By Laurel Elders, MCC, CEC
Have you ever walked the road less traveled? Walking this road sums up the story of my life. While other kids were happily playing, I was in a corner, hiding and painfully shy. While most people went to college or started a career, I had children first. While most people chose a career with promise, I chose an uncertain and unclear path.
Choosing the path of becoming a life coach was one of the hardest yet rewarding paths I have walked. Rewarding because playing a pivotal role in someone's personal transformation is an experience beyond words. Hardest because not many people knew what true coaching was.
To be clear, coaches do not do any therapy. We do not diagnose or provide treatment plans. We do not advise or guide people toward what they should be doing. We see our clients as the expert of themselves and take them into a self-discovery process where the client unleashes their own potential.
Therapists, on the other hand, are trained to diagnose, treat and aid a person on their journey to emotional healing and wholeness. Therapy is a branch of the medical field, though it is often considered separate.
My colleague Ana Melikian, a psychologist who transitioned into coaching, says, "As a therapist, I helped people go from negative 10 to natural. As a coach, I help people go from neutral to a plus ten."
While some skill overlaps in each approach, each serves a very different purpose in a person's success journey, and both rest upon an entirely different premise.
I reflected on my journey as a coach and all I have learned. I've learned from being someone who had needed therapy, done coaching, and tried to do coaching when I needed therapy. In therapy and treatment, I found healing and respite. In coaching, I found my power. I've also learned about their world from my clients and from conversing with therapists.
One gift that being a coach has given me is the insight of growth. Growth happens when someone decides who they want to be versus who they are in the moment and then consciously develops the skills to be that person. I like to look at it this way… in therapy, we find our true selves. Beneath the wounds, our true essence is there, unwounded and whole. In coaching, we begin the process of creating ourselves. We choose to grow into our values and root into our personal power.
I located another gift in my coach training around integration. I discovered this insight embedded within the research conducted on the Enneagram and personality structures.
The Enneagram Institute's research unearthed three states of personal integration. These are unhealthy, average, and healthy.
The gift of seeing these states and witnessing growth leads us to a simple yet empowering truth… we can choose growth.
If a trauma or stressor plummets us into fear and reactive survival mode, we gain self-awareness of the ego and step into a healthier state. I'm not saying it is that easy. I'm not saying it doesn't require support. I am saying we do have a choice. Healing is a choice. We can be victimized, yet remaining a victim is a choice point.
I invite us all to adopt a different relationship to "mental health." In a post-covid world, where many people didn't step out of the stress response long after covid passed (turn on the news for examples of heightened reactivity), some people have incidentally adopted more of their ego to stay safe. While this isn't right or wrong, remaining in a disintegrated state for too long comes with ramifications.
Yet what if we could see more healing if we shifted from a mentality of "this is who I am" to "this is where I'm at." We are not our diagnosis. We are not our fears, reactivity, or our defense mechanisms.
We are human beings, each equally capable of great things. If we decide to see where we are, not as an equation to who we are, then we can see who we could be. However, if we choose to equate where we are with who we are, we will remain in the box of that self-limitation, and the path remains nebulous.
Where you are does not define who you are or who you could be. The truth of what is going on does not have to define the truth of what is possible.