Coach or couch?
How to answer the question whether you should rather do coaching or therapy and what is behind the term “Psychodynamic Coaching”.
Especially during the current situation, many people certainly ask themselves whether they should seek help in coping with problems and if so, with whom? With a coach? Or is het more useful to do therapy? The question of the differences between psychotherapy and coaching is made even more difficult by the fact that more and more therapists do not only offer therapy but also coaching.
In this article the differences between psychodynamic therapy and psychodynamic coaching will be discussed in more detail. These topics are compared:
- Requests of clients
- Techniques and methods
What is psychodynamic coaching?
In contrast to “classical” coaching, where the coachee is supposed to learn certain skills such as free speech or time management with the help of various exercises, a psychodynamically working coach concentrates on uncovering and working on unconscious processes such as defence mechanisms, fears and resistance together with the client, as these can stand in the way with the realistic completion of tasks.
For example, an employee’s difficulty in completing projects on time can arise from the unconscious fear of not doing enough or disappointing superiors with less “perfect” work. Other reasons could be that you actually want to score off superiors and do not consciously feel anger or disappointment about the work. In this case, time management training would be of little use as it does not get to the root of the behaviour.
Crucial for psychodynamic coaching is the attempt to lead coachees out of their habitual patterns of thinking and problem solving solutions and to support them in developing new perspectives on situations and their own actions (Giernalczyk & Lohmer 2012). An important instrument in this context is the counter-transference of coaches in order to formulate assumptions about the as yet unconscious background of a concern of the coachees. But more on this later under the heading “Technique in psychodynamic psychotherapy and psychodynamic coaching”.
Coaching or therapy? – Requests and diagnostic criteria
When asking whether one should seek psychodynamic coaching or whether one would rather look for a therapy, the first question to be answered is whether a disorder of clinical significance is present. This means that certain diagnostic criteria must be met for a therapy to be covered by health insurance companies (at least in Germany). A self-assessment is difficult for the layperson. Tests such as the freely accessible BDI-V (link at the end of the article) can help. Another criterion is the level of suffering – how much do I suffer from my symptoms? Can I still do my job? Am I able to have relationships with friends or partners?
Often people only seek therapy when they are in crisis and no longer know what to do. Coaching can help to prevent this from happening and prevent illnesses such as burnout and depression. It is important to keep in mind that therapies usually last for years and therefore offer more opportunities to create profound changes. Coaching can provide helpful food for thought and initiate important change processes. However, it requires clients to have intact self-regulation skills (Rauen, 2003), such as the ability to deal with difficult feelings or to realize intentions through purposeful actions. Patients often do not have these abilities at their disposal sufficiently.
The question whether you should rather do a coaching or therapy can usually be answered by trained health experts, such as psychologists or psychotherapists. At Mind Institute you will only find coaches who have a degree in psychology as well as a psychotherapeutic training and who can support you in your search for a therapy place if you need one.
Technique in psychodynamic therapy and psychodynamic coaching
The basic principle of all psychodynamic therapies is the experience of relationships. This applies not only to the therapeutic technique, which lives from working on the therapeutic relationship, but also to the understanding of the disorder itself, which is perceived, in whole or in part, as an expression of particular, strained relationship patterns (Küchenhoff 2005). Relationship experiences are internalized and shape our present relationships. Such internalization of early relationship experiences can lead us to repeat these experiences in the present, because we unconsciously assume that our partners and friends behave in the same way as our early caregivers. Thus we sometimes anticipate these reactions and thereby create space for repetitions. Our experiences from relationships, the wishes, expectations and fears, are therefore also transferred to therapists or coaches. The counter-transference, i.e. the reaction of the therapist or coach is the most important key to understanding the internalised relationship world of the patient or coachee.
Transference and counter-transference
Transference and countertransference are terms that originate from psychodynamic psychotherapy. Transference means that in our current experience there are always connections to memories and experiences from the past, which then are transferred into the present. This is also referred to as a restaging of memories under changed external conditions, a process that takes place unconsciously and is constantly repeated (Barwinski, 2010). Counter-transference means the reaction of the relationship partner (e.g. the therapist) to the transference event.
Transference is a completely natural process of the psyche, for example to protect us from stimulus satiation, to enable us to assess situations more quickly and to make us more capable of acting. Only when transference distort reality too much, endanger our relationships and make us incapable of action, it can make sense to look at transference processes with the help of a third person.
