Coaching: what’s in a name?

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

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I describe myself as a facilitator but when I work one-to-one some people would call it coaching. I don’t use that term much here for a variety of reasons, many of which are probably neurotic. I feel the word and the idea carry a lot of baggage. (So does the word facilitation, but I’ve got used to carrying it now.)

I was reminded of this by Mark McGuiness’ post differentiating coaching from counselling, and Annette Clancy’s partial pushback. I’ve seen similar arguments about the difference between coaching and therapy.

Mark has some fantastic resources on his site and having met him I’d cheerfully recommend him as a coach. The same goes for Annette, with whom I’m inclined to side on this one: I think Mark’s distinction tends to play to negative stereotypes of counselling.

Somehow, I think Mark’s arguing in code and I wonder if he really wants to say something like real men use coaches. Well, he’d want to avoid that sexism I suppose.

Going into therapy or counselling still carries a huge cloud of shame for some people. If calling it coaching alleviates that, great. But I think efforts to say coaching is not therapy are a bit futile. There are hundreds and hundreds of different approaches to therapy and, I daresay, coaching. Trying to draw hard distinctions between two huge generalised terms looks like hard work to me. I’m vaguely reminded of Monty Python’s revolutionaries in Life of Brian wondering if they could stand up for Stan’s inalienable right to have babies.

I have found this to a hugely charged issue in the past. Some coaches have got very angry with me when I’ve expressed this view before. But I’d say call my process by whatever name you like, call it Mildred if you want. But whatever you call it, I’d suggest making up your mind about its value based on your experience, not on the label.

When people ask me for reassurance that coaching isn’t therapy, I tend to see that as a legitimate way for them to express concern about what might happen to them in the process. It’s a good cue to start a conversation about what they want to get from it, what concerns they have etc.

Once we get into the detail, the whole semantic debate tends to go into the background. Then I think we can focus on what is happening in the relationship and is it useful or satisfying?

(By the way, I think the same sort of argument might apply to a word like consultant, another label some of us might want to shake off.)

PS See also the continuation of the discussion in Annette’s comments. We’re all friends here really.

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