Is the ‘integrationist’ model for coaching a little lop-sided?

As many of you know, I have strong reservations about the idea of ‘integrating’ coaching and therapy – let that be clear from the outset.

I can certainly see that both disciplines can learn from each other. In an adjacent thread, I make the point that this is about ‘influence’ rather than ‘integration’. The former is a creative process, the latter has too many potentially sinister outcomes for me to want to see it happen.

Too often in the past, when attempts are made for two different ideologies even to co-exist, we see friction leading to rivalry, which becomes codified into competition, leading to covert operations and terrorism (depending on which side is speaking), and then overt aggression.

This process is at the heart of almost every ongoing armed conflict around the world (of which there are more than 40). In the vast majority of cases, the ideologies concerned are members of the same family – the Abrahamic Faiths being the predominant one.

It is just as prevalent in business where, today, the codification of competition is rife. The origin of the medieval Guilds was an attempt to prevent professions from degenerating into overt aggression.

Charities, competing for the ‘donor dollar’ are not immune – especially where the public perception is that they are serving the same purpose.

Political parties vie with one another, often claiming to have the same intention, and yet presenting different paths to get there. They too are fighting for a limited commodity (votes) and the underhand tricks, and overt aggression between their protagonists have to be very strictly regulated to prevent them spilling over into physical violence (occasionally, failing to do so, even in the UK).

These conflicts ebb and flow with the relative power of the participants. That power is often related to sheer scale, though the scale may be measured in different ways – population, access to natural resources, possession of fertile land, and so on. On one side, the conflicts themselves are fueled by feelings of envy, the pain of inadequacy, and the experience of oppression (often for long periods). On the other, despite overwhelming resources, there is a fear of reaction and retribution if efforts for greater fairness of distribution should succeed. Neither side has an interest in seeing equality achieved.

In my view, the ‘integrated coach-therapy’ world has much in common with this search for limited resources.

Therapists have suffered for a long time from an internal perception that their clients should pay a limited amount for what they receive, that public profile (let alone marketing) was ‘bad’, that ‘mental health’ was a stigmatised profession, and a host of other self-limiting beliefs. I encounter these perceptions frequently in my dealings with peers.

They see coaches as being able to charge ‘excessive’ amounts or, at least, to have more lucrative fee structures, in a market that encourages self-promotion, that is growing almost exponentially, and that preaches fulfilment, enlightenment, success, and happiness – qualities it is assumed everyone would want. The shadow side of coaching is described as unboundaried, inadequately supervised, lacking ethical standards, and having no core philosophy.

The therapeutic community is organised. It is more structured, more regulated, has more widely embraced far clearer rules of practice. It’s been forced to do so – and didn’t go willingly – but it has reached that point of organisation and scale. It also claims more intellectual rigour and a stronger evidence base to its practices.

The coaching community has not yet reached this level of organisation, is unregulated, has a plethora of bodies claiming to accredit their members, lacks a consensus about codes of practice, and individual trainings are often focused on one or two charismatic people’s opinion-based model rather than peer-reviewed evidence.

Into this complex mix, the ‘integrated coach therapists’ have emerged.

In theory, both groups seem to have something to gain from each other. They could learn, but do they need to ‘integrate’?

I am not hearing or seeing many established coaches clamoring for integration. A handful, who possibly see a benefit in more open and rigorous regulation, who see this as offering a marketing advantage, may express an interest, especially if they think that the training that they have done is undervalued and see this as a potential route to be more ‘officially’ recognised. If someone is seeing something different… of hordes of coaches pleading for access to the therapeutic world, I’d be keen to know more.

I have seen evidence of a not-insignificant number of therapists overtly embracing the practice of coaching. Their efforts, though, seem to be seeking to take the practices of therapy and impose them on a coaching community, rather than embracing those things that coaches have done and that therapists have not.

So, is the ‘movement’ about integration or, even, collaboration or is it a subtle process of covert take-over by therapists of as much of the coaching market as they can?

I look for evidence either way. If the messages that I see are all about addressing that ‘shadow’ side of coaching and of producing ‘more powerful therapeutic models’, then I think my concerns are justified. To my mind, the challenge to both parties is to see each other as capable of co-learning, of co-existing without rivalry, and to put ideas of integration to one side.

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