frequent questions and answers

What is the difference between coaching and therapy?

Very broad brush: traditional therapy tends to explore the past of a person’s life to see what happened “back then” to create the thoughts, feelings, worries, or behaviors that are troubling a person and interfering with his or her life now in the present. The thinking is that such exploration will lead to insights and those will lead to cure.

Coaching focuses from the start on the person’s present and helps the person to identify and affirm her or his strengths right now, then to use them as a bridge to creating the future he/she wants to live in. It uses the power of story, reframing, rehearsal, curiosity, values-clarifying and accountability to do this. In the process people also often get insights into their past.

How much time does it take?

I hear two questions in that one: how much time does a coaching session take and how much time does it take to complete a person’s whole coaching.

My sessions usually last from 30- to 40-minutes, give or take a little. That allows me, when I have two or more clients in a row, to clear my mind from the client just served, and to prepare and center myself for the client about to be served.

As far as how long does it take for coaching to be complete, not to be flip, but it takes as much time as it takes, and the rhythms vary. Much depends on how ready you are to move forward. Much depends on how strong any “block” is to moving forward. Much depends on your situation – life, work, and relationships. Much depends on how much effort you actually put into the coaching and the homework. Much depends on how well we click together. And there are other factors.

I have had some clients who worked with me for three months (a good trial period) and then stopped. In a couple of cases we just were not the right match for each other, and that became apparent. In a couple of cases the main work was accomplished in that period of time. In a couple of cases the main work was begun in that period of time, and then the client has returned later or done periodic check-ins. These are the exceptions, however.

Most of my clients have worked with me for nine to twelve months, and a few of my clients have been with me for two years or more (the longest for six). Sometimes we have held sessions three times a month, sometimes for two times a month; sometimes we have started with two or three times a month, then gone to once-a-month check-ins, and sometimes back to two or three times a month for a while.

You mean it’s by phone?

Yes, virtually all of my coaching is by phone with rare exceptions. At first I distrusted this in my training, because I’m a very visual person and pay close attention to people’s expressions and gestures. But from the very start of my training, to my happy surprise, I learned that coaching by phone works excellently. Just as it’s said that blind people develop acute hearing and other sensing, so it definitely happens in coaching only by hearing on the phone. I’m often amazed, as often my clients are also, at what I pick up over the phone.

But there are other advantages to coaching by phone. For me, it has allowed me to coach people as far away as Hawaii, British Columbia, Ontario, England, and Germany, as well as from all over the continental USA (and, I’ll add, for them to be coached by me). For my clients it has these other advantages:

  • There’s no added travel time. You call me at coaching time and you’re back at work soon as you’re done. It’s the difference between 45 minutes and 90 minutes or more.
  • There’s added confidentiality. Nobody sees you come to my office or depart from it.
  • I don’t have to pay extra for office space, so clients don’t have to help me meet that kind of overhead cost.
  • Some clients have told me that being on the phone, not being seen by me, they feel freer to be more confidential and to do some of the things I ask them to over the phone.

Yeah, but I’ve tried all kinds of therapy, and….”

Do I have to prepare or do homework as part of coaching?

I’ll just say how I work. At or near the end of a coaching session I typically do make a request that people do something between sessions to continue to probe the insight people have had, or to challenge a blind spot we’ve discovered together, or to challenge a limiting belief or perspective, or to practice a new habit or pattern, or to expand the work we’ve done. That in-between-session work helps and speeds up the coaching results; you get more bang for the buck.

When I make such a homework request,    I tell people, “You can say ‘yes’ or you can say ‘no.’ If you say ‘no,’ I’ll usually say, ‘Make me an offer (as in, propose an alternative action, or a lower degree of homework, or a higher degree).’” I also often give people a super-large question, some would call it an existential question, to ponder in addition to the actions they attempt or practice. “Who are you seeking to be,” is an example of such a question, but there are many more.

How do I know you’re the right coach for me?

Excellent question. Be open to your whole self, and you’ll know.

I follow as closely as I can the rapidly developing but still infant field of neuroscience, particularly as it relates to coaching. From that study it’s quite clear to me so far that there are at least as many neurons and synapses surrounding the human heart and the human solar plexus (“gut”) as there are in the 3-pound mass of gray matter in our heads. I call these the head brain, the heart brain, and the gut brain.

When people say, “We know much more than we can say,” that has a quite literal truth to it. The flutter in your stomach area, or the rapid pulses in your heart area, or the thrill in your throat – all of which you may be aware of or not be aware of – are instances of you-in-your-body and you-as-your-body picking up information, clues, data and sending it to the inner core of your head-brain (the limbic system) and thence to the non-dominant side of your head brain (the part that makes pictures, sees patterns, and creates meanings) – things which the dominant side of your brain – the one that uses and applies words and “does the math” – sometimes can articulate and other times has no words for.

