In part 1 of this blog, I enumerated the differences between therapy and coaching, here I explain what exactly happened during my coaching journey with Vinod. How would I have walked with him if I were his therapist?  Read on to know more. 


Leadership coaching sessions summary:

We went over all feedback instruments and psychometric profiles Vinod had to share. 

I had a lot to ask him about examples of anger management he had in the last few months. Time was spent exploring nuances of the situation, and beliefs about self and others as well as examining his emotional responses to these different situations and people. 

In attempting to deepen awareness for Vinod we did go to a back story of his life where he experienced angry argumentative bouts. In that conversation, it became clear that Vinod had a tough relationship with his father who was a competent scientist and only expected top-of-the-line performance from Vinod. Vinod had developed a resistant relationship with his dad. It was like a competition between father and son and Vinod developed in himself a challenging and rebellious side to his personality. He felt threatened and scared of his dad. 

This discussion made it quite apparent to Vinod that he was playing the same dynamic with his current boss or with others whom he saw as brilliant and competent. This insight was an a-ha moment for him. Over the next 2 sessions, we could map the many ways in which Vinod could switch from this mode to a more conversational healthy mode of dialogue with his boss. 

In using the somatic approach to leadership coaching which is an integral part of how I work, I also needed to teach Vinod a centering process so that he could begin practicing it. This mind-body approach allowed him to become aware of his triggered thoughts and emotions and also helped him regulate his emotional response. Vinod was given some homework conversations he needed to have so he could test the level to which he was provoked into his old behaviors. The centering approach is at the core of good listening and regulating our responses and an audio of it can be downloaded from here:

Vinod was a bright and competent leader who together with some support from me could come up with many approaches to language his conflict and provide tough feedback.  Overall he learnt to engage respectfully with peers rather than be antagonistic. Most of the time he was able to be conversational rather than use angry talk. This led to a sense of closure on this coaching goal of ours. 

How would I work as a therapist?

I recreated here a possible approach I would take with Vinod.

As Vinod’s therapist, I may take a personal history of his upbringing, his relationships within his family of origin as well as his overall life as a young person. It would be important to understand his relational dynamics with peers as well as family.

In opening up and visiting aspects of his past we will uncover the special dynamic between him and his father. The exploration will be about many instances of run-ins and conflicts between him and his father. We may explore the emotional responses that little Vinod had to his father’s approach, his moods, and his expectations of Vinod. Understanding the many ways in which the little self was impacted will be important in therapy.

In therapy, we may open up an early scene of such a conflict when Vinod was 12 years old and play-act it out. I may use the Gestalt approach of two chairs to explore the anger and expectations Vinod’s dad may hold and I may encourage a dialogue between dad and younger Vinod. 

I may open up in further sessions other healing methods of the Inner Child approach and do an intervention for the healing of little Vinod. As part of bringing closure to this work we may discuss an anger scale of upset, irritation, anger and rage so he learns the differences for each vis a-vis his body cues and his inner chatter. We may also talk about how he wishes to deploy his insights in all of his life. As therapy progresses I may need to track his social control of anger and in what way it still shows up unhelpfully. 

The above case example shows you how boundaried a coaching approach can be in terms of ‘working within the past’. I am aware this illustration can be up for discussion by many coaches who may not function with these boundaries. I wish to assert here that ICF and other credentialing bodies do see these differences in both approaches and maintain that practitioner coaches must know the same. 

An example of the ethics of boundaries of coaching.

Last year I had a CEO approach me for leadership coaching. The person was referred to by another leader I had worked with. This CEO revealed his distress about his depression. He had a diagnosis for the last 6 months.  As  I explored his experience of depression on a daily basis it was apparent that despite his medications he was still in the grips of it, finding it tough to manage his work and struggling to keep up the facade of wellness. He asked me to take him on as a coaching client. 

My initial conversation was enough for me to establish that he needs to see a therapist instead and I explained my reasons to him. When we are in the low mood of what a full-blown depression brings, our capacity to think, function and do the groundwork needed for coaching is limited. A leader can get very little leverage from Executive Coaching which is so forward looking, role-based, and also goal based. Even if a resilience slant is taken to such coaching work a coach needs to make an assessment of how much ‘ holding ‘ a leader will need and if they have the needed energy to do the heavy work that coaching demands. Thankfully this wise leader understood my inputs and I could refer the person to a therapist.

I do believe in mild cases of depression or other emotional conditions, leader coaching can work if the leader is also in therapy. This often serves as a great support to transformative work that a coach may be doing.

I run Power Up a 12-month transformational programme for senior women leaders. One of the intake questions we discuss is  ‘ If I identify a need for therapy in the course of our work together would you be willing to go to therapy?’. Their No is not a show-stopper. However, I explain that when there is an issue that needs therapeutic work and it does not get done it can slow down the results that are achievable in a leadership transformational program. My many years of leading such programs informs my approach and hence I prefer laying it out openly and contracting for it. Most leaders on my program have been very open and have benefited greatly from having the support of a coaching approach in my programs while they also have  the space to lean into their therapy on issues of a personal nature. 

I hope this piece provides you with a better understanding of the worlds of therapy and coaching. Many times the issues we have on our hands can confuse us as to, whom we can approach for support. It is useful to know the kind of environment that is available to us which can help us thrive, heal and flourish. Therapy and coaching are two such environments that can support and nurture us. Just useful to be clear about what we can receive in each space. 


I would be happy to answer any questions that still remain unanswered for you on therapy or coaching.

Sailaja Manacha

Sailaja Manacha

Sailaja Manacha, a Master certified Coach from ICF, is known for her programs and coaching methods that combine psychology with leadership practices. In her work, Sailaja draws from Psychology, Ontology, NLP and Spiritual frameworks as well as rich, real-world experiences.

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