What is A Coaching Psychologist?

Is there a difference between a Coach, and a Coaching Psychologist?

In the beginning, when I first studied Psychology (many moons ago), I was taught that psychology is a theory-based scientific study of human behaviour. In other words, psychological theories use a fact-based framework for describing a phenomenon. Not only does this sound almost oxymoron, but also a rhetoric of science - how can something be a theory, and factual? However, that’s a whole other conversation.

Meanwhile, for the purpose of this post, I’m sticking with defining the following two methodologies/approaches: positive psychology and coaching psychology. Positive psychology is ‘the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life’ (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). It has been defined as the scientific study of what makes life worth living (Peterson & Park, 2014) and the scientific study of what goes right in life (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). In other words, positive psychology discovers and improves what’s right about you (Gable & Haidt, 2005), rather than trying to ‘fix’ what might be wrong.

I use positive psychology as an approach to help you discover a greater version of you and to enhance your life satisfaction. This is achieved by using positive psychology interventions (PPI’s) as a methodology. A PPI uses the science of psychology in practical ways that can support you in achieving success and well-being in your personal and professional life.

Positive psychology has similar constructs to coaching psychology in that they both have applications of psychological and behavioural science in practice. For instance, coaching psychology has been defined as the ‘systematic application of behavioural sciences to the enhancement of life experience, work performance and well-being of individuals, groups, and organisations’ (Grant, 2007a, p.23). Furthermore, the application of coaching psychology is in evidenced-based coaching and can also be defined as ‘the enhancement of well-being and performance in personal life and work domains underpinned by models of coaching grounded in child and adult learning or psychological theories and approaches’ (adapted from Grant and Palmer, 2002 as cited in Palmer & Whybrow, 2008). Conversely, coaching psychology could be viewed as a positive psychology intervention.

Nevertheless, the similarities in the definition of both disciplines point to a clear link that both approaches focus on the cultivation of optimal human functioning and the enhancement of well-being. Moreover, research shows that coaching psychology and positive psychology interventions enhances well-being and decreases depressive symptoms (Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009), as well as cultivate positive feelings, behaviours and cognition (Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009).

In view of this, my role as a Coaching Psychologist (or Positive Psychology Coach) is to help you discover and enhance your inner strengths and virtues, through using the science of well-being and research-based assessments and interventions, to cultivate and develop positive emotions within you and to improve your life satisfaction. In other words – I can help you to discover your purpose, cultivate inner-peace and develop your potential.

Final note - the field of coaching is still a relatively new profession, and is currently unregulated; meaning, anyone can call themselves a coach and work as one - without any training or experience. Therefore, it’s important to consider the benefit of using a Coaching Psychologist, or Positive Psychology Coach/Practitioner rather than an ordinary coach for the following reasons: we are trained in either psychology or positive psychology, our approach stems from psychological theory giving us a greater understanding of human motivation, behaviour, learning, and development, as well as research-based information in the field. In other words, we know what works and for whom. In addition – those of us who have conducted clinical work will have a far greater depth of 1:2:1 experience than most other mental health professionals.

That said - training, qualifications, and experience are irrelevant if you don't click with your coach. Therefore, above all else - it's important and good practice, to set up an informal chat with the professional you're thinking about working with, to ascertain whether you could both establish a successful coaching relationship, and essentially to get to know each other a little first.

Gable, S. L., & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and why) is positive psychology? Review of General Psychology, 9, 103–110

Grant, A.M. (2007a). Past, present and future: The evolution of professional coaching and coaching psychology. In S. Palmer & A. Whybrow (Eds.), Handbook of coaching psychology: A guide for practitioners (pp. 23–39). Hove, UK: Routledge.

Grant, A. M., & Palmer, S. (2002). Coaching psychology. Workshop and meeting held at the Annual Conference of the Division of Counselling Psychology. Torquay, UK: British Psychological Society.

Palmer, S., & Whybrow, A. (2008). Handbook of coaching psychology: A guide for practitioners. New York: Routledge.

Peterson, C., & Park, N. (2014). Meaning and Positive Psychology. International Journal of Existential Psychology & Psychotherapy, 5(1)

Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14. doi:10.1037//0003-066x.55.1.5

Sin, N. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: A practice-friendly meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(5), 467–487. doi:10.1002/jclp.20593.

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