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Coaching psychology explained
By Pauline Willis MAPS CPsychol CSci

This explanation of coaching psychology is provided for users of the forums so the main audience is psychologists who are either already providing services as coaching psychologists or who are considering doing so. Others may also find it useful and I hope that everyone enjoys Michael Leunig's cartoons.

Why do clients use coaching psychology services?

Using 'self-help' approaches to personal and professional development can be risky. Sometimes the right kind of help provided at the right time can be life changing. Coaching psychology is a service that people access when they feel that professional support in building a happier, more successful or satisfying life would be of value to them.

Self Help Copyright © Michael Leunig. reproduced with permission.

How do coaching psychologists support clients?

Contrary to the stereotypical portrayal of psychologists in the popular media, coaching psychologists do not judge, impose or assume that they are the 'expert' in what the client needs to do in life, and they do not give 'advice'. Good coaching psychology is about using the art and science of psychology in practical down to earth ways to support clients in creating their own success at work and in life.

It is worth bearing in mind that most of the tools and techniques currently applied by practicing coaching psychologists have been drawn from the domains of clinical, counselling and organisational/occupational psychology and are predominantly cognitive behavioural in nature. There are, however, many ways of applying psychology to deliver the type of services that coaching psychologists offer.

One of the ways coaching psychologists support clients is by helping them set out their own path for personal success in life and at work and not by providing a specific set of answers or 'paradigm' to work with.

Coaching Psychologists will also constructively challenge the beliefs and assumptions clients make that prevent them either from reaching their full potential or find a different path to follow in support of building a happier, more successful or satisfying life.

Beliefs Copyright © Michael Leunig. reproduced with permission.

Understanding and accepting the choices that are made in life can be fundamental to a client's ultimate success within their personal journey. Coaching psychology supports future happiness, satisfaction and success through compassionate exploration of the choices people have made to inform better decision making practices in the 'here and now'.

Sometimes coaching psychologists use specific, focused techniques with long and scary sounding names which can be daunting for people who are not from an academic or scientific background. A good Coaching Psychologist will ensure that when specific techniques are used, that they do not get in the way of the developmental process. Rather than using professional jargon the techniques used by Coaching Psychologists are explained in clear every day language and explanations generally cover what specific techniques are being used and why. Coaching Psychologists are able to offer a simple explanation of scientific evidence for applying specific approaches in language that clients can understand.

Psychotherapeutic techniques are also sometimes applied by Coaching Psychologists within coaching relationships. The exploration of serious issues such as unresolved childhood abuse or coping with either psychiatric injury or disability can be dealt with in positive life affirming ways. Using psychological approaches in ways that are not 'clinical' or 'medically' focussed has significant scope for supporting people with mild to moderate mental health issues in the wider community.

Some Coaching Psychologists are able to skilfully weave clinical or psychotherapeutic approaches into their coaching work and address the complex boundary issue by making sure this approach is agreed up front with the client at the beginning of the coaching relationship.

Other coaching psychologists will not deal with these issues and will not apply either clinical or psychotherapeutic techniques within a coaching relationship, preferring instead to on-refer clients to another service provider to address issues of a mental health or psychiatric nature in another setting. This is done to manage the boundaries between different types of service that have been contracted.

The client's needs, wishes and best interests are always paramount in considering the structure of coaching psychology services and explicit client permission is needed if issues of this nature are to be addressed within a coaching relationship.

A coaching psychology programme is complete when the client feels able to lay down their own path to happiness, satisfaction or success without needing our ongoing support. There is no set time frame for this because each client is different and has unique needs. Clients are always welcome to re-engage with services at times of particular stress or where big decisions are being made and additional support is felt to be useful. Coaching Psychologists aim for appropriate use of services and are ever mindful of the potential for clients to become dependent on the positive, life affirming support they receive from us rather than developing and accessing these supports from their social and professional networks.

The ultimate goal of a coaching psychology service is to provide a focused service in support of clients in developing insight and skill in tapping their own inner resources.

One of the ways coaching psychologists achieve this goal is by supporting clients to get in touch with their inner resources in the uniquely personal ways that make sense to them.

