Psychologist vs life coach: How do business leaders make a choice?

In the modern world, a senior executive not seeing a psychologist or a consultant is likely to raise eyebrows, because having ambitions and seeking self-improvement is something you’d expect from a business leader. However, before actually seeking this kind of help, one needs to decide what kind of specialist would help them best at the moment. What is the difference between a psychologist and a life coach in terms of qualifications and techniques they use?

What is the difference between a life coach and a psychologist?

Psychologists are trained to explore past experiences and emotional trauma. They help people improve their lives and mental state by providing them with effective coping techniques, so they can process their traumatic experience and gradually heal. True, cognitive-behavioral psychology is, among other things, a future-oriented approach. But overall, psychology is about the past.

Professionals such as personal growth coaches or motivational speakers may have some training in psychology, but they are not qualified to manage trauma. Life coaching focuses on helping the client move from “here and now” to their desired future. Coaching is about the present and the future; it can only explore the past to a limited extent to derive resources, positive experiences, and some value.

A psychologist is a leader who offers their client expertise, experience as well as working techniques for understanding underlying patterns and causes of their symptoms, and coping strategies. A life coach’s role is that of a partner who helps a person independently explore their experiences and thoughts, find answers to questions, and take the right steps to achieve their desired outcomes.

Coaching and mentorship goals

A business executive who wants to build a personal development strategy and move forward and upward needs a life coach or a business consultant. These professionals use a variety of coaching techniques to help their clients inventory their strengths, clarify their goals, create an action plan and implement it, while at the same time inducing internal changes.

Most common reasons why entrepreneurs seek coaching or mentorship:

  • impostor syndrome
  • reaching a financial or glass ceiling
  • devaluation
  • procrastination
  • losing faith in one’s business or willingness to develop in a different field

Counseling goals

Entrepreneurs need a psychologist to work on their mental state, primarily if they have experienced emotional or moral shocks, conflicts, disorders, depression or anxiety. One example is when it is necessary to stop recreating the same life scenario such as constantly experiencing disappointment with one’s business partners. Entrepreneurs and especially managers often experience psychosomatic disorders, and counseling helps them discover the root cause. To put it simply, therapy helps to work out the past and feel better in the present.

Here is how counselors can help entrepreneurs:

  • Understanding how personal qualities impact one’s business and management style;
  • Improving negotiation skills;
  • Overcoming stress, perfectionism, and learning how to delegate;
  • Overcoming fears and limiting beliefs that hinder personal growth and business expansion.

How to choose a mentor or a coach

A psychologist must have professional qualifications, possibly more than one. It is recommended to check the psychologist’s specializations. For example, psychologists practicing Jungian approach specialize in archetyping and working with shadow sub-personalities, which helps understand oneself better. Gestalt therapists help discover the root cause of one’s anxieties. Regression therapists help their clients review the past and understand how it affects their present. Psychologists practicing a classical approach work with a broad scope of mental issues.

In addition to qualifications, a mentor must have experience in business. A good mentor is an entrepreneur with a rich background and social capital. The choice must be made based on experience: managers should take advice only from former or current managers. Mentorship always involves networking.

A coach is someone with both business experience, specialized education and certification confirming their knowledge of coaching techniques and practical experience. Becoming an ICF-certified coach requires at least 128 hours of training. Other certification levels such as АСС, РСС or МСС require 100, 500 or 2,500 of practical training, respectively. Studying psychology in addition to coaching is the best option. Good coaches work in a small niche and never promote themselves as experts in everything and anything.

Regardless of whether an expert is a coach or a psychologist, it is important to be visible in the media. Social media presence and media publications will help potential clients decide if there is be a match in communication style and values. A truly effective coach, mentor or psychologist will always honor confidentiality when talking about cases. This subtle nuance clearly shows that an expert is popular and therefore needs no advertising. Popularity only comes to successful professionals.

By Natalya Pakhaleva, Ph.D. (Economics), internationally certified coach (PCC ICF), speaker and instructor at the EDPRO Coaching Academy (Skolkovo)

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