What is coaching?
Coaching has definitely been having a moment. As with many social trends, the global pandemic vastly accelerated corporate investment in professional leadership coaching. And that growth trend has been replicated all across the economy, as individuals seek more mental wellness and personal empowerment.
Most people have a vague idea of what coaching is about, based on experiences with personal trainers in the gym or sports coaches. But it turns out that the field is growing so quickly that it’s hard even for those of us in the industry to keep track of all the different types of and styles of coaching. You may choose to work with a group or individual coach, life or executive coach, weight loss or wellness coach, relationship or money coach, to name just a few.
Kathy helped me bring clarity to my values and to take action from a place of integrity
The industry is currently self-regulated in the US, meaning that while there are industry standards for coaching certification programs, membership tends to be optional. And individual coaches may choose programs based on any number of factors, including program content, reputation, price, length of commitment, or other arbitrary measures. If you are looking to find a reputable source, the International Coach Federation (ICF) is a good place to start.
My own coaching journey started way back in the mid ‘90s, before most people even knew it existed. I thought I was just hiring a professional organizer, Kathy Paauw, to help me build a better filing system for my overwhelmed and disorganized office. And since she also offered coaching as an unexpected bonus, I figured I’d go along for the ride.
At the time, I was caught a bit off guard by broad sweeping questions like, “What is your life mission and/or vision?”, but I was grateful for what followed. I could not have anticipated that a series of phone calls could help me to boost my productivity, balance my work priorities and even clarify what mattered most in life. I am forever thankful for Kathy’s coaching for over two decades. She helped me reflect on what was going on with me, bring clarity to my values, and to take action from a place of integrity.
We can only live our best lives when we choose integrity, but it is surprisingly hard to do so on our own
Looking back at some of the most important crossroads in my life, I can clearly see where coaching helped me to make choices from alignment with my core values. Some were incredibly painful, like saying goodbye to my husband as he went away to attend architecture school in another state. While others seemed like professional suicide, like leaving a thriving academic career to start over with medical licensing in another country.
Coaching helped me to access my own wisdom, courage and grit, reaching beyond my comfort zone. It makes intuitive sense that we can only live our best lives when we are able to choose integrity, but it is surprisingly hard to do so on our own.
Coaching vs therapy
I’m often asked if coaching is like therapy. There definitely is some overlap between coaching and therapy. As a broad generalization, counseling focuses on bringing clients experiencing serious symptoms to a better functional level day-to-day. I tend to think of psychotherapy as being the best process for treating those with clinical conditions like anxiety, depression, or trauma.
Coaching helps us to gain perspective, and encourages us to create new options
On the other hand, coaching is more about upleveling up from an already high level of function. Perhaps you are looking to expand your capacity for growth, to build up resilience, or perhaps tackle a stressful life or work transition. Both coaches and therapists may use even use similar tools to help facilitate your personal growth, so it may come down to a matter of personal chemistry or preference.
Coaching with Kathy allowed me to listen for my inner wisdom, which was usually buried under layers of internalized programming. My “shoulds”, “buts”, and “what ifs” were all about what others would think when I diverged from the traditional path. Coaching helps us to gain perspective, and encourages us to create new options.
Stepping outside the box
I had always thought of myself as being pretty conventional. Most of my life was spent safely within the security blanket of approval from others. But there was a part of me that always resisted the straight-and-narrow, like when I chose Women’s Health as an emerging specialty, instead of the more mainstream internal medicine specialties. Or when I chose to train in acupuncture and Integrative Medicine, while my UW faculty colleagues looked askance at me.
Coming to Hong Kong was another unexpected choice in some ways, but long overdue in others. My work in self coaching now is mostly about embracing the label of “unconventional” and deeper discovery about other aspects of my full potential, like taking ownership of my identity as an artist.
When I began Integrative Health and Wellness coach training at the University of Arizona in the fall of 2019, I wasn’t sure what direction this work would
take. Was I just adding yet more communication tools to augment my work in primary care? Or would I be carving a new path for myself?
I was completely unprepared for the joy and sense of peace that permeated my being just a few months into practicing how to coach others. It was like coming home. I loved connecting deeply with clients, hearing their stories and guiding them gently to seek out their inner wisdom.
I loved wellness coaching so much that I’ve gone on to get additional certification in life coaching, Positive Intelligence, and Advanced Physician Coach certification. It was such a comfort to be able to serve by providing pro bono coaching for healthcare providers, even when I wasn’t able to be on the frontlines during various peaks of the covid pandemic in the past couple of years. But more importantly, the personal growth that I’ve experienced has expanded my capacity for empathy and compassion, for myself and others.
Accredited online training program open to both health practitioners and non-health practitioners interested in joining the helping professions. Graduates are eligible to sit for the US National Board of Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) board examination.
Learn more about life coaching through this free podcast that teaches you how to manage your mind and emotions