Rebecca Ward is a licensed therapist, executive coach, and the Founder of the Iris Institute. She holds masters degrees in business and psychology, and is an ICF Certified Professional Coach. Christopher Grygo is the Global Director of People and Organizational Development at the Ford Foundation. He’s an executive coach focused on purpose-driven leadership.
In this episode, Rebecca and Chris share insights from their experiences straddling these roles and explain how coaches can provide value without overstepping professional boundaries.
After listening to this episode, you’ll have gained clarity on how to better position your coaching services and determine if specializing in multiple disciplines is right for your practice.
Rebecca opens the episode discussing how she’s managed to combine coaching, therapy, and consulting to provide holistic support to her clients in a way that sets her apart from many other coaches.
Rebecca shares that she wanted to do deeper work with people, so she decided to become a therapist. For ten years, Rebecca was a consultant at a big consulting firm during the day, and in the evenings she would see therapy clients. She talks about the challenges of earning her certification while also working full-time.
Combining therapy, consulting, and then later an ICF coaching certification, Rebecca was able to maximize her skills to take her clients wherever they needed to go. Many people find therapy and coaching to be similar, but Rebecca finds them to be vastly different.
“coaching can be therapeutic, but it’s not therapy”– Rebecca Ward
Christopher Grygo, Global Director of People and Organizational Development at the Ford Foundation, provides his definition of the difference between coaching and consulting. Among other distinctions, coaches aren’t focused on exclusively providing solutions, in the way that most consultants are.
Rebecca shares her experience on the mindset versus the methodology in consulting, coaching, and therapy. Coaching and consulting are both goal-oriented and performance-driven with measurable outcomes. Therapy is “flow,” Rebecca says. Coaching can be therapeutic, but it is not therapy.
There is a lot of risk in therapy that coaches should be aware of, which is why therapists are backed by a board — to protect both the therapist and client.
Both coaches and therapists specialize. But the scope of their practice is a key distinction.
“As a coach, I’m rarely directive with my clients. Instead, I want to help draw them out and I want to join them where they are and help them round out some possibilities.”– Chris Grygo
Rebecca and Chris discuss the notion that, “Coaching is present- or future-oriented, while therapy is past-oriented.” Rebecca explains why she disagrees with this sentiment, and how she likes to blend the two.
Chris stresses the importance of maintaining the distinction between coaching and therapy or consulting. It’s particularly important for coaches to maintaining appropriate boundaries.
Rebecca provides an outline for how to choose between pursuing a path of coaching vs. therapy or consulting.
Whether you’re a coach, therapist, or consultant, a client’s first concern will always be whether you can help them with their problem. In the end, it’s all about reducing suffering and helping people.
Rebecca Ward: And there’s a lot of risk in therapy that coaches should never try to step into because we’re licensed and we have the backing of a board that protects us with a level of advocacy on our behalf and the client’s behalf that coaching does not have, not in the way that we do. We lean into risk. We’re able to work with high risk clients in all kinds of categories. But typically, a therapist will specialize. They will specialize just like coaches do. We all specialize because there’s a lot of us out there so we need to get good at one or two things and become a real expert at it.
But there’s a difference. The scope of confidence and the scope of practice are the two distinctions that are important to know about. The scope of practice is, I’m a therapist or I’m a coach, the field you’re in. Then what’s my scope of confidence? Scope of confidence is what do you specialize in as a coach? Do you work with only men, or do you only work with executives, mid-level managers, or some segment of women? Is there some theme that you focus on? Those are very similar to the way that therapists specialize. So coaches typically do specialize in some particular segments. And then they get really good at that, they take the training just like therapists do. But they don’t diagnose; they don’t have a license. Counseling is much more heavily weighted on the theory side than coaching.
Shawn Hesketh: You just heard from Rebecca Ward. She’s the founder of the Iris Institute, a licensed therapist, author, and a certified coach. And each one of those roles allows her to help her clients in a different way. Welcome to the Coach Factory Podcast. I’m your host, Shawn Hesketh, and in today’s episode we’re taking a look at coaching through the lens of how it’s similar and different from other roles in the market, specifically consulting and therapy. For Rebecca, those similarities allowed her to create a brand, but the differences meant she had a lot more work to do first.