Bird Copyright © Michael Leunig. reproduced with permission.

How is coaching psychology different from other types of psychological service?

There are many sub-domains of psychology which is often confusing both for clients and psychologists alike. The many names for the services psychologists deliver in society essentially cover the same kinds of services delivered in different contexts and which draw upon different combinations of evidence based tools, techniques and practices. At the end of the day, coaching psychologists are not really different at all from other types of psychologists. What all psychologists have in common is that we use both the art and the science of psychology to provide compassionate services for clients who come to us for support in leading happier, more successful or satisfying lives.

What this means is that a coaching psychologist can be usefully defined as a helping professional who applies the art and science of psychology to support clients in leading happier, more successful or satisfying lives within a coaching relationship. If you are a psychologist and take this broad and positive approach to your work then in my view you can legitimately call yourself a coaching psychologist irrespective of what domain you practice in or what specific tools and techniques you use in support of your practice.

If coaching psychology is another expression of existing psychological skills then is it worth getting a specialised qualification to practice as a coaching psychologist?

Whilst there is common basis for all of psychology practice, attaining specific qualifications or engaging with specialist professional supervision can be very useful to support practice in each 'context' and coaching psychology is no different. Specialised training or development will ensure that professional practices are delivered to an appropriate standard. Whether you personally will benefit from a specialised training programme will depend on what skills you already have and what approaches you use in your existing practice. If you are not sure then discuss your needs with a coaching psychologist supervisor, and/or ask the providers of training courses you are interested in to provide you with details of learning objectives and outcomes for the course so you can make an informed decision about what the course offers relative to your needs.

It is worth bearing in mind that most established coaching psychologists do not have a qualification that is specific to 'coaching psychology' because existing forms of accreditation do provide psychologists with a skillset that is appropriate to this kind of practice. Interesting and valuable Continuing Professional Development options are available for seasoned psychologist practitioners to address a range of specific interests and skills gaps. And a range of exciting new University accredited qualifications at Masters and Doctorate level are also available. However, if you are interested in Coaching Psychology and live in a country where psychology is regulated, then it is advisable to refer to your local professional and regulatory bodies to ensure that any training option you take will comply with local registration and licensing requirements.

Is supervision mandatory for Coaching Psychologists?

Supervision is a key aspect of supporting practice in coaching psychology because of the multi-disciplinary and integrative nature of the services we offer. Supervision is not mandatory, however, most professional bodies will advise that supervision should be accessed when appropriate to support best practice.

A prescriptive approach has not been defined for coaching psychology practice. Supervision can be accessed in many different ways. Peer consultation is one way of drawing on a range on multi-disciplinary resources and the website is designed to offer a valuable online resource of this nature. However, peer consultation and other forms of 'group' based supervision do not replace a one-to-one ongoing supervisory relationship which is aimed at supporting coherence and integrity in the way a multi-disciplinary coaching psychology practice is delivered. All coaching psychologists are therefore encouraged to access appropriate post-qualification supervision which includes a relationship with a supervisor at a one-to-one level and is relevant to their practice. is supportive of all collegiate forms of supervisory practice.

A final thought

Perhaps the one defining feature of those of us who call ourselves 'coaching psychologists' both now and in the future is that we have broken free of the limitations imposed on us by the way the profession of psychology has been artificially subdivided into 'silos' within the various professional bodies that we all belong to around the world.

What could ultimately define us as Coaching Psychologists is the creativity and courage to apply psychological arts and sciences in ways that are as unique and individual as the clients we support.


Warm thanks to colleagues who reviewed the early drafts of this explanation

  • Kieran Duignan UK
  • Marion Gillie UK
  • Anthony Grant AUS
  • Clare Huffington UK
  • Peter Jackson UK
  • Patrick Williams US


What could ultimately define us as Coaching Psychologists is the creativity and courage to apply psychological arts and sciences in ways that are as unique and individual as the clients we support.

Do you think this explanation can be improved to take into account the way coaching psychology is practiced in your part of the world?

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