SPOC, Coaching, and Psychotherapy – Similarities and Differences
In this brief overview of systems-psychodynamic organisational consulting (SPOC), coaching, and psychotherapy, we will differentiate between these areas and underline their primary purpose – providing help. This is why this blog post is intended for a wide readership who would like to familiarize themselves with the subtle difference between these areas, often not properly defined in the general public. So, please read on, and feel free to contact us for additional clarification.
Let’s first tackle the origins of these areas. In his book titled Coaching and Mentoring – A Critical Text* (one of the best critical texts concerned with coaching; strongly recommended!), Dr Simon Western demonstrates that the history of various helping professions reaches far back into mankind’s past. These helping professions have ever since fulfilled important, essential human needs. But, let’s take a look at the developments in these areas in recent history.
Psychotherapy is a broad and currently theoretically and practically very diversified area, rooted in Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis since the turn of the 20th century.
Systems-psychodynamic organisational consulting, which we will refer to in this post as SPOC for short, has brought the foundational organizational theories together with group theory, group relations, socio-analysis, and other theoretical and practical influences, and has been around since the mid-20th century.
Regarding coaching as a profession, it might seem to be a product of the modern times, leading one to the erroneous conclusion that it is a fad-like answer of the society to the people’s increasing need to work on themselves and explore their boundaries. We cannot deny that there are many corrupted, unproductive schools of thought in coaching as a profession, resulting from the capitalist and consumerist times that we live in, as well as from the need to have quick solutions, which are therefore unavoidably superficial.
Coaching dates as far back as the 1940s. Over time, this area has evolved, successfully bringing together what is best in different types of helping relations – from friendship and counselling to psychotherapy.
Why is coaching expanding as a profession today?
“This philosophical shift has taken root in a generation that rejects the idea of sickness and seeks instead wellness, wholeness and purposeful living – both personally and professionally.” **
Human beings have always had the need to explore their boundaries and understand their psychological being. The modern age brings with it an illusion of quick and easy solutions, free of pain and suffering. This is the origin of the growth and development of different schools in coaching.
Not only are quick and easy solutions offered sometimes, but they also operate only at the individual level, without paying much heed to the fact that every person lives in a community and is not isolated from it.*
There is no coherent theory of coaching. This profession is a result of numerous advances in psychotherapy and counselling, alongside consulting practices and education in personal and organizational development.
As Dr Simon Western says, the current coaching theory is more like a collection of models and approaches adopted from psychotherapy*. Furthermore, coaching is also founded on the theoretical postulates of humanistic psychology.**
The difference between the notions of SPOC, coaching, and therapy was further clarified by Edgar Schein – specifically by defining various types of helping as activities. Most clients seeking professional help are obviously suffering due to a problem that they have, and for the most part they are unable to verbalize what exactly the problem is.
This is referred to as process consultancy, and there are two more helping models in addition to this one: ‘providing expert information’ and ‘playing doctor’. Schein’s model of process consultancy largely overlaps with coaching, while parallels to the other two models can be found in consulting and psychotherapy (the diagnostic part).
The different aspects of psychotherapy, process organizational consulting, and coaching
If we take the definition provided by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), coaching is a kind of professional relationship which allows individuals and organizations to achieve exceptional results in their lives, careers, and business, as well as to increase their productivity and quality of life.
In an interesting analogy, the term ‘coach’ in English means a vehicle taking someone from point A to point B, i.e. to their desired destination. The focus in coaching is discovering the healthy energy and potential in a person and their further directing and strengthening.
1. The aim of coaching, organizational consulting, and psychotherapy
The aim of coaching is for clients to discover their own value systems, their ‘authentic self’*, as well as what it is that they are passionate about – the things that can lift them up and carry them along – and then to set their future goals accordingly, developing strategies for achieving them. To discover what blocks them on their way to success. A coach directs their clients towards mastering the skills necessary for this process. ** In the coaching process, clients arrive at their own solutions together with the coach.
On the other hand, according to the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Jasmina Knežević Tasić***, psychotherapy implies the existence of a psychopathology, i.e. painful emotional states resulting from past events, relations, or traumas, which disrupt and interfere with present behaviour.
Psychotherapy is a medicine for the damaged and injured part of the personality, while coaching addresses the healthy part of the self, feeding and strengthening the dormant potentials that all of us have.