Rebecca Ward: For about 20 years, I worked for consulting firms in business. And I learned a lot about organizations. I learned a lot about how much pressure there is regardless of what level you are in the organization. And I really built some very good communication skills in that stage of my career. Over that period of time, I also started to develop clients in those organizations at the top, executives at the top, and would coach them on communications, behavior. And at one point, things just started to kind of nag me about this doesn’t quite feel like the right fit for me career-wise, I need to make a shift, but there’s something here I want to pull from. It’s not a dramatic, complete pivot.
I decided that I’d go back to school and get a second master’s degree. The first one was in business and the second one was in psychology. I went for it. I decided this voice inside me keeps telling me I need to be doing deeper work with people. Becoming a therapist will help me do that. So I spent the next 10 years of my career doing two careers, doing two lines of work. So during the day, I was consulting in a management position in a big consulting firm with direct reports under me, and then in the evenings, I would see therapy clients in a private practice office. And I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I went back to graduate school to become a therapist. The level of commitment to get a license as a therapist is long, challenging and hard. The master’s degree in and of itself isn’t just a typical master’s degree. You’ve got to do a practicum. I went and worked in a hospital in their mental health and addiction units. That was part of the hours that I had to get.
So every therapist has to go through a set of hours, and every state’s different. So the state I was in, you had to have 4,000 hours of client contact. That’s a lot of time. That’s over two years every day seeing clients. So the level of commitment, that amount of work to do that and work full time was a lot. So a lot of people steered me off of that and said, “Don’t go. Don’t become a therapist. It’s not worth it.” But I knew there was this fire in my belly that said, “I don’t care what you say, I’m going to do it.” I was determined. And so I got through it, and I’m so glad I did, because once I got that license, then I could start to specialize.
Shawn Hesketh: Some might say it takes a special kind of person to pursue therapy on top of coaching, but Rebecca wanted the additional credentials so she could serve her clients better.
Rebecca Ward: Every therapist has to specialize. And with the way that I combined those skills with my coaching, I went back and got executive coaching certification as well, much easier to do, it relies more on your experience in business than on certifications and training. Then I could take that work and combine it. So the thing for me as a therapist, I didn’t want to be limited. I didn’t want to have some rules that would say, “You can’t go there because you’re not a therapist,” or, “You can’t go there because you’re not a coach. You don’t have the experience.” I wanted the full set of skills to be able to take my clients wherever they need to go, and that was really what set me apart from other people because there’s not very many people in this line of work that can do both. I didn’t want limitations. That’s how I combine it. And I get a lot of calls from people that are just starting out in their careers or changing careers and want to know what’s the best path to go. And they’re so different. I can’t imagine not having one of them. But I don’t really have trouble making the distinction between therapy and coaching. They’re vastly different. So I know sometimes that confuses people, but it seems to me that it’s pretty clear what kind of conversation you’re in when you’re working with a client.
Shawn Hesketh: Being able to meet the needs of your clients using multiple approaches can be a great asset for those who are willing to put in the work to straddle that line between coaching and therapy. And while that differentiator is really centered around licenses, the difference between coaching and consulting often lies in the way you communicate. Chris Grygo is the global director of people and organizational development at the Ford Foundation, and he provides a clear distinction between coaching and consulting that can help you choose the right role for you.
Christopher Grygo: So for me, I define a consultant as somebody who has an expertise that they’re bringing to a given client. A consultant has an expertise that they’re offering, and they even be pretty directive about that, “Here’s how you should go about doing this to achieve this outcome.” A coach is not going to be doing that. A coach is going to start by saying, “What matters to you? What is your outcome and how can I help you move there? What are your instincts? What do you know about that? What else might be possible?” And that’s a real difference. So I’m not telling them in a directive way what the solution likely is or what best practice likely is; that’s what a consultant would do.
