On your journey towards reaching your goals and aspirations - whether those are career, relationship or creative - at some stage you'll find yourself stuck. You’ll face a problem you can’t quite solve, no matter how many different ways you go about it. Sometimes you let it go, and sometimes, you double down and realize it's time to ask for help.
But what kind of help?
There are many different ways to get help and many different service providers. And either way, it’s an investment of your time, money and trust. So how do you figure out what you need?
Fours kinds of support
Broadly speaking, there are four different kinds of help you can ask for - coaching, counseling, mentoring and consulting. Each is relevant at different times, and over your life you will likely need the support of each.
Consultants are experts in a specific field. You engage them to solve a specific problem, often business related. They evaluate the problem and provide you with facts, figures, reports and plans. They use their expertise to design a workable solution and then manage others to implement it.
In essence, they assess the problem and tell you how to solve it.
This is useful when you have a complicated problem that you don’t fully understand, involving many systems and people, and you need specific expertise that you or your team lacks in order to both understand and solve the problem.
Mentors and teachers provide a solution to a specific problem. Based on their past experience and ability to effectively transfer knowledge to their students or mentees, we benefit from them having already solved the challenge we are facing.
This is useful when you have a clear understanding of the problem but don’t know how to address it. Mentors will share how they solved it, often helping with your career development. Teachers will follow a set curriculum to develop your skills, which you can apply to the problem directly.
There are many different forms of counseling and therapy, but generally speaking, they focus on healing past wounds and trauma. Counseling often focuses on asking ‘why’ to draw out what happened in the past to help you understand it better or see it in a new light.
When we seek counseling, it is often to help us learn about our inner world, our emotions, and our thoughts, and what role they play in our relationships. Counseling helps us to understand why we react the way we do in our relationships and family dynamics, and to heal the wounds that we all carry from childhood, traumatic events, natural disasters, toxic workplaces and other physical or emotional shocks.
Coaching focuses on the future. It aims to help someone reach their potential by empowering them to “think better.” Coaches don’t tell you how to solve a problem. They draw out what you are already thinking, help you shape it into a future you want to achieve, and then support you to get there.
A coach will support you to think in new ways, to determine your own answers and create your own solutions. A coach does not have an agenda or set curriculum; they draw out what’s important to you.
Although you can seek coaching for a variety of life’s challenges, many coaches specialize in a particular field. However, a classically trained coach does not actually need to be an expert in the problem you are trying to solve. They specialize in helping you think better, rather than telling you how they solved it.
Coaching doesn't focus on the past or ask why. It focuses on future goals and aspirations and helps you take committed action to achieve them. Coaches often ask “how,” “what,” “where,” “when,” and “with whom?”
For a coach to facilitate awareness and change requires them to be able to ask solutions-focused questions, listen effectively and provide insightful observations.
Finding a Coach or Counselor that’s right for you
Finding a consultant, mentor or teacher is reasonably straightforward. But if you have never sought the services of a coach or counselor before, taking that first step can be quite daunting.
I recently asked a few experts what they recommend when looking for a coach or counselor, and you might find it helpful to watch those interviews. I spoke with:
Let’s start with counseling. If you have decided you need the support of a counselor or therapist, start by deciding what area of expertise you would like that person to have. More than anything, this helps to narrow down the options of your search. Also consider if you want to meet online or in person, and if they offer times and a location that suits you. Their website should be able to provide this information.
A lot of the value of counseling and therapy comes from the relationship you have with that person. By that, I mean someone you can trust, someone who shares the same values and to whom you will be comfortable opening up over time. Identify two to three counselors you would like to meet and make a booking. Some people offer free 15 minute introductory calls to see if you’re a good fit. Others will require you to pay for the first session.
During those vetting sessions, you may want to ask a few questions about their approach to therapy, their expertise, their strengths or whatever else will help you make your decision. And then, trust your gut. If someone feels like the right fit, they probably will be. And you don’t have to work with the one counselor forever. Sometimes short engagements of a few weeks or months are all that's needed.
Remember, the first few sessions with any counselor or therapist are really about them getting to know you. So if after the second or third session you get a sense that it’s not a good fit, it’s okay to walk away and start again.
In a therapeutic relationship, fit is the most important thing. It’s not about finding someone who will become your best friend, but someone whom you can trust who will help you do the inner work you need to do.
And remember, there are many types of counseling and therapy - so if you are not a fan of traditional talk therapy, seek out an approach that is more physical or practical. There are many ways to heal our wounds.
Searching for a coach can be tricky, as many people can misunderstand what coaching is. Many mentors, teachers, and consultants call themselves coaches but aren’t offering actual coaching services.
So when seeking out a coach, it pays to do a little research.
Take a look at where they completed their training and their style or approach to coaching. Then, look to see whether they are accredited by an international body, such as the International Coaching Federation. If they are, that means they adhere to a code of ethics and complete continuing education requirements.
You are also looking for someone you will be excited to work with. Read through their website and listen to a few of their interviews to see if you like their vibe. Aim to get a sense of whether your values align and whether you share a similar vision for what reaching your potential looks like.
Then, schedule an introductory session to see if they will be the right fit. You may only need to meet one coach, or you may need to meet a few. Again, trust your gut.
You are looking for someone who makes you feel heard, empowers your thinking, and enables you to take action. What that means for you can be very different from what that means for someone else. Some people prefer short 15-30 minute sessions, others prefer 60-90 minute sessions. Some people prefer weekly calls, while others prefer fortnightly or monthly sessions.
When you work with a coach for the first time, it’s hard to know what is right for you. Allow that to become clearer over time. Many coaches are willing to adjust their approach based on your feedback. Often you just need to ask.
Taking the first steps
Working with a coach, counselor or both can make a huge difference to your quality of life. Whether that’s in your relationships, career or something else, having someone else fully hear and understand us, is a gift that will change your life.
If you are just starting on this journey, have patience with yourself as you find the right person to work with. Don’t expect the first person to be perfect, and if you are struggling, ask a trusted friend for help.
If you are already working with a coach or counselor but aren’t satisfied with how it's going, take a moment to reflect on what’s not working for you and whether you want to raise it with them or try someone new.
Whatever approach you take, getting support is a worthwhile investment in your future health and happiness.
Are you a coach or counselor? Truity has a range of tests to help your client’s discover their true selves. Visit our testing for coaches page to learn more. Then, when you’re ready, contact us to get started or set up a free demo.