If you are a clinical social worker, marriage and family therapist, clinical psychologist, educational psychologist, or professional counselor, then I share in your joy—and also feel your pain. For all the satisfaction and fulfillment we experience as clinical professionals, we also face the following:
The clinical professions are not built for longevity
Despite their rewards, they carry an expiration date that can be hazardous to ignore. Although the ability to manage professional pressures may increase with experience, training, and self-care, the stress in this field is undeniably cumulative. I have seen this progression lead to some sobering outcomes, such as stroke, heart attack, disability, mental illness, addiction, and perhaps most tragic of all, leaving the profession to become a realtor. Even those I have seen work a long career and retire at a reasonable age seem to have sacrificed some of their longevity. Must we all head toward this fate of stress accumulation, declining career satisfaction, and erosion of our health and quality of life? Is real estate the only lifeline?
No! We have a far better alternative, for which we are ideally positioned to pursue without undue time or cost: professional coaching. Coaching is a collaborative process that uses exploration and awareness creation to help clients identify their values and strengths, discover new possibilities and resources, overcome obstacles, and achieve ambitious goals. Coaching is strengths-based and action-oriented, assuming that clients are whole and capable of finding their own answers and setting their own agendas.
Since coaching only involves facilitating a client’s process, it does not involve providing clients with expert advice (consulting), training, professional networks or blueprints (mentoring), or healing strategies (counseling). At this point, you are probably realizing that most references to coaching you have heard prior to this article actually represented consulting, training, mentoring, or counseling. In time, people who improperly classify these other services as coaching will lose credibility, and you are already one step ahead of them.
What makes coaching the perfect career move for clinicians?
First, you do not have to abandon your clinical training to transition into coaching. Your clinical background will strengthen your coaching ability, and your coaching practice will also make you a better clinician. Therefore, coaching allows you to diversify and expand your clinical practice, rather than replace it—although you can always resort to this if your stress accumulation won’t quit, or if you simply like coaching better.
What makes coaching so advantageous is its immunity from all the liabilities of a clinical career: no insurance billing, less bureaucratic systems, highly motivated clients, no elements of crisis or trauma, consistently (and markedly) higher fees, greater flexibility of working environments (video conference is common), and no stress accumulation anywhere near the level that a clinician experiences. Yet, you retain the opportunity to help people and often create greater impact through coaching than you might in clinical settings.
Clinical practice does not “outrank” coaching in terms of its professional sophistication. Both services are highly challenging to perform well and produce strong outcomes, and require quality training and experience to reach such a level. The main differences lie in the goals of service (counseling distinctly involves problem resolution, vs. non-remedial goal attainment in coaching), and in the practice frameworks. Coaching and counseling actually overlap in many of their core competencies, such as trust building, active listening, presence, inquiry, feedback, and contracting. This is what makes most clinicians so well suited to coaching, much more so than professionals with backgrounds in business, human resources, law, and consulting. Unfortunately, these people are jumping ahead of you! The coaching profession is blowing up, and clinicians are allowing less qualified professionals to cut in line to get credentials, clients, and the best coaching positions and contracts. It’s time that stopped.
To legitimately participate and advance in coaching, you must pursue formal training. Since the profession is unregulated, anyone can claim the title of “Coach,” but that does not make them a coach, even if they are a trained and skilled clinician. In addition, consumers of coaching are becoming more savvy, especially the corporate sponsors, and soon they will all demand that the coaches they hire have a credential—specifically, the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) credential offered by the International Coach Federation (ICF). The good news is that compared to your clinical degree, training, and licensure, a PCC will cost about 1/20 as much and be earned in as little as 1/5 the time. Getting a real estate license might take you longer!
I don’t mean to suggest that every clinician needs to become a coach (or that there's anything wrong with being a realtor--I have great admiration for my realtor, because he loves his job, has talent for it, and did not pursue that field as a lower stress career alternative). Coaching is not for everyone. However, every clinical professional should consider coaching as a viable method for enhancing and prolonging a career, improving earning potential, avoiding burnout, and living longer with better health. If this expanding profession sounds like it might be a good fit for you, don’t wait too long to get trained. The credentials are flying off the shelves to paraprofessionals, and they’re loving the fact that you haven’t noticed.