Similarly, I think with a therapist, there’s a whole bunch of training that a therapist gets in diagnosing a situation and the relative therapeutic approaches to addressing conditions or situations that people find themselves in. They have a much more honed sense of that. As a coach, I am present to that they might be having an insight, but I have to be really clear where my question is. How do they want to move forward with that and who will help them, knowing that it’s probably not me if it’s something that touches on a family systems kind of thing?
So the big differences are a consultant has expertise that they’ll be directive about sharing with the client, and a therapist has clinical skills and abilities that they’re also bringing to bear perhaps in a more suggestive or directive way. And, as a coach, I’m rarely directive with my clients. Instead, I want to help draw them out and I want to join them where they are and help them round out some possibilities, but we start with what they know and we move from there. So I think each of these can help and each of these can be useful to any given client, but I’m real clear that I’m partnering with them on what they know.
Shawn Hesketh: It can be tempting to blur the lines between consultant, coach and therapist, because at the end of the day, we want to help our clients change. But beyond the issues of licensing, the structure and format you use also changes depending on whether you’re delivering coaching or consulting. Rebecca shares more about this from her experience as a corporate coach.
Rebecca Ward: Well, coaching and consulting are very similar. I think about coaching and consulting as a structured relationship, and therapy is flow–structured. Flow-structured, meaning we have a certain number of sessions we do as a coach. Eight to 12 sessions is pretty common, sometimes it’s longer, sometimes they re-up. And that relationship is truly a partnership. You’re working together on a subject matter that both of you know they’re always the expert, the client, but you know something about it, you have some background like I do in management consulting really helps. Understanding what their daily life is like is very helpful as a coach. And in consulting you’re going to learn that because you’re going to see all kinds of different companies and cultures and people. So that’s been hugely helpful to me and to my clients.
It’s more performance driven than therapy. You’re going to be looking at measurable outcomes and goals. So again, I said structure, this is what I mean by that. Goals are co-created, but it’s also based on usually an assessment of some kind, behavioral assessment, 360 interviews. So you’re going to interview their colleagues to get feedback about them. And then you’re going to, from all of that, from the assessment and from the interviews and from the conversations you’ve had with your clients, you’re going to develop a set of goals together. And then you move out from there. All of your sessions are based on what are you doing in between to achieve these goals, to meet these outcomes, and how can I support you? What are the tools that I can give you to continue to improve along those lines?
And coaching can be therapeutic, but it’s not therapy. It’s very structured and very goal-oriented. And it’s also interesting. We’re looking in very traditional terms. Self-disclosure is also more common in coaching than it is in therapy. So there’s a real exchange, if that makes sense. It’s not as one way as therapy is. You might share an example of something that happened in your career with your client, for example, to just help them see contextually they’re not alone. These are challenges we all face. I’ve struggled with it. That’s coaching. And again, as I said, consulting is just on a wider platform. More people, group oriented, and usually focused on system change, systemic change
Shawn Hesketh: Therapy, consulting and coaching each have their own unique strengths. But remember, the work you’re doing can be deeply personal. So as Rebecca shares, it’s important to distinguish those areas where you can meet your clients’ needs and where you might need to guide them to additional support.
Rebecca Ward: And there’s a lot of risk in therapy that coaches should never try to step into because we’re licensed and we have the backing of a board that protects us with a level of advocacy on our behalf and the client’s behalf that coaching does not have, not in the way that we do. So we lean into risk. We’re able to work with high risk clients in all kinds of categories, but typically a therapist will specialize. They will specialize just like coaches do. We all specialize because there’s a lot of us out there, so we need to get good at one or two things and become a real expert at it. Mine was trauma. I got into trauma work and I have been very happy with that.
But there’s a difference. The scope of confidence and the scope of practice are the two distinctions that are important to know about. The scope of practice is I’m a therapist or I’m a coach, that’s the field you’re in. Then what’s my scope of confidence? Scope of confidence is what do you specialize in as a coach? Do you work with only men, or do you only work with executives, mid-level managers, or some segment women? Is there some theme that you focus on? Those are very similar to the way that therapists specialize. So coaches typically specialize in some particular segments, and then they get really good at that. They take the training just like therapists do. But they don’t diagnose, they don’t have a license. Coaching isn’t typically theory-driven. They do follow some theories, but counseling is much more heavily weighted on the theory side than coaching.
