in order to gain quick responses when therapy is more appropriate, and the second being the avoidance of becoming “the Guru” who becomes the crotch upon whom the client leans leading to a codependent relationship which definitely is unhealthy for the client and the coach.

Another caution that was discussed is the avoidance of viewing coaching as a status symbol within an organization which basically indicates who’s of value and who isn’t based on whether or not resources are spent on an individual.

Going in the other direction there may be a fear that the stigmas attached to either having a coach and/or seeking therapy through an employee assistance program (EAP). Consequently, it may be best for the client to gain support from resources outside of the company. Coaches are also worn to avoid being a tool for weeding people out.

The various modalities present to provide support for individuals includes peer support coaching where the coaches gone through similar experiences as the client. Having gone through therapy for specific problem does not mean the coaches capable of bringing the client along in that area. Likewise, having recovered from particular issue does not mean an individual is prepared to coach in that arena. In both those situations training is available to ensure professional behavior. For example, there is training available to be a peer support specialist.

Coaches also need to be careful to avoid coaching protocols that are essentially therapeutic models repackaged in different jargon.

The conversation then turned to peer support specialists where revealing oneself to the client helps them move forward in addressing their own challenges. The caution that is given, though, is to avoid using the coaching situation is a way to simply talk about oneself for personal aggrandizement the expense of the client. This admonition applies to therapists as well.

Gary goes on to describe the three types of change situations:

– the principles are constant and the rules never change

– the principles are constant but the rules are rearranged

– both the principles and rules are shifting and changing constantly

In the first scenario coaching typically is sufficient to move people along to a more productive situation while in the last scenario therapy may be required because so much changes occurring. The middle scenario is a bit foggy and some balance needs to be found between coaching and therapy. In all three scenarios there are people who are able to navigate the changes without the need for coach or therapist. For many, though, people can be caught off guard and need support in reestablishing balance as they work through the changes.

It is also critical to pay attention to what the therapist or coach knows about the situation. This is especially important for coaches so that they don’t overstep their boundaries, e.g., not knowing whether or not there is a home -related issue that’s influencing the performance at work and that that actually is the issue which needs to be addressed. Having a sense of the breath of the possibilities may lead to conducting various assessments to get a clear sense of what, exactly, is the problem. This also is true for the therapist and that what the client thinks is the problem may, in fact, not be the case. Thus, moving in a steady methodical manner is critical for the client to be served properly. For example, client may insist they no longer suffer from PTSD that they only need to work with the coach but yet they list all the symptoms of PTSD when talking about whatever suffering or discomfort they are experiencing. Likewise, someone may be a high functioning individual who may in fact have some therapeutic issues but under the circumstances may respond well to coaching.

The session closes out with stating how critical it is for the therapist and the coach to be in touch with themselves and know their own strengths and weaknesses in order to provide the best service for the client.

Dr. Bartek is on LinkedIn and can be contacted at

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