My shifting professional identity, and differences between coaches/mentors and therapists

For those of you who are still getting to know me, I am Asher.  A female artist who is deeply devoted to a career as a creative helping professional <3 

Here’s a little info on where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going…. 

Where I’ve been.  My education includes a doctorate degree in physical therapy, a certification in life coaching/mentorship, 10+ years of experience with conscious healing, growth, and trauma recovery, artistic development, as well as numerous self-study programs in various areas of creative spirituality.  Plenty of personal challenges and discoveries have informed the empathetic presence many people feel in our individual work together, and it is a deep honor to join others on this journey of creation, healing, and growth as a personal guide. 

Last year after reaching a peak in my artistic career as a musician, I made the decision to become a licensed clinical mental health counselor.  Many of you may not know that I’ve actually always wanted to be a therapist.  I just needed to find the courage to admit it.  2020 left me at a crossroads that finally revealed this truth undeniably.  If I am to make full use of the gifts my life has offered me, I finally recognized that they fit most precisely in the professional role of therapist/counselor.  And for those of you who know me well, you know that this secret identity has been trying to sneak its way out through original music and songwriting, through endless personal conversations about aaaaaaaaaaall the growth and healing, and even through past coaching work I’ve done. 

Where I am now.  Currently in my 2nd semester of graduate school I am beginning to receive the foundational training I've always craved in mental health.  It is offering an awakening of sorts, to say the least.  I think mostly it is giving me a grounded platform to more deeply understand self-worth, my own needs, and how to honor the boundaries that offer me the space to lovingly and securely exist.  These are directly increasing my capacity to hold space for others, and I love seeing this new presence develop and emerge.  It’s also giving acknowledgment to so much of what has been sensed, perceived, intuited about empathy, compassion, and presence… That which is just now scratching the surface of understanding and integration. 

Where I’d like to go.  With some of this new integration, I'm seeing that I’ll be juggling two professional roles for at least the next 2 years.  This is presenting the need to clarify the kind of coaching/mentoring work I’ll be offering between now and when I become licensed as a therapist, in alignment with values of clarity and compassion for all.  This clarity can hopefully offer everyone a greater window into how to access support through me, or through others I may be able to direct you towards 😊 

 

SOME DIFFERENCES BETWEEN COACHING/MENTORSHIP AND THERAPY: 

Many people have varying opinions of professional coaches and mentors who are not licensed mental health professionals.  I found this out directly when I asked a question on social media a few weeks ago about how each were perceived.  There were many who trusted therapists more, and others who trusted coaches more.  It was fascinating to read the responses and differing perspectives! 

It became obvious though that there is still some misinformation floating out there.  Did you know for instance, that professional coaching is a legitimate profession beyond people just saying it is?  There is actually a national accrediting body outlining the standards of practice and ethics codes for certified coaches.   Although it is not a requirement to join the ICF and many coaches/mentors choose not to (learn more about the ICF here), it’s worth taking a look as a consumer for checks and balances.  By educating yourself on what the standards of this profession actually are, you’ll likely be able to quickly discover more quickly whether someone in the public is taking the responsibilities and ethics of being a coach seriously, or just hanging out their shingle as an experiment or hobby because it's something they've "heard anyone can do."

Other than standards of practice, there are a few other major differences from between therapists and coaches/mentors that many people don’t seem to know about.  In an attempt to create more clarity and appreciation for each profession – because I myself am standing with one foot in each right now – I’ve outlined one perspective of these differences below, which is not an all-inclusive list.  From my vantage point, professional coaching/mentorship and therapy differ in the following important ways:  1) each profession’s targeted clientele, 2) the training each helper chooses to receive, and 3) how they each address the process of change.  I’ll say a little about each of these differences below. 

Therapy seeks to serve people who are typically looking for an emotionally-intimate form of help, generally with their deepest sensitivities and concerns.  Clients in a therapeutic relationship need and desire a highly sensitive partner in growth to address the core root issues of whatever they are working through.  This means they need a high degree of emotional trust, care, and skill in order to expose these deep concerns, fears, challenges, and inner wounds.  Many say that the purpose of therapy is to address the past, though that is only half true.  A good number of therapeutic approaches don’t even focus on a person’s history at all, and many very much address the present, and a person's future goals.  The therapeutic process is validated by evidence-based practice, years of study by theorists and philosophers, a professional community of peers, a thorough academic and evaluative learning process (licensed therapists are required to pass through years of school and training with evaluation by supervisors both during and after school), and a consistent ethics code that clearly defines the profession and its standards of practice.  All that being said, did you know that most therapy training programs do not require their grad students to receive therapy of their own?  It is highly encouraged, but not usually required, even after someone has made the commitment to become a therapist for others.  What this means is that although a therapist can move through tons of knowledge-based training, depending on how experiential their program curriculum is and their experience before joining the profession, they may actually be relatively new to a deep path of learning and growth themselves.  