Shawn Hesketh: No matter what role you play in your client relationships, you have a tremendous ability to help others and impact their lives. Chris’s approach to coaching shows how this relationship with your coaching clients determines how you approach their problems and whether you focus on helping them move forward or look backward.
Christopher Grygo: So for me, a coach is trying to help somebody understand their situation, understand their tendencies, their options, and move forward with that kind of thing. How do I want to take this insight or this practice we’ve just discussed, and what does it look like in real time for me going forward, if somebody has a moment where they say, “Gosh, I know where this comes from, this is my family of origin, this is my cultural background,” I’ll say, “Yeah, that makes sense, and how is it for you to acknowledge that even right here and now?” And then say to them, “Who can support you? Who in your life do you have or where could you go to explore that further if that’s something you want to do?” So that’s kind of more backward looking, not backward like my career has been this or my workplace history has been that. That’s all fine, but if we touch into things that most of us understand is more of a therapist kind of a conversation, then that’s where I invite people to direct themselves.
Shawn Hesketh: At the end of the day, whether you’re a coach, a consultant, or a therapist, it’s most likely because you want to help people overcome the challenges they’re facing so they can live a more rich and fulfilling life. But even with that common goal, it’s important to be clear about how your role allows you to support your client in the best way possible.
Rebecca Ward: The other thing, I just want to clarify something that I think often people say about the differences that I disagree with. They’ll say, “Coaching is present and future oriented, and therapy is past oriented,” and I disagree with that. Coaching is less retrospective, but both are most definitely focused on presence, the present moment and being prospective. What’s the future look like? Where do you want to be at the end of our sessions, at the end of this program? What does that look like if we’re successful? I always do that with my clients. And I blend the two because I can do both. I like that because I don’t have any limitations. I don’t care what the hat is I’m wearing, I take the hat off and I just say, “What does the client need?” And we work with whatever the needs are as opposed to having to stop and say, “Listen, you’re going to need to see somebody else for this, this is therapy.” I like that. I like having the freedom to do it all.
Shawn Hesketh: That freedom Rebecca has also enables her to have conversations and explore steps that most coaches can’t give to their clients. And for many coaches, part of the appeal of the job is helping your clients in a lot of different ways. But it’s important to know what roles allow you to best support your niche and the goals of your ideal client.
Christopher Grygo: So as coaches, most of us want to create some kind of value. And I think a lot of us, we have other kinds of talents, other areas that we work in, we’re not necessarily just coaches. We might be coaches and therapists. We might be coaches and consultants. We might be coaches and trainers or educators in some kind of way. And I myself hold multiple identities like that, too. So for me, I’m always trying to walk that line that way when it comes to each of these. For example, if there’s coaching or expertise that I have, that’s not what I’m doing here. I’m supposed to be following my client’s needs. So I want to keep that at bay a little bit and bring that into the questions that I ask, bring that perhaps into some of the practices and say, “Would you like to try something here?”, a particularly somatic practice that might help somebody understand it, but not move into that teacher mode for fear of creating a kind of dependency or something like that.
I think all of this kind of work, I think coaching can be incredibly therapeutic, but that’s different from therapy. So for me, I’m often thinking in this kind of a situation that people are going to be having insights, and I often ask my clients, “Do you have other practices? Do you do yoga? Do you do meditation?” I’m curious about what kind of embodied practices they have, but I’ll also ask them, “Are there other kinds of forums like therapy where you get support?” And that’s just how I phrase it, where you’re getting support on things in your life. And so there can be moments where somebody will have an insight about the past or something that some of this tendency that they have comes from a family of origin or something like that, and I stay present to that.
