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Interview: Patrick Williams, author of “Therapist as Life Coach”

pat williamsPat Williams built the Institute for Life Coach Training and is author of multiple books and articles about coaching, including Therapist as Life Coach.  He talked to WTCI via email about some life coaching basics.

What’s your background?
I was a clinical psychologist for 15 years but was trained in Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology (Masters in Humanistic, Doctorate in Transpersonal) so obviously I was more interested in Human potential than pathology.

What do you do now?
I started doing executive coaching part time in 1990, and in 1996 I closed my psychotherapy practice and moved full time into coaching, I started the Institute for Life Coaching in 1998, training helping professionals to add coaching to their business. November 1, 2009, I sold ILCT to Life Options and am now Executive Vice President of Life Options, an online coaching and counseling company with web based consumer and professional platforms.

You’ve written books on the subject, so obviously there’s a lot to say.  But, briefly:  Why should people trained as therapists consider becoming life coaches?
Therapists already have many of the requisite skills for good coaching: the ability to listen, rapport building, confidentiality and ethics, and possibilities thinking. But they will have to learn to use these skills in a new context of coaching.

What are the essential differences between therapy and life coaching?
Coaching is a co-creative partnership with the client that takes the coach away from an expert role and into the role of a curious coach, who asks questions of the client to assist in developing their desired future. This future can be next week, next year or five years away. The coaching is done in regular sessions to get the client from where they are to where they want to be, using much of what they already have (but may not know it).

How might a therapist/coach best determine which client gets which service?
Good question.  I teach my coaches that it is always smart to grant a “sample session.” You are not only giving the potential client a taste of coaching, but you are screening them to see if they are coachable, and if so, do you want to coach them?

Which clients are not coachable?
I assume all are coachable until proven otherwise. Anyone who can show a willingness to make change and be part of the process is coachable. If they come to several calls and are not “moving forward,” then the coach should suggest they are not ready for coaching and refer to other appropriate professional services whatever that may be.

Obviously non-coachable clients will never make it to the relationship. Coaching is a bit of a self-selected audience who sees how coaching might be able to help them in creating their desired future.

What distinguishes a coaching client from a therapy client?
A true therapy client is in pain and needs relief. But much of psychotherapy and counseling has always had the majority of clients with “adjustment disorders”….which is a catch all for clients who are upset or reacting to a life transition and coaching can help. The diagnosis game need not be played if they are truly emotionally capable and are not truly exhibiting a “disorder,” but more of a disappointment with their life direction.

What happens if a coaching client emerges as more appropriate for therapy during the coaching process?
That happens frequently. Life happens during coaching and sometimes we need to refer our clients to the proper professional. Do not do therapy and coaching with the same client. The only exception here is when the client comes to you for therapy/counseling and you are using a coach approach. The client, however, is buying the therapist relationship no matter what techniques you utilize.

What are the liability issues for therapists offering coaching services?
The ethics are strong for coaching and if you are a licensed therapist you should follow those as well. Even if you separate your coaching business from your therapy business (which is a good idea) you should follow the highest ethics of confidentiality and professionalism. Be careful of dual relationships, overpromising results, and intimate involvement.

Is there coaching insurance?
Yes. Most insurance for licensed therapists also covers coaching (check with your insurer) and there is insurance for coaches only offered through the International Coach Federation.

Does it work for interstate, online coaching?
I can say probably, but each state is different. You must check with your insurer and your state licensing board. However, if you have a distinct coaching business and keep clear that you are not offering therapy nor relief for mental disorders, then coaching allows your clients to be anywhere, just as any consultant.

What final words of wisdom do you have for therapists considering becoming coaches?
You need to decide if you want to be a professional coach or a coaching professional. A professional coach gets quality training and certification and is involved in the profession. A separate business of coaching is set up and business is kept separate from therapy business and the whole world becomes your market.

A coaching professional is someone (e.g.,therapist) who takes coach training and adds the coaching approach to their lives and current profession. They don’t “become” a coach, but use coaching skills in their therapy practice.  This will determine how you market and position your business.

Find Patrick Williams on the web at the Institute for Life Coach Training. Read an excerpt from Therapist as Life Coach: An Introduction for Counselors and Other Helping Professionals on WTCI here.

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