It is fairly common for parents to look to a variety of professionals for supporting the holistic development of their children. Often parents look to either complement or supplement what children are already learning in school (e.g tutoring or creative writing classes), to assist children in developing innate talents and new skills (e.g. piano lessons,, art classes), and to involve their children in group activities that also allow for socialisation (e.g. cricket or football).
When it comes to supporting children’s mental health, emotional wellbeing and personal development, there are a plethora of professionals to choose from: psychologists, therapists, counsellors, and coaches. It can get confusing for a parent to know whom to look for and what kind of support their children may need. This article seeks to clarify some of the main similarities and differences.
What is Therapy?
A parent would seek therapy for their children if they are concerned about how their child is interacting with the world in general. For example, if a child presents with acute sadness, lack of motivation, or persistent worry, a parent could see the help of a therapist. The role of the therapist is to uncover the root cause for a child’s state of mind, understand how trauma could be affecting the child’s relationships, and work with the child to shift disruptive patterns or behaviour. A therapist helps children regulate their thinking and emotional responses, and provides the child with strategies they can use independently. Often, children will confide in therapists the worries that they feel they cannot share with their immediate caregivers or when the whole family is working through something that has impacted them all (e.g. loss of a family member). Therapists are often trained in psychology and/or counselling and other related or more specialised fields. Therapy is typically a medium to long term intervention and focuses on revisiting the past in order to support the way that children navigate their life in the present.
What is counselling?
Counselling is very similar to therapy and the terms are often used interchangeably. However, the main difference is the duration. Counselling typically lasts for a shorter term than therapy. Parents may seek a counsellor for their child in order to help with specific events or challenges, where the parent anticipates that the child may have difficulty in coping e.g. navigating a relationship with a particular person, losing a pet, recovering from an accident or illness. Similarly to therapists, counsellors work with children on challenges that have happened in the past, or that a child may be experiencing in the present. Counsellors encourage children to talk about the problem they are facing, which allows them to see it from the child’s perspective. The counsellor will then help the child identify the root causes, and come to terms with the situation. Counsellors impart advice to children or give suggestions for what actions a child can take. Similarly to therapists, counsellors typically have a psychology and/or counselling background.
Counselling is typically short – medium term. Counsellors focus on one or multiple specific challenges that a child is facing, and help children resolve those challenges.
What is coaching?
Coaching is different from counselling and therapy in a number of ways. One main difference is that coaching is future facing. A parent may seek a coach to support children with self-development, relationships, and skill development. Some of the areas in which coaches can guide children are in building self-awareness, maintaining emotional wellbeing, maximising their potential, and developing motivation. For younger children, parents may identify certain goals or skills they want the coach to work on. Older children are encouraged to determine their own goal areas.
Another significant difference is that a coach never gives advice. In fact, the role of the coach is to help children understand that they are self-sufficient and resourceful, and that they can come up with their own solutions. Coaches are skilled at asking probing questions that lead children to dig deeper into themselves. A side effect of coaching is that often children get to know their value system, or the why of how they make certain decisions or take particular actions.
A third difference is that coaches hold children accountable for taking actions on the decisions they make. Coaches will revisit the child’s action list every time they meet. This helps children develop a clear sense of responsibility. And if children change their minds on their course of action, there are no repercussions. A coach will ask the child to reflect on their decision, and then take the next one. Coaching focuses on success and holding children in a positive light. There is no failure. Mistakes are just opportunities for learning. Children come to understand the power of self-efficiency, persistence and a positive attitude.
Because coaching does not delve into past events or trauma, coaches do not need a background in psychology. However, they do need to be professionally trained and obtain a life-coaching certification.
Coaching is forward facing, and does not have a specific duration. Coaches focus on goal areas that children have identified and chosen, and support children in making decisions and taking actions towards those goals.
Little Light Coach Certification programme
The purpose of therapy and counselling versus coaching are clearly different. Therapy and counselling help children resolve issues of the present or past, while coaching assists children in their self-development for the future. Parents would seek out a coach to support their child in navigating their life optimally in the present and building the awareness and toolbox for facing future obstacles as opportunities and not challenges. Although life coaching for children is fairly nascent, it provides children with the potential to develop into self-assured, happy, and resilient individuals.
Children have now started looking forward to the sessions; and have become more mindful while listening to the stories.Rohini Majithia, TSMS, Faridabad
Parents are all very thankful that such a programme has been introduced at such an early stage of their child’s life.Anuradha Gupta, TSMS, Gurgaon
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