In our first example, with the employee who fails to complete projects on time, a negative father-transference may have occurred with regard to his boss. Perhaps he grew up with a strict, authoritarian father who had high demands and against whom he often experienced himself as helpless and inadequate. This relationship experience is projected onto the current relationship with the boss, i.e. the employee experiences the boss as very demanding and again has the feeling of not being able to live up to his high expectations, which, however, has perhaps little to do with reality. In coaching a coach might experience similar feelings in counter-transference, so he might feel rushed or not very competent towards the employee. Then he would feel like the coachee. If the coach recognizes these feelings as countertransference feelings, because they reliably occur in coaching with exactly this client, he can use them to better understand transference processes in his current relationships with the coachee. Alternatively, the coach could find herself in a situation where she suddenly reacts irritably and severely, feeling strained by the apparent incompetence of the employee. This counter-transference is also exciting, because then the coach feels like the counterpart of her coachee.
In contrast to analytical psychotherapy, both psychodynamic coaching and depth psychology are more likely to work on than in the process of transference. This means that one concentrates on looking at relationships from the outside, e.g. with colleagues, and the relationship between coach and coachee becomes less important. The interventions are more supportive and clarifying. However, just like a psychodynamic working therapist, a psychodynamic working coach uses his countertransference to mirror the client’s behaviour and make the client aware of previously unconscious feelings, desires or defence strategies.
While in a psychodynamic (depth psychological) long-term therapy usually a total of 100 sessions are applied for, which are held once a week, in coaching the number of sessions is agreed upon individually with the client. In Dynamind Coaching we recommend 10-20 sessions, once a week, in order to have enough time to get into a process. The smaller the number of sessions, the more the coachee is challenged to continue the process alone.
In terms of attitude and intervention techniques, some similarities can therefore be identified between psychodynamic coaching and psychodynamic therapy. The most important difference remains the different length of the two methods, so that coaching is usually much more limited than therapy and one has to set a clear focus more quickly in coaching. The clarification of certain relationship patterns can be seen in coaching more as food for thought and the coachee has to continue working alone with the knowledge gained in coaching much earlier than in therapy. Therefore the work is more focused, the unconscious is named faster and more concretely and changes can be initiated in less time.
Also the difference in objectives should not be lost sight of: Therapy has the goal of clarifying a central conflict that places a massive burden on the patient in areas such as work or in his or her relationships. Another goal is to alleviate or, in the best case, eliminate accompanying symptoms. Coaching has the goal of improving the quality of work and life, discovering unused potential and resolving moments of stagnation. The concerns of people who seek coaching can be very different: Some want to improve their soft skills, such as the ability for self-reflection and their communication and empathy skills. Others are looking for a new orientation in their job or want to prepare for the next step in their career.
In the field of prevention of mental illnesses, such as burnout and depression, in which personality traits such as excessive ambition or over-commitment play a role, the transitions to therapy are fluid. An important distinguishing feature remains that no mental illness can be treated within the framework of coaching.
Whether you decide on psychodynamic coaching or psychodynamic therapy depends on diagnostic factors, such as whether a disorder with disease value is present, how much suffering is involved and whether you are in a crisis in which you urgently need help.
Commonalities can be found in the technique, such as the use of transference and countertransference, as well as the uncovering of unconscious dynamics, desires and feelings. Due to limited time, a focus has to be set more quickly in coaching and the work can be seen more as a thought-provoking impulse, rather than working through certain areas of conflict.
However, coaching also offers the opportunity to initiate change processes in a shorter time, to improve the quality of work and life, to prevent mental illnesses such as burnout and to exploit previously unused potential.
If you still have questions about the differences between coaching and psychotherapy or if you are interested in psychodynamic coaching, please arrange a free preliminary talk with one of our coaches at https://coaching-dynamind.com/kontakt/
Higher scores on this test indicate a stronger depressed mood. The optimal cut-off value for depressive disorders for this test is a score of ≥ 35. Therefore, if you score 35 or higher on this test, you may have a depressive disorder. However, this can eventually only be diagnosed by a psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Even if your score is low, you can always contact your general practitioner, if you feel you need help.
Barwinski, R. (2010). Die erinnerte Wirklichkeit. Kröning: Asanger.
Giernalczyk, T. & Lohmer, M. (2012). Das Unbewusste im Unternehmen. Psychodynamik von Führung, Beratung und Change Management. Schäffer-Poeschel: Stuttgart.
Küchenhoff J (2005). Psychodynamische Kurz- und Fokaltherapie. Theorie und Praxis. Stuttgart: Schattauer.
Rauen C (2003). Unterschiede zwischen Coaching und Psychotherapie. Organisationsberatung – Supervision – Coaching 3: 289–292.