Stephen Bacon, Ph.D.

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The media has recently been full of references to life coaches and executive coaching. Fundamentally the difference between coaching and psychotherapy is that coaching is used to help healthy people achieve goals, and therapy is used to heal trauma and dysfunction.  Therapy is past-oriented and coaching is present and future-oriented.  Therapy is painful, slow and meaningful and coaching is rapid and empowering. Therapy uses catharsis and working through, and coaching teaches skills and tools.  In coaching there is an equal partnership with the coach and in therapy there is a hierarchical relationship with the doctor.

Of course this list of differences is oversimplified; there is plenty of therapy in coaching and vice versa. Moreover, some schools of therapy are quite similar to coaching (e.g., family systems) and some therapists have always had a more coaching-oriented style. Be that as it may, there are important differences between the two approaches, and therapists who embrace coaching, and use it when appropriate, can often help clients change more rapidly and effectively.

My personal experiences as a coach began in the 1970’s, prior to attaining my doctorate, when I was working in experiential education and adventure-based learning. I was trained in and used a coaching model in those situations, particularly when those modalities were employed with corporate managers. Later on I formed a formal association with a management training company, The Burger Concinnity Group, where I continue to work as an adjunct faculty member. I have worked with corporate clients in the United States, Canada and Europe such as Cisco, Microsoft and Ben & Jerry’s. In Santa Barbara I have coached numerous executives and managers from such diverse organizations as nonprofits, family businesses, high school and university administrators, Citrix, QAD, and the City and County of Santa Barbara.

More important than my background, however, is that my commitment to the coaching model is so significant that it is my default approach with most clients. It fits well with my alignments with Constructionism, the Existential/Spiritual dimensions of life, and the Family Systems and Ericksonian approaches. I do focus more on the present and the future than the past. I emphasize strengths and possibilities, not neuroses and obstacles. And I find people change more quickly--and own their work more deeply--if there is a less hierarchical model between psychologist and client.


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