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Where does therapy end and executive coaching begin? Are executive coaches really therapists for businesspeople?

It’s an interesting debate and one that seems to have gained ground in recent months. I came across a fascinating blog the other day by the business psychologists YSC (, which looked at the distinction between therapy and executive coaching.  Part of the problem in comparing the two, as YSC pointed out, is that there’s not really a widely accepted definition of either; the closest YSC got was the suggestion from Frank Bresser and Carol Wilson in the 2010 book Excellence in Coaching; The Industry Guide (published by Kogan Page), that “counselling is about distress, therapy about damage and coaching about desire”.

Another view is that coaching is about work and therapy is about your personal life. “Therapy starts from a shared sense that the person wants to…become a ‘better person’ in one form or another,” said YSC. “Coaching…doesn’t seek to change the client as a person, but to show how the existing person can better interact with the world of work.”

That’s true, of course, but I’d say that the real common ground between therapist and coach is that it’s a confidential relationship – and that’s where the real value lies in executive coaching. In an executive coach you get a confidant, someone you can tell things to that you would never say to your boss and the subsequent space to enable new thoughts, feelings and actions emerge.

We work extraordinarily closely with our clients and each relationship is entirely individual. Our aim as coaches is to help you become better at your job. This requires an intensive exploration of ‘self’ – looking at the way you behave at work, considering what works and what doesn’t, and realising your strengths and weaknesses.  This illuminating reflective experience often accesses unchartered territories for people which requires a lot of skill and awareness for the coach so they can ‘hold’ the relationship and the numerous ‘coaching moments’ that emerge.  It also requires a good working relationship between coach and coachee where high trust is often present.

Next month we will be hearing from some of our executive coaches who will share some of their own most deep and meaningful coaching moments (completely anonymous and client confidentiality completely guaranteed) to help our interested readers become better acquainted with the ‘helpfulness’ of executive coaching conversations and the significant change that occurs as a consequence.