The 3 rules of therapy coaches break- and why it works

Therapy time with someone you trust

Ultimately coaches and therapists both aspire to the same basic outcome – move the client efficiently towards happiness and fulfillment. But that ultimate goal isn’t the only similarity between the two. The one-on-one sessions and the emotional investment can also make the client feel like they’re in therapy and not coaching. And at times, people who are used to therapy may notice some resistance when their coach acts in a way that differs from the rules and norms of therapists. 

But rules are made to be broken! And these three rules are constantly broken in coaching sessions. On purpose. These actions can help the client achieve the results they care about, as quickly as possible. 

Therapy rule number 1 – Be a blank slate 

In therapist-client relationships, the sharing is entirely one-sided. When seeking information about the therapist, patients are left wanting as they try to deduce from tiny tiny amounts of information from the therapist’s office, Facebook page and limited small talk. Some therapeutic theory claims that the less a patient knows about a therapist, the easier it is for them to view him as a blank slate and thus project negative feelings and experiences on the therapist (also known as transference). Doing so provides the therapist and patient material to explore and analyse during the sessions. 

Since coaches need the client to take action after and in between sessions, intimacy and trust needs to be established early on. With the aim of getting the client to take action, the coach needs to build rapport very quickly. In doing so, the coach may decide to share parts of their personal story, show vulnerability and share personal struggles, if they think it will help his client take action. 


Therapy rule number 2 – Explore the patient’s early life experiences 

A part of psychoanalytic therapy is exploring the past in an emotional safe way. By exploring both positive and negative experiences, the patient can get “corrective emotional experiences”. This experience can help patients reconcile with what happened to them, and challenge resultant beliefs. 

Coaches focus on modifying specific behaviors and beliefs that don’t serve the client, or prohibit them from achieving their goals. This doesn’t mean that your coach  doesn’t care about your tough childhood – they do. However, they likely won’t dwell on it. Instead, they’ll provide insights into the beliefs and behaviors you took from that experience and help you model new ones.  

Therapy rule number 3 – Focus on emotions 

The therapeutic method is based on the idea that emotions are not the only important factors in our lives, but the key to who we are. The theory posits that we construct our very selves based on emotion. The main implication for this is that a therapist will help the client increase awareness of his emotions to understand how his reality is shaped by his emotions. 

While a therapist may work on the reasons you have these feelings, a coach will help you interpret them in a way that will help you reach your ultimate goal. Tony Robbins famously says motion leads to emotion. Thus, placing emphasis on the actions that create physical sensations and interpreting them as emotions that will benefit the client.   

For example, excitement and anxiety can feel the same in our body. Someone who experiences one or the other may report a combination of irritability, inability to sit still, muscle tension, rapid breathing and heavy perspiration. The difference between a person who feels anxious and one that feels excitement is the interpretation of these sensations. That interpretation will decide if you freeze or excel. 

Coaches and therapists sometimes help people with similar problems, but their work is not the same. Before you start working with a coach, you should be aware that coaching is not a watered down version of therapy, but a distinct discipline with different rules and norms. Don’t expect a coach to follow the same rules as a therapist – this is a different game altogether!