Ok, now coaching and professional mentorship.  You can think of this service more like a trade profession, instead of an academic one.  Looking at the work of a mechanic is a nice comparison.  Your local mechanic probably didn’t go to school to learn what he does.  He probably learned it through life experience, mentorship, and self-evaluation.  Why do you trust him?  Well, that’s a good question, many people have a hard time trusting mechanics, because they think they’re just trying to run a business and get your money.  And the truth is, there are some mechanics who are less skilled, less genuine, and yes, are more focused on business and money than the work itself and the people receiving it.  But when you find an amazing mechanic who not only does what you’re paying him to do (fix your car in a really particular way), you’re likely to feel immensely grateful for the service he’s providing.  You’re also not expecting him to be a rocket scientist who knows all the theories behind what he’s doing.  His results validate his knowledge, and because of that you feel satisfied and complete (ideally).   

A professional coach or mentor choosing to make this work a career is in a similar type of business – offering you a more specific kind of service in an area where the helper often holds years of experience working with, and finding solutions for the problem or concerns you’re facing.  Many coaches/mentors are called to help others heal, grow, and make positive changes in their life because they seen their own results and the results of friends they’ve helped happen over and over again.  Following their unfolding purpose of giving back to others what they have been given, the next step they see is to be of service using their natural abilities, passions, and the experiences they've learned from.  They receive mentorship by others who are further along their chosen path, and through their own learning and self-evaluation they develop wisdom – an inner knowledge obtained through experience – that they begin to channel in the direction of benefiting others seeking support.  Those who appreciate a professional coach or mentor's support are people who are on a similar life path, looking for solutions to similar life problems that their coach/mentor has had successful experience with navigating.  

If we start comparing a mechanic to an engineer, and expecting him or her to be that, it would make a lot of sense that we’d be disappointed or even distrustful.  The same comparisons prevent some people from trusting the coaching industry (along with the fact that some coaches choose to charge exorbitant amounts of money for their services).  The value of trade professionals such as mechanics or coaches/mentors is not their academic knowledge, it is their hands-on, life experience with the specific problem you’re facing, along with the specific results working with them can produce for you.  Many people don’t actually know it, but the skills many coaches and mentors use are very similar to skills embedded in therapeutic modalities focused on shifting belief systems and taking action in the direction of your desires (cognitive behavioral therapy, and solutions-focused brief therapy are two therapy modalities where I believe coaching’s roots lie).  The difference between how a coach versus a therapist will deliver these skills speaks more to each profession and its standards rather than the professional themselves.  If a client values a professional’s personal experience more than anything and feels better having less structure to their process, a coach or mentor might serve them more.  If someone feels safer and more trusting of a process informed by knowledge and more structure, a therapist might feel better.  

So what can we conclude about the professions of mental health counseling and coaching/mentorship?  Although there are nuances to what I’m about to say, in trying to integrate this for myself this is what has become clear:  

The career path of becoming a licensed mental health professional) is validated primarily through knowledge and training, and complimented by experience.  And the career path of professional coaching is validated primarily through personal learning and experience, and complimented by knowledge and training.  

Though some professionals are strictly on one path or the other, there are a million shades of grey in between each of these paths, resulting in varying combinations of the two!  You might consider me to be exploring some of those grey zones right now 😊 

With oodles of ongoing, personal experiences of growth, healing, and being a change agent for myself and others, I’m making the transition to becoming a mental health professional alongside my less structured work as a coach/mentor.  The generous spirit in me decided this was a good idea because I want more people to have access to the healing that flows through, not just the people who can afford the rate I need to charge right now as a coach working outside of a 3rd party payer system (insurance does not cover coaching or self-development yet).  And, the introvert in me thinks this is a great idea because the truth is, self-expression takes a lot of energy for me, and I don’t like playing marketing games to “attract” people to my services.  I like helping people directly, who directly ask for help.     

