In our previous post we looked at coaching and what modern coaches do. In this second part, we look at the “psychology” part of positive psychology coaching.


Part 2: Will you analyse me?

For some, it is the psychology that stands out from positive psychology coaching. In that case, people’s first response is along the lines of: “Will you analyse me?!” There is a clear answer to that: No! Positive psychology coaching is about the art of listening, not analysing.

The difference between a coach and a psychologist

Think of it like this: Coaches are professionals who work with people who have no clinical diagnosis (e.g. depression), psychoanalysts work with people who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. That makes a huge difference, for a start in the extent of their training but also how they work with their clients. Psychologists, counsellors and psychoanalysts need extra qualifications and face stricter regulation than coaches – that is good because their clients are more vulnerable and need extra protection.

Some coaches are qualified to work with both types of clients. Those who are not, need to refer their clients to a qualified medical professional when they suspect mental health issues. There’s a hint in job titles, for example in positive psychology, only someone with both qualifications can call themselves positive psychologist. Else they need to call themselves a positive psychology practitioner: Someone who works with positive psychology but is not qualified to work with clinical clients.

You may see the acronym MAPP which stands for Masters in Applied Positive Psychology, a university degree at MSc level, to indicate that they studied positive psychology in depth – but that doesn‘t make them psychologists! Positive psychology practitioners can train as coaches and gain specific skills to work with positive psychology in non-clinical, coaching settings – that makes them positive psychology coaches. You may see these people use the acronym MAPPCP which stands for Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology to indicate the additional coaching qualification at an academic level.

The psychology of coaching

Yet the science for both groups – the coaches and the psychologists – is rooted in psychology. Coaching psychology is the science that looks specifically at the psychology of coaching and the work with non-clinical clients. But rather than re-inventing the wheel, coaching psychology builds on many established theories, models, concepts and tools from traditional psychology about how we as humans function. Coaching then adapts it to people who are in a better position to use these tools independently and self-sufficiently than, say, someone with depression. For example, you may have heard of cognitive-behavioural therapy or CBT. You may find that your coach uses the almost same tool but refers to it as cognitive-behavioural coaching or CBC.

Because, at the end of the day, coaches still work with tools from psychology, they need to understand how these tools work and why, and they need to be aware of appropriate contexts in which (not) to use them. That even goes for seemingly innocuous things like Mindfulness. Only because coachees are less vulnerable than clinical clients doesn’t mean that coaching tools can’t affect them. That’s why it is important that your coach has done the training and understands what they are working with.

But my coach knows me better than I know myself!?

This is a frequent comment from coachees in successful coaching relationships. But it has nothing to do with the coach “analysing” the client. One of the most important parts of coaching training is to listen. When someone truly listens and then repeats back the essence of what they have heard, it may feel like they know you better than you know yourself. However, there is no deep analysis to uncover a person’s secrets, it’s just listening from a different perspective to what is already there. The coach acts as a kind of mirror and sounding board for the coachee. And, no – the coach doesn’t know you better than you know yourself, they are just better at listening.

By doing that the coach can add a valuable different perspective and help a client to sort through thoughts and emotions, personal values and priorities. There are a variety of tools and techniques coaches might use to assist with that.

Where’s the couch?

You don’t need to lie on a couch for that or watch a swinging pendulum! Coaching is first and foremost a conversation which you can have wherever you are comfortable: in your office, a quiet corner in a café or in the coach’s practice room. Personally, I like meeting my clients in a café – or now virtually with a cup of tea by my side – because it can be a more relaxed atmosphere where the coachee can take a deep breath, is undisturbed and can just focus on themselves for an hour or so.

For coachees, it usually is a good idea to have pen and paper so that you can take notes because sometimes insights come thick and fast. For example, there may be questions to consider further between sessions or you may decide that you want to take specific actions based on an insight you gained in the coaching session. Sometimes your coach may give you some kind of “homework”, a task or question to ponder until the next session. Whatever it is, you should write that down – because you are in charge of what gets done, what doesn’t and how it gets done. Unlike therapy, coaching is very much self-directed – because you know yourself best.

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