Coaching as a business?

February 15, 2007

When, years ago, I was in therapy, it was really important to me that my therapist did not depend on me. Sounds peculiar? I simply did not like the thought that he might depend existentially on treating me – what if I needed to leave or take a break: would he then not have a conflict of interest (“client’s freedom vs. my wallet”)?

Fortunately, my therapist then, an humanistic-existentialist practitioner (in the tradition of Irvin Yalom and Rollo May), fulfilled my requirement: he had a very successful business. For me, a business man myself, this was very important, too – I could compare myself with him, learn from him etc. And I do believe that our conflicts were better, their results more productive, because his livelihood did not depend on my therapy – hence he was free to leave, as was I. When he spent time with me, money was exchanged as a professional matter of respect, but it was clear that the main reason for the therapy was: he liked me and I liked him, and we enjoyed this encounter. Which, in my case, went on for six years!

Now, what has this got to do with coaching? In coaching, I hold the same view: personally, I would trust any counsellor – coach or therapist – way more if I knew that he or she was largely independent financially (not independently wealthy, but independent on the income from our client relationship). This means that a coach ideally ought to have another livelihood – his own business or a steady (part-time or full-time) job to make ends meet. I have always been lucky enough to be in this position. However, I know that for many coaches, this is not so. It makes me a little sad – both for them and for their clients, since I believe that the coaching relationship, which, though different from psycho-therapy, is therapeutic at its heart, is a special kind of relationship that should not be weighed down by materialism. How relaxed and open can a coach be if he or she knows that he MUST satisfy the client at any cost, or else an important part of his income walks away? What about the necessity to confront without thinking about the very real possibility that the coachee says “enough”, or “this is not for me”, or “I am not getting enough out of this”. Usually, and hopefully, this is the beginning of a learning process on both sides. Sometimes the coaching relationship is ended, and for the better, because nobody is served by spending money and time where they’d rather not be!

Summarizing, I do believe that coaching is not a good business – no matter how lucrative it may be for many. It is best served cold, neither chilled by commerce, nor over-heated by the desire to make money, and lots of it. The potential clearly is there – re-read Yalom’s brilliant book Lying on the couch about a couple of psychiatrists, one an idealist, the other a greedy pig – and the market, evidently, too. However, the usual law of nature “when there is a market, there is business”, ought to be disbanded in the case of coaching and therapy.

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