The Unique Role of a Coach

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What is the difference and when would I hire a coach?

Confession: I have been trying to write this post for a while.  As difficult as it was I knew I had to keep going because “What is the difference between all of these people and why would I hire a coach?” is the million dollar question for a coach working with Christians. The reason I found it difficult to write this post is two-fold. First there are no absolutes – every pastor, mentor, coach etc. will handle scenarios differently and each person will benefit from the relationship in unique ways. Second, even though I am a coach, I don’t want to downplay the importance of any one role. Each role plays a unique and vital part in every relationship. I have benefitted from them all!

There are some obvious differences between the roles, especially in the training etc. but that doesn’t always make it easy to decide who to talk to (and many times we talk to more than one person).  The similarity between them is that, unlike a good friend, these relationships are all considered non-mutual. Non-mutual people are sought out because they are set apart in your life as trained professionals. It doesn’t mean they are better people, more spiritual, closer to God, or the greatest thing this side of the Mississippi. It just means they are different than you in some way and they all have something unique to offer.

My hope is to teach you a bit more about coaching because it is what I do and it is one of the least known roles in Christian circles.  

The following is a fictional scenario about a woman looking for some help with a certain situation followed by the potential outcomes from each person.

Scenario: Katie is a 27 year-old Christian stay-at-home mom with a two-year-old and the hope of having another child in a few years. She has always been a writer at heart but never earned an income as a writer. She has a popular blog and has even had a few articles published in online magazines. One of her biggest life goals is to write a memoir. She has an amazing story to tell but feels stifled, unfocused and knows there is something keeping her from moving forward.  She isn’t sure what it is. Writer’s block is really upsetting her out and she is losing the bit of confidence she had that she really could write a book.

PASTOR

Her first thought is to talk to her pastor. After all she likes and respects her pastor and sees her as someone who is wise and approachable.  Her pastor offers her encouragement and prayer. Katie is reminded that she is loved and created in the image of a creative God.  She leaves feeling heard, encouraged and inspired.

SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR

Katie contacts a spiritual director on the recommendation of a friend.  She sets up an appointment and spends an hour with a wonderful woman named Shirley. Shirley asks formative questions that point Katie to Christ and listens well. Shirley helps Katie see where God is already working in her life. She empowers and encourages Katie to give her struggles with writing to God. Together they pray, listen and seek God together. Katie leaves feeling refreshed and renewed.

THERAPIST

Katie decides her sadness about feeling stuck as a sign she should return to her therapist. She decides to go see the therapist her husband and her visited for their pre-marital counselling.  They discuss how it feels and Katie is given permission to feel sad, to cry and simply ‘be’ however she is feeling.  Eventually her and Dave start talking about other things that are making Katie feel sad (she is lonely and misses her extended family). They then explore this place of loneliness and look into where it has come from and how it relates to her writing. Dave helps her uncover other areas that have hindered her confidence from her past.  Katie leaves feeling tired but hopeful.

MENTOR

Katie wonders if talking to someone who “has been there” would help. She finds Dan (who has written a memoir similar to the one she hopes to write) on twitter and contacts him about the prospects of being her mentor.   Luckily, he is willing. They set up a skype date so she can ask some questions. It turns out Dan has a lot to say and Katie has gleaned some helpful ideas. He tells her all the things he did to get published.  She is grateful for his time yet her memoir is no closer to getting done.

 COACH

Katie’s sister Barb hired a coach when she was looking for a new career. Barb assured Katie that her coach could help even though the topic was different. Katie was skeptical because the coach wasn’t a writer but trusted her sister’s recommendation.  She was sure she wanted a Christian coach because she wanted someone who shared her faith because it felt strange to work so closely with someone who didn’t.  Katie hired her sister’s coach Zoe. Zoe didn’t ignore or glance over Katie’s sadness she encouraged Katie to sit in that feeling and to be present to it. Yet instead of focusing on all the past reasons why she was sad she helped Katie cast a vision for the future – what would it be like to have a published memoir? What is the next step Katie needs to get it done? What is standing in her way? Zoe didn’t go backwards like a therapist. Instead she took Katie forward into the realm of what is possible. She didn’t impart her knowledge or experience on Katie like a mentor. Instead she walked alongside her and together they made a plan for Katie’s success.

Zoe encouraged Katie, saw her strengths and helped move her forward.  Katie was given some thought provoking ‘homework’ to which Zoe held her accountable. Katie felt encouraged, validated and heard. But most of all she had a new perspective on writing her memoir – one that made the book feel not only attainable but exciting!

Now that you have read the scenarios you can see the benefits of each non-mutual relationship and understand the unique approach coaches take. You could imagine that if Katie was someone who didn’t want to write a book, but instead was struggling with an eating disorder a therapist would be the answer. Or if Katie needed encouragement in her prayer life perhaps her pastor or a spiritual director would be the best option.  Katie could benefit from all of these relationships but a coach was the best fit to help her with her goal of writing a memoir.