As a person who loves loving transparency and clarity, below I’ve outlined a direct glimpse of all the in’s and out’s of my current service career.  This is what I currently offer in my coaching/mentoring practice, while expanding and deepening my toolbox as a therapist-in-training: 

 

WHAT YOU CAN RECEIVE FROM ME NOW AS A MENTOR/COACH: 

  • Body-centered mindfulness practices 
  • Accountability for growth and positive change 
  • A safe, loving, and compassionate space for self-inquiry and self-examination 
  • Homework assignments that promote experiential learning, insight, and integration 
  • Focus and clarity in a particular area of life that feels challenging 
  • A confidential helping relationship that is more objective and directive than friendship 
  • A loving, compassionate container of growth in the area of your choice 
  • Either a process-oriented approach, or help in aligning with specific goals 

 

HOW THIS DIFFERS FROM THERAPY: 

  • The work I currently do does not address root emotional issues such as low self-worth, codependency, or addiction 
  • A therapist is better equipped to help you if you are working directly with core issues that are causing bigger disruptions, instability, dysfunction, or “stuck-ness” in your life 
  • The services I offer must be paid for out of pocket, and cannot be billed through insurance 
  • Our relationship will likely feel more social, and less intimate than your relationship would be with a therapist 
  • We will likely communicate some between sessions to talk about your progress towards goals and resistance that comes up, whereas a therapeutic process mostly happens during sessions 
  • You are expected to be totally independent in your growth process, with me as a supportive guide.  You might expect your therapist to offer more emotional support through deeper pain and/or challenges that arise through your growth process 

 

REASONS A REFERRAL MIGHT BE MADE TO A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL: 

  • If suicidal thoughts or feelings begin interfering with your established goals or begin presenting a safety concern, we may need to pause our work together while you receive support from a licensed mental health counselor.  It may be possible that both therapy and coaching can occur together, though usually people benefit from focusing on one or the other. 
  • If we both determine that our work together is not benefitting you, and a deeper or different form of support is needed. 
  • If you’ve reached your goals or our work comes to an obvious transition and seeing a mental health counselor is where your path is leading you next. 
  • If expanding on an aspect of the work we’ve done leads you to want to explore one of your core issues in that area. 
  • If one of the ways we worked together felt amazing for you, and you have an interest in exploring it more therapeutically to work on your core issues. 

YOU ARE A GOOD FIT FOR COACHING/MENTORING IF YOU ARE: 

  • Self-motivated 
  • Generally stable and grounded 
  • Earning a steady income 
  • Clear about the way you’d like to grow, expand, or deepen your life 
  • Actively doing things to cultivate more presence and mindfulness 
  • Wishing to work towards your creative goals 
  • Committed to your growth 
  • Open to receiving support 
  • Ready for positive change in the area(s) you’d like to shift 
  • Excited to invest in creating a better future for yourself 

 

LIFE THEMES YOU MIGHT WANT TO WORK WITH: 

Creative process 
Life transitions 
Self-leadership 
Interpersonal connection 
Identity 
Spirituality 
Self-esteem 
Money 
Business development and expression 
Self-expression 
Purpose discovery 
Recovery 

 

PROFESSIONAL TONE:  (how it feels to work with me individually, or within a coaching group) 

Although sometimes it can be challenging to work through resistance, overall I’ve been told the tone of coaching sessions feels fun, spirited, relaxing, and invigorating.  You’ll likely feel seen, heard, appreciated, inspired, and motivated, with a natural inclination to reach a little beyond your comfort zone and into your next way of being. 

 

PRICES AND PACKAGING: 

When you decide you’d like to work together, your level of commitment to the process, the nature of your goals, and your budget determine what payment plan we agree on.  Many people choose to commit to 2-3 months of coaching together to begin with, anticipating that this is about the amount of time it will take to cultivate lasting change.  In this scenario, if it is comfortable financially to do so, the most commonly chosen option is to pay for your upcoming month of coaching prior to the first session.  For those who pay ahead I offer a small discount on their coaching package as a thank you. 

If the nature of your goals is more short-term, unknown, or it makes coaching more accessible for you, paying for single sessions at my regular rate is also an option. 

  • $400/mo – 4 weekly sessions 
  • $110/hr – 1 session

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