I’m not trained, however, to properly diagnose what might be happening for them from a kind of mental health point of view. I don’t have the skills or abilities to intervene on that in terms of their family system. But I can hold with them that this matters to them and that they want to move forward with the insight in some particular way. And sometimes I’ll even say, “If I may ask you, is this something that you’re in dialogue with your therapist about? And they may say yes or no, and I’ll just say, “Okay, great.” So I just sort of plant that seed knowing that I can’t go there with them. I’m not qualified. It’s not ethical to do so.
That’s how I try to manage those differences. Just to be clear, my focus as a coach is in helping to partner with my client on their own work that has them thinking about what’s happening now and where are they moving forward, less about some of the past history or some other kind of health, mental health or other kinds of things that might be happening for them. I just don’t have that qualification, so I try to be really careful not to, even though there might be some areas of overlap to keep them distinct and invite people to engage other supports and other resources they might want to to explore that.
Shawn Hesketh: There are many, many ways to support your clients. And as Chris shared, you don’t have to be certified in an area to suggest seeing a professional. There is some overlap. So be aware of the expectations you set and be sure to maintain appropriate boundaries. Rebecca recommends some practical ways to evaluate yourself and shares a few questions to consider when building your ideal practice.
Rebecca Ward: If you are more directive in your style of working with people, you’re probably better in the coaching world. If you’re more curious and… Coaches are curious too. Therapists are a little bit more, they take kind of a backseat to the conversation and let the person discover what they need to do. They’re less active, typically. That’s not my approach, but that’s typical. And so for example, in my circle of friends, most of them are coaches. They’re not typically therapists because my personality style is more like a coach. I’m more directive. I’m more partnering with the person and helping them resolve the challenge that they’re facing. Other therapists are like that, too, but it’s just that by and large, I think there’s more of just allowing the person to discover or have that insight emerge from themselves. As a therapist, that’s typically what you’re doing more than being directive about it.
They’re very different personalities. You’ll see that. So if you are wanting to try to figure out which is a better fit, you can look at the people that do the work. Get into some kind of training, exposure to something, even if it’s just one-on-one or sitting in a class, auditing the class, observing personalities, that would be really helpful for someone to know, which feels like the right fit for me because that style is vastly different.
Shawn Hesketh: So what should you do if you feel that you’re drawn to multiple roles or if you want to be able to wear multiple hats like Rebecca? It’s a challenge to become educated and licensed as both a therapist and a coach or a consultant. But having that dual specialization can be the differentiator you need to stand out in the market and bring in more of your ideal clients.
Rebecca Ward: It takes a certain personality to do this work well, and they’re different. So the coaching, as I said, it’s more structured. And what I like about it is that there is a point of completion, which is very satisfying for the client and for the coach. Whereas therapy can be long-term. You’re going to see this person potentially for years, and it’s a heavier, heavier relationship often. So for folks who have difficulty compartmentalizing or setting energetic boundaries with their clients, therapy is not a good idea. I would think about staying in the coaching realm. Coaching is a lot easier because you’re not dealing with the heavy content. You’re talking about goal-oriented leadership work. So I find that work very satisfying, and also, it helps to kind of balance out the heavier clients that I see.
Specialization I chose also as a therapist, my trauma specialization is all about resolution, so I even unconsciously chose the specialization that is more coach-like. We’re not here to just talk about it or process what’s happening. That’s part of it, but ultimately, I want to help the client resolve it, resolve past trauma, liberate themselves from those fears that they are holding onto. That, to me, is satisfying when someone actually experiences the liberation of that suffering to feel like, “I either have it fully resolved or I’m pretty darn close, and what’s left I can manage.” To me, that’s all about progress or helping the person resolve, not revisit. Because clients could care less what you are. “You are coach, therapist, what’s your licenses, I don’t care. Can you help me with my problem? Are you qualified to help me with this?” That’s what they hear about.
Shawn Hesketh: Thank you so much to Rebecca Ward and Chris Grygo for sharing their insights on breaking down the different roles you can play and how being a coach makes for a unique career.
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Until then, thanks for joining me on this episode of the Coach Factory Podcast, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the differences between coaching, consulting, and therapy.
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