Thank God I'm a Life Coach, Not a Therapist
Recently, my husband and I spent two days coaching a couple once so in love, now on the brink of divorce. Though they had gone through plenty of therapy, there was little resolution. They were both in pain and both thought they were right. So we all sat in a private room to do some deep work, together. My hope is that sharing the experience will help you work on a relationship and help distinguish coaching from therapy, something people ask me about all the time.
I already knew our method worked, but it was amazing to watch just how well, how fast and how powerfully, when embarked upon by two people, simultaneously. It turns out that not only were we able to bring resolution to a long list of hurts and disagreements, we were also able to help each individual come to terms with their own negative trait patterns, brought to them courtesy of their lineage. We taught them that every human being has traits they get from their parents, whether they like it or not (like: cold-hearted, superficial, negative defensive, argumentative, vain, etc.). Not only did they have them, but also they had found the perfect mates in each other to trigger these traits. When they realized this phenomenon in their marriage, they had cathartic experiences that allowed them to feel and own the damage done and start the work of changing immediately.
When they married, they each loved certain qualities in the other. As anyone who has had a relationship can predict, what was once what they loved turned into what chafed the most and what resulted in growing more distant. Over time, they also stopped the practices that had kept love and sex exciting, simple things like being honest, making time for each other, laughing together, gift giving, apologizing and forgiving; they justified it all with fear and blame.
We reviewed every complaint, each betrayal, trait and unspoken broken rule. We rigorously questioned, explained and debated each issue until all could agree on how to see it. As a result, feelings were unleashed. So often people seek resolution to betrayals through the mind (seeking explanation) as opposed to truly feeling the hurt so it can be expressed and felt by the other person and ultimately resolved.
With therapy, the focus on how it feels may begin the process, but what therapist would demand she sit on his lap while she is crying and that he respond in a particular way? It was a risky, bossy coaching move, but it paid off. For that, I thank god I am a coach, not a therapist, because being bossy, pushy, vulnerable and completely available, including after the session, are what made the weekend successful.
This couple, though they did not plan to, theatrically displayed their worst traits for us as they spoke about their lives in front of each other. As a coach, I was able to point out emphatically how unacceptable their behavior was. Just like a sports coach, I was not helping them figure out how they felt so much as telling them where they went wrong and a new way to think and act. The wife ultimately owned up to mannerisms of defensiveness and dismissiveness. Ironically, she sees and dislikes both of these traits in her own mother. The husband discovered that coldness and negativity were his go-to modes and this recognition gave him the tools to shift them.
Had I been a therapist, I would not have been able to explain what a creep I myself had been with my husband when we nearly divorced six years ago. I also would not have invited them to communicate with us between sessions -- boundaries, you know? Being vulnerable and being available to them made all the difference.
Coaching asks you to be brave, face your worst traits and DO things differently, speak and think in new ways and to take certain new actions every day. In therapy, you examine and ultimately come to your own conclusions. In coaching, we push harder; we act as witnesses and guides and assert opinions that may, at times, be difficult to swallow. Yet it's the only way to create a definitive shift in that very moment, not sometime far in the future.
This couple came to see and own the harm of their body language, how they spoke, what they assumed of each other and what they held against each other. They had never seen or understood this in therapy, which had only focused on who did what to whom. With us, they came to see the silent negative messages they were constantly sending and stop them. For them, there was total, dawning enlightenment and they were able to save their marriage in two days.
Coaching shifts consciousness in real time and delivers results because of promised actions. The light at the end of the tunnel is planned actions, also known as promises. A few of the promises made by this couple were:
- Nightly ritual in which they review successes from the day, open issues, own up to traits and deeply appreciate each other
- Weekly family dinner with the kids
- Weekly meeting to discuss financial goals, progress and big decisions
Partnerships usually dissolve slowly over time because we can't feel the true consequences of our bad choices. Rules remind us of our ideals and what's important, to which we do not naturally stay present. We can barely stay present to the speed limit and our driving lane and that's literally life and death. This is nothing to sigh over; it's the human condition and gives us amazing opportunities to hone OUR power to create exactly what we want.
For more by Laurie Gerber, click here.