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Psychological coaching focuses on the positive aspects of the human condition, much like positive counseling; it does not focus on the negative, irrational, and pathological aspects of life. Coaching is specific and goal-oriented. Like sports coaching, psychological coaching concentrates on individual or group strengths and abilities that can be used in new and different ways to enhance performance, feel better about the self, ensure smooth life transitions, deal with challenges, achieve goals, become more successful, and improve the overall quality of one’s personal and professional life.

When It's Used

There are several different types of coaches, such as executive coaches, health coaches, and personal life coaches. Coaching is used in schools, business organizations, performance venues, and individual counseling programs. For instance, a health coach at a worksite wellness program may provide individual and group weight control counseling to employees and provide them with the skills and motivation they need to improve their health and set goals to maintain a healthier lifestyle. Coaching makes use of positive resources, such as hope, resilience, and optimism, all of which improve job satisfaction, performance, and dedication in the workplace.

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What to Expect

A coach is as much a mentor as a therapist. Most coaching is short-term and consists of straightforward, supportive, solution-based counseling. With the right coach, you will be able to explore ways to alleviate stress, cope with challenges, survive transitions, and make more positive choices in your personal or professional life. Coaching styles may vary, depending on the type of coaching required, and whether you are involved in private or group coaching. For instance, a worksite coaching program may include both individual counseling and group activities that emphasize the needs of the organization as well as those of the individual within the group.

How It Works

The theory behind coaching is simple: Focusing on inherent strengths helps clients actively express themselves and leads to a more authentic, motivated, and invigorated life of achievement and success. A systematic review of studies, published in the International Coaching Psychology Review, identified five key factors that determine the effectiveness of a positive coaching relationship. These include:

1) Establishing and maintaining trust

2) The coach’s understanding and ability to manage a client’s emotional responses and problems with empathy

3) Two-way communication

4) The coach’s ability to facilitate and help client’s learning and development to reach goals

5) A clear contract and transparent process

What to Look For in a Coach

Because coaching, per se, is an unregulated field—meaning there are no official minimum requirements to become a coach and no certification or licensing requirements—anyone can use the title and practice coaching. Unlicensed coaches may base their practice and advice on their own personal experience. At the same time, many licensed therapists, clinical social workers, and licensed professional counselors are now involved in executive coaching, health coaching, performance coaching, and life coaching, as well as in training other mental health professionals through various methods to become coaches in specific fields. A trained mental health professional has the advantage of an education in, and broad understanding of, human behavior as well as the clinical experience required by the profession. Coaches with various educational and experiential backgrounds are certified at the associate, professional, and master level by the International Coach Federation. Coaches may also be licensed by the American Counseling Association. In addition to finding someone with the credentials and experience relevant to your needs, it is important to find someone who provides a counseling environment in which you feel safe and comfortable.

Lai Y-L and McDowall A. A systematic review (SR) of coaching psychology: focusing on the attributes of effective coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review. September 2014.  
Clark MM, Bradley KL, Jenkins SM, et al. Improvements in health behaviors, eating self-efficacy, and goal-setting following participation in wellness coaching. American Journal of Health Promotion. 25 August 2015.
International Coach Federation
Avey JB, Richard RJ, Luthans F, Mhatre KH. Meta-analysis of the impact of positive psychological capital on employee attitudes, behaviors, and performance. 10 June 2011;22(2):127-152.
DeAngelis, T. First Class Coaching. American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology. November 2010;41(10):48.
Govindji R, Linley PA, Strengths use, self-concordance and well-being: implications for strengths coaching and coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review. 2 July 2007;2(2)