Unlike coaching and therapy, systems-psychodynamic organisational consulting has a more directive approach here and can offer ready-made solutions for an organization or an individual in their business role.
2. The client motivation
A coach assumes that they have in front of them a psychologically healthy and balanced client with an authentic motivation to work on themselves and change, as well as a willingness to come to grips with challenges.
On the other hand, psychotherapy is a slower process, tapping into the clients’ capacity for tolerating anxiety and their willingness to reveal themselves further. The psychotherapeutic process is often slow, and progress is painful.
Organizational consulting and coaching can be an additional benefit for those who have made progress in psychotherapy.**
The development of the coaching profession has been helped along by the stigmatization of psychotherapy. The fear of being perceived as sick or crazy when seeking help from a psychiatrist or psychotherapist has resulted in resistance to this form of working on oneself.
This is why it seems simpler to go to a coach or another type of healing professional. For instance, clients sometimes seek help from a consultant or a coach, because that is more acceptable to them. However, it quickly turns out during work that what they seek and expect is psychotherapy.
The organizational consultants and business coaches from the Jelena CONSULTING team are trained to detect the need for a psychotherapist in their client. Although there are guidebooks with instructions on when to advise clients to consider psychotherapy, we can identify such situations based on the training that we have received, as well as on the vast experience we have gained in the different aspects of work on ourselves.
3. The focus of work in coaching, organizational consulting, and psychotherapy
There is a difference in focus between process consultancy, coaching, and psychotherapy. However, the boundaries between these areas are fuzzy and fluid, and work on oneself can have a therapeutic effect, although it is not necessarily a therapy per se.
It could be said that coaching focuses on setting future goals, discovering resources, increasing potentials, and devising strategies for achieving them.**
In psychotherapy, the client and the therapist explore together the client’s difficulties in functioning, and examine the origin and roots of present problems in past events and traumas.
Given that it has a systems-psychodynamic orientation, organizational consulting falls somewhere in between. It integrates both areas, much like a psychotherapist – the psychotherapist is a diagnostics expert, whereas the coach is a visionary in solving problems.**
4. The expertise
Unlike business consultants with different kinds of orientations, organizational consultants and coaches do not need to be experts in a client’s area of work.
Organizational consultants and coaches are experts in behavioural changes leading to achieving goals. They are experts in diagnosing and discovering the invisible aspects of problems faced by a team (and a company as a whole) or an individual. Their goal is to use their skill and creativity during interviews, as well as various creative techniques, in order to link up to the problems and pull them towards the surface, making them visible.**
What are SPOCs (SPO consultants) and what do they have to do with process consultancy and coaching?
The systems-psychodynamic approach to working with clients, whether individuals or teams, means that organizational consultants always take into account the following three aspects:
- The psychological aspect – the psychological background of an individual, or of each individual in a team;
- The dynamic aspect – relating to the dynamic of an organization’s operation, as well as the dynamic of the relations that each individual (client) has with other team members;
- The system aspect, the unavoidable impact of the wider system that we are part of (company, as well as clients, and even beyond that).
This is achieved in the consulting process, which is why this form of consulting is referred to as process consulting.
The systems-psychodynamic organizational consultants (SPO consultants) arrive at the heart of business problems in their work. When the actual problem is addressed, consultants take on the role of a coach, and use organizational methods to identify sustainable solutions with the client. In this sense, it is a fine line between a consultant and a coach, which is why we at Jelena CONSULTING call ourselves as much organizational consultants as business coaches.
This broad perspective on the client’s position is precisely what allows organizational consultants to determine if this type of work is right for the client’s business problem or whether, perhaps, the right solution for the client is working with a psychotherapist or, for instance, an expert consultant in a specific area.
In order to arrive at the right answer, sometimes all it takes is a single consulting session, and sometimes multiple sessions are needed. Of course, this carries a great responsibility with it, and there is no place for a big ego in a consultant/coach.
* Western, Simon (2012). Coaching and Mentoring: A Critical Text. Sage, London
** Williams, P. & Davis, D. C. (2002). Therapist as life coach: Transforming your practice. WW Norton & Company, 15(3), 241.
*** Knežević Tasić, J. (2020). Prelazak sa terena psihoterapije na koučing i nazad. Imposter fenomen kao način reagovanja na unapređenje. Društvo grupnih analitičara Beograd. Beogradski trening iz sistemsko-psihodinamskog organizacionog konsaltinga Koinonia-Art