Chapter 3

How Does Spiritual Coaching Compare with Standard Life Coaching or Therapy?

OK, there are really two questions there. First…

What’s the Difference Between Spiritual Life Coaching and Regular Life Coaching?

Comparing spiritual coaching with life coaching is easy: Spiritual coaching is the same as life coaching, except that it adds a spiritual dimension.

Some approaches to coaching could easily fall into either category. If someone is in a state of “beingness,” is this a spiritual state? Or is this a powerful resource state, without being spiritual?

In our opinion, it really doesn’t matter how these experiences are categorized. A person who is doing the Core Transformation process will get equally good results, whether or not they label the experience as spiritual. Most people who use Core Transformation in coaching call themselves a “life coach,” but it is equally accurate for someone using CT to call themselves a “spiritual life coach.” So, a coach with CT skills has flexibility for how they present themselves, and we give our trainees sample materials for describing what they do in an accurate way. 

Some approaches to spiritual coaching are more focused on a spiritual belief system, and in this case, it would be more accurate to call this “spiritual life coaching” and not “life coaching.”

How Are Both Life Coaching and Spiritual Life Coaching Different from Therapy?

This is not meant to be a complete set of differences, nor to explain the differences in a legalistic way. However, there are a number of differences that we consider important.

Diagnosis or not?

One difference is that therapists may give a diagnosis, and a life coach never does. What matters for life coaching is understanding the unique experience of the individual, not the category that they can be put into.

Some clients prefer to receive a diagnosis, because it may give them a sense of understanding themselves. Sometimes, having a diagnosis helps a person feel justified in having a limitation, rather than feeling guilty. “It isn’t that I don’t care about others, it’s that I have depression.”

However, for some clients, there is a downside to a diagnostic approach. Sometimes, a diagnosis may cause a person to actually feel more stuck than they were before being diagnosed, even though in a certain sense, nothing has really changed. If a person identifies with their diagnosis, they may feel less flexible in changing their behaviors or responses.

In addition, the scientific basis of the diagnostic categories that are in use sometimes comes under criticism. We aren’t going to go into this topic, but if you are interested in more information about this, the book Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker presents an interesting perspective.

To be clear, we aren’t saying that diagnoses can never be useful, especially in the hands of a really skilled therapist. However, it is nevertheless true that some clients report having a sense of limitation that arose, for them, through receiving a diagnosis.

Core Transformation does not require a diagnosis, because the doorway to the process is the client’s own experience. Labels aren’t important for doing Core Transformation.

To Medicate, or Not

Psychiatrists are both therapists and medical doctors, so they have training and authority in prescribing medications. In general, no other practitioners of therapy or personal transformation have this authority. (There may be exceptions for psychologists in certain areas.) No life coaches prescribe psychotropic drugs, and most classes of therapists don’t either. If a client has a sense that medication may help them, they need to see a psychiatrist or other medical doctor for that.

Sometimes, a life coach may have a client who has been prescribed medication, who now feels they are ready to come off of their meds. It is important for a life coach to stay completely out of this area, and to urge clients to work with their prescribing physician regarding these decisions.

It is useful for a life coach to be aware that it can cause some people major problems to stop certain psychotropic medications cold turkey. For some individuals, going off or reducing their meds causes dangerous problems, even if they do so gradually. So not only is it wise from a legal standpoint to avoid saying anything which could be interpreted as giving medical advice, it’s also best for clients to refer them back to a medical doctor for these matters.

What Is Your Role?

Another difference is that a therapist is often viewed as “the expert”, while a life coach is viewed as a partner or guide.

A therapist is often viewed as the authority in the relationship, which puts them at a higher level of status. A life coach, in contrast, is often viewed as an equal, at the same level as their client.

Not every therapist, or every life coach, sees their role in this way. However, in general, a life coach has a collaborative relationship with their clients.

Of course, clients come to a life coach because the coach has expertise that the client doesn’t have. The life coach has training in methodologies of life transformation, which the client probably hasn’t been trained in.

However, the client also has expertise that the coach doesn’t have. The client is the expert in their own experience, and in a coaching relationship, the client has the authority over what’s best for them.

So, because both client and coach have domains of expertise, they are on an equal footing.

Another observation is that in a coaching relationship, the resources for change come from within the client, rather than from the coach.

Our experience is that Core Transformation works very well within a context of a collaborative relationship. Core Transformation is a powerful approach for helping clients access transformational resources within themselves. They find solutions within their own experience, rather than being told what to do by an outside expert.

Solution Focus or Problem Focus?

Therapy is often perceived as being more focused on the problem, and can involve delving into the distant past to understand what may have caused the problem.

Now, it isn’t that therapists never talk about solutions. Some therapeutic models are more solution-oriented than others. However, if we took 100 therapists and 100 life coaches and looked at how much time they spend focused on problems, we would probably find that the therapists were spending more time focused on problems than the life coaches.

Life Coaching generally emphasizes solutions. Core Transformation is very solution oriented, in that we are working through what the person wants, at a deep level, rather than dwelling on any problem.

Does Insight Lead to Change, or Does Change Lead to Insight?

A common therapeutic model is that if clients could only have enough insight into why they have problems and how those problems came about, they would change. So, the assumption is that insight leads to change.

Our experience with Core Transformation is that instead of insight leading to change, change often leads to insight.

When a person is in a state of deep inner well-being, they often have spontaneous insights into themselves, others around them, and their relationships with those others. And, because the client is now unencumbered by the problem, these insights come from a free space of no longer having the problem, so they tend to have greater compassion and empathy for everyone involved, rather than blame or judgment.

Insights aren’t always an important part of the experience, and they aren’t necessary for deep transformation to occur. But with Core Transformation, when insights do emerge, they are a result of the change, rather than a cause of the change.

A different legal structure

In most areas, a professional must have a license from the state to be a “therapist.” This carries with it specific regulations, which may vary somewhat from one state or location to another, along with a professional board or association.

In contrast, life coaching isn’t regulated, at least in most areas. A life coach is offering services that fall outside of the licensure structure. Although a certification may or may not be required to practice as a life coach (again, this may vary from one area to another), most life coaches choose to gain certification to ensure that they have coaching skills and knowledge that are useful and necessary. A certification lets the client know that a certifying body has determined that the coach has a certain expertise that the client is looking for.

Working in an unregulated profession doesn’t mean that there are no laws that apply to life coaches. However, it is a different legal environment from that in which therapists practice.

We don’t offer in-depth legal advice about what coaches or therapists are and aren’t allowed to do. It’s better to get legal advice from a qualified local source, and we recommend that our trainees do so. (There are a few no-brainers like “don’t practice medicine without a license” and “don’t do therapy without a license.” Even a non-legal-expert can say this much.)

How does Core Transformation fit into all of this?

With CT, we are developing our own quality standards because our intention is to offer quality services that meet the wants and needs that people have in life, within a coaching framework.

We typically have both coaches and therapists in our trainings. Both coaches and therapists are already using Core Transformation very effectively within their respective professional contexts.

And now that you have a sense of how spiritual coaching fits in the greater context of helping professions, perhaps you’re curious what kind of earnings a Spiritual Life Coach can expect, which we cover in Chapter 4.