June 6, 2017

Meet what Experts Call “Therapy Through The Backdoor.”

Life coaching is becoming ever more popular, especially executive and leadership coaching—which is unsurprising in the corporate-oriented culture we live in.

But there’s a wide range of programs out, from somatic, to mindfulness, to relationship, to spiritual coaching (to name a few.)

The style that resonates most with me is “existential coaching.” Philosophy was one of my favourite subjects in school. It is taught rather extensively during the last three years of the Italian Liceo, and existentialism became my favourite philosophical theory (or at least the one with which I identified the most).

According to existentialist thought, our identity isn’t fixed; we become who we are through the choices we make in life.

This struck a chord with me because, like many teenagers, I was having to make choices that would have a lasting impact on my life, such as where and what to study at university. All the while I was trying to work out who I was on various levels—sexually, spiritually, and politically.

In other words, I was going through my first existential crisis.

When I look back upon my life, it sometimes feels as though it’s been one existential crisis after another! I guess it’s my nature: I have the urge to question the meaning of things and reinvent myself, aiming to be as authentic as possible.

But as teenagers, we rarely know who we are or what is good for us. I sometimes wonder how my life would have turned out had I received coaching back then. I probably would have made vastly different choices. But there’s no point in looking back now.

Or is there?

The most basic (and clichéd) difference between coaching and psychotherapy is that coaching emphasizes the present and the future, rather than the past.

In real life, though, things are never quite as clear cut.

While the efficacy of coaching lays in how clients aren’t encouraged to dwell on the past, I believe the past can be a useful tool in observing and breaking down behavioural patterns.

Hardliners argue that people who have received years of psychotherapy still carry many unresolved issues. While this might be true, it is also true that the human mind is rather complex and requires a lot of work.

Many people nowadays choose coaching over psychotherapy, partly because they’re inundated with promises of quick fixes from self-help books and guru-like coaches. Who doesn’t like the idea of fast results with minimum effort? The preference is also—silly as it may sound—because the word “coaching” doesn’t contain the word “psycho.”

Sadly, in 2017, there is still a lot of stigma attached to mental health. Feelings of pride and shame prevent us from accepting that we all have varying degrees of mental and emotional difficulties. If we tell people we’re having psychotherapy, we run the risk of being labelled as “crazy.” But if we say we’re seeing a coach, we’re quite safe.

It has often been said that coaching is “therapy through the backdoor.”

Existential coaching is the ultimate grey area between coaching and psychotherapy. It allows for deeper self-exploration than other forms of coaching by addressing the big questions: What does it mean to be human? What is this life for? How do we live a worthwhile life?

It works with the big themes of death, meaninglessness, and freedom of choice, and at the same time it helps us make sense of our everyday life through the lens of existential theory.

The existential approach argues that it is not useful to apply coaching techniques or models to individual life issues. Instead, it encourages the creation of a safe space that promotes introspection.

It is only through increased self-awareness that we can truly change and move forward in life.


Author: Nico de Napoli

Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Danielle Beutell

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