I suspect that most instances of “intuition” are matters of people who have learned to quiet the word-making, executive part of the brain enough and just long enough to become aware of all this other information and then to process it. When you allow yourself, with my help or by yourself, to get centered and quiet, listening to all these parts of you as and after we talk, you’ll know if I’m a right coach for you, able to help you move along the path you already know clearly or to discover and clarify that path and then move along it.

Part of coaching, by the way, very often is both allowing and helping you to become more aware of the information from all three brains – head, heart, and gut – and then to integrate all three in your life and work. I just love when that happens, and it happens often.

I feel like I am more knowledgeable about my work and career than my coach would be. Why would I want advice from someone who knows less than I?

Probably you are more knowledgeable and should be. If all you are facing is some problem that technical know-how is an answer to, then it may be that you need and really are looking for a mentor – someone who’s done what you need to do, knows how, and can tell you at least how she or he did it, the better to guide you.

Coaching is not giving advice and not problem solving. Where coaching comes in is when you are stuck personally, psychologically, or conceptually in dealing with a problem or challenge. Coaching can help you look at your challenge from different angles, opening up new tacks for navigating it. Coaching also helps you do valuable “in-searching.” Most of us, for a pack of reasons (family influence and history, adverse and beneficial life experiences, simple habits resulting from what worked for us one upon a time, relationship challenges at home or at work, etc.), get stuck in one or two patterns of thinking and feeling. We become “hammers” in that sense, and approach every situation like it’s a “nail” we have to pound. Coaching can open patterns like that up, help you see them clearly, and give you more tools to move beyond them.

Coaching helps in other ways as well. It can happen that you are “playing too small.” Coaching can help you see that and help you move into your larger self (and perhaps larger Self) and, as a colleague calls it, to move into your “bigger game.” It sometimes uncovers the reality that it’s time to move on to something else, period, to transition, and coaching is excellent to help plan and execute that. There are more reasons for coaching, but hopefully this answers that particular question. Short version: coaching focuses not on the problem but on you as the generative solver.

My race (gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion) is different from my potential coach’s. Will he or she be sensitive to the issues important to me?

If not it will be best to find a different coach. My general experience of coaching colleagues and the coaching world is that we are pretty widely open in all those areas. A good coach almost automatically sets aside all such differences to focus on you, on your approach to life, on your orientation, on your motivations, on your needs. In some cases he or she will help you become more aware of them and more congruent with them. A good coach is there to apply specific and generally applicable skills to help you live better into your values, your motivations, your specific possibilities.

That said, I write this in the year 2015 when sensitive USA citizens have become acutely aware of implicit biases in all these areas – race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, secularity, age, ethnicity, and more. Implicit bias can get in the way of excellent coaching. The first thing to do in that case is to talk it through with your coach and see if the coaching can proceed satisfactorily to you. And that said, several things can happen and should be considered. Excellent coaching can work and poke through in spite of implicit bias. Or, there can be exquisite sensitivity (perhaps the coach shares your particularity) but the coaching level or skill is less than excellent. Or there can be exquisite sensitivity and/or shared likeness, and excellent coaching can proceed.

You decide. You may want to work with a coach for a period of time, two or three months, and then decide. This is your life. You deserve the best coaching you can get.

How much does it cost?

That’s a legitimate question and it’s impossible to answer in this space, because the cost varies depending on so many factors. I have chosen primarily to serve a group of people who don’t typically make as much money or have as much financial resource as, say, a corporate executive or high-power tech person. So I make my coaching as affordable as I can, basing my prices in some cases on what I managed to afford when my own earnings were quite low. A part of our exploratory conversation, if it seems like we are in all other ways a good fit for each other, will be the cost.

When some of my clients are able to afford more (for example, a nonprofit CEO or COO or a rabbi or minister earning $100,000 or close to that or even above) I ask for more. That also allows me to charge less to those who are just as deserving of excellent coaching but simply don’t have the means to afford the usual prices due to how our society chooses to pay people. Sometimes I adjust the number of sessions per month to allow me to serve a person at a lower rate as well.

A word to clergy and religious leaders: often you can make this payment out of “professional expenses,” provided you have provision for the same in your agreement with the organization you serve. It might mean that for a year or a half-year you forgo a conference or two, or some books, or a class or workshop you might otherwise take. I encourage clergy and religious leaders to look on coaching as continuing education, because (as I see it) it definitely is that. The subject of your continuing education in this case is you and your possibilities. It’s a very intriguing and worthwhile subject.