To Coach or To Counsel…

Just yesterday I was asked to speak at a Coaching training event here in Seattle. It was interesting: they wanted a mental health representative, a licensed psychotherapist. So I was invited, with little notice; & I talked about counseling, and the training I got in the 70’s through Missouri University’s Education & Counseling Department … I mentioned that back then, everybody was on a roll with the humanistic psychology movement, and most people were getting counseling as part of self exploration. Counseling, at the time, was an open field: laws didn’t regulate what we were doing as professionals; we regulated ourselves through professional ethics organizations and our own hunt for what had integrity.

To the point: coaching today is much the same as counseling was then. And counseling was then what psychotherapy was, prior. The exploration into the human mind and healthy living was what the involved professional or lay person was doing out of our own interest. There weren’t licensing fees, managed care, CEU requirements or the bevy of different credentials: licensed psychologists/social workers/marriage therapists. registered counselors, certified counselors, et al. Here in Washington, not only has the state (in charge of serving the public) designated all of the above 5 categories of practitioners; recently they made a categorical addition: “advisor”. It should be noted all of these mental health service providers are paying fees to the state, while the public? … if it is served at all by all of this, gets more confused.

Preceding all of it was the  1985 or ’86  Consumer Reports article on the efficacy of counseling; and in the following 3 years, I watched as three counselor friends were audited. Next,  came the “middle man” (insurance companies & their Managed Care) entered and regulation soon followed, etc. The timing of this sequence of events is precious.

I see all the counseling/coaching professionals as change agents, some very good at it & some, not. There is now, though, a sense of marking territory, or there was that feeling at the coaching training when I mentioned that some professional counselors circumvent the insurance industry’s requiring use of the DSM (diagnostic manual), resisting pathology labels for clients who seek insurance reimbursement. Perhaps the trainers wanted that to be a distinction of coaches? Sad.

Anyway, it’s the client, the consumer of self-help and professional personal services who should be asking questions, shopping, and realizing that in most cases regulation does not ensure a professional’s worth. Some unlicensed professionals are as good as some licensed ones, and some licensed people are unethical. This is simply true. Don’t we use our best abilities to choose a car mechanic? Certainly we can do that for picking a professional change agent.

Without a doubt I miss a more private, creative time in the evolution of the counseling field. Now, perhaps it is up to the consumer to protect opportunities for personal growth in family, relationship or at work, as something we can easily get, and hopefully with health coverage reimbursement, as it once had been. Regardless, mental health, counseling, coaching, psychotherapy, or whatever guise that growth comes in, should remain something used to empower us, rather than oppress. (Labels, too, can either clarify or oppress us; they are not magic, and getting one cannot heal us either). The ultimate question is what we do with our situation: we are ultimately our own guardians and our own healers.


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