We all need someone outside ourselves to help us see the things we cannot see. We aren’t designed to grow and heal on our own. Many believe that we’re all made in the image of the Divine and have access to something larger than ourselves. We also have the capacity to receive wisdom and insight from others, especially those with the skills to guide us as we study ourselves, our procedural learning and our coping strategies with the goal of gaining more awareness, flexibility and freedom.
Close friends and family may provide helpful feedback, but there are limitations inherent in these relationships. Not everyone close to you will provide honest information when you need to hear the hard things. Nor is what ‘friends and family’ have to share always well-informed. Sometimes, it can be unhelpful at best and it can be damaging at its worst.
Most of us could benefit from the help of trained individuals who provide broader perspectives and honed insights. But choosing one? It’s not so easy. Some help us pursue goals, experience healing, and receive comfort. Some help us grow personally and spiritually through the development of our faith. Many overlap in capabilities and focus.
How do you choose who to guide you?
Consider Your Needs and Goals
Begin by considering what your needs and goals might be. It’s okay if you aren’t sure. Talk it out or write down what you’re looking for and why.
Are you looking to heal from past hurts, move towards a specific life goal, to stop living in fear and to being overwhelmed by anxiety, or to start living more as the person you were created to be? What goals do you have for your future, your work, and relationships? What areas of life need a tune-up?
Keep in mind, you don’t need a crisis to benefit from the help of others. Marital relationships can be enhanced through coaching with two willing people. Family dynamics grow healthier with the trained insights of someone else. Getting help before a crisis hits builds a stronger foundation for trials ahead.
Consider Variations in Qualifications
Regardless of who you choose for help, quality and compatibility varies. For example, a counselor may or may not be a licensed therapist. Therapists and coaches have different training and ability to deal with specific issues.
A person’s role doesn’t indicate what they believe, how they carry out their role, or their ability to shepherd hurting people. In addition, how your personality connects with the personality of another makes a difference in the care you receive. Life coaches, pastors and other religious leaders, counselors, and therapists will have different training backgrounds, belief systems, and experiences.
With your needs and goals in mind, keep in mind that no one person will be a perfect fit, and that’s okay. Each person is unique, and their ability to help may be for a season.
A combination of outside professionals may be helpful. You get to decide. You get to ask questions. You can create a team that helps you address various areas of life.
Understand the Differences Between Coaches, Counselors, and Therapists.
The following are generalized depictions of each role and are not meant to depict all individuals with these titles. Consider this a starting point to help you understand differences in the types of help you can expect.
Life Coach: A life coach is someone who helps you move forward in life. They help you identify obstacles, including unhealthy beliefs that may keep you from making progress towards a goal. Through guided questions, they help you understand your values, so you make choices that move you forward.
Counselor: The term counsel technically means advice, but not all counselors advise. Quality counselors are likely to ask directed questions that bring awareness to areas in need of healing and change, much like a coach does. They offer support by providing a safe space to share your story and process hard things. In addition, they will work with you to help you find healing for past hurts, identifying destructive belief patterns, and implementing new ways of thinking and living.
What separates a professional counselor from a life coach is the training that equips them to deal with past hurts interfering with today’s ability to live well.
Therapist: The term therapist typically refers to someone who is licensed and trained to provide a specific type of therapy. When it comes to counseling for personal, emotional, and mental health issues, it’s common to see therapist terms like LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), and LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist). Professional counselors are often referred to as therapists. A quality therapist considers the interplay between mental, physical, and emotional health. They may or may not include spiritual health or Christian faith.
So, what is an IFS Coach?
IFS refers to Internal Family Systems, an evidence-based, experiential, somatic, therapeutic model. While originally only psychotherapists were trained in this model, in the last several years the training has been opened to include the training of coaches and other healing practitioners. This model assumes that all individuals come into the world with a capital-S Self that embodies compassion, connection, curiosity, calm and similar qualities. As we go through life, we develop “parts” of self that help us cope and survive the challenges we encounter (for example, a protective angry part that can cause ruptures in relationships, or a hurt, collapsed part that shuts us down). At times, these parts can be polarized or in conflict with one another and with our valued path. One of the goals of IFS is to increase awareness and communication between parts and to live a more Self-led life. This work leads to a greater understanding of one’s values so they can make choices that move them forward on a path that aligns with their values. In addition, it facilitates the healing of past hurts, helps identify and shift destructive belief patterns, and helps implement new ways of thinking and living.
A calm and compassionate presence is brought to this work which creates a safe space for one to explore and heal. Many have found this model incredibly transformative both personally and professionally.
Evaluate Your Assumptions
Regardless of whom you choose to guide you, notice your own possible assumptions of what counseling, coaching, therapy, or pastoral help looks like. These can impede your work because they limit you to only what you can see and what you want, not what God or something bigger than yourself might have for you in places you can’t see.