What is the difference between a therapist and a coach?
Many parents will ask when they’re considering joining ParentAbility.
If your child has therapists do you still need a coach?
If you have a parenting coach, does that mean your child won’t need therapy?
As with most things it depends.
Let’s take time to walk you through what those factors are, and hopefully, help you determine where to start with seeking the support you and your family needs.
What is a parenting coach?
The term “coach” actually tells you a lot.
Think of a basketball coach what do they do? They’re an outside perspective that watches what is happening on the court, and they help the players make decisions and call the plays. They don’t participate in the basketball game, they sit on the sidelines and analyze what is happening, and make suggestions about how the players could improve to increase their likelihood of winning. When there isn’t a game going on, coaches educate their players, debrief about what happened during past games, run practices, and they strategize.
This is exactly what a parenting coach does too.
I’m there to take a look at what is happening with your child’s behavior, analyze what’s working and what isn’t, educate you so that you have the knowledge to adapt in the moment and create a strategy for what you’ll do next time.
I’m there to help you consistently improve, adapt to new challenges, and ultimately win.
Just like athletes, parents tend to get stuck in their own heads. If you’ve ever heard sports interviews you’ll hear the athletes talking about how the pressure gets to them and they over-think and hesitate and that ultimately costs them.
Parents do the same thing we tend to spiral when the pressure builds and it’s extremely difficult to keep your head and make good decisions that way.
Just like a player in a game, we’re often too close to the action to have an accurate view of what’s going on and that’s where that coach that outside perspective who is keeping the big picture in mind- is invaluable.
I get the information I use to do all of that from a bunch of different sources but mainly you, as the parent. However, there’s some information that you may not be able to provide and that’s where therapists come in, as well as teachers and doctors.
Now there are lots of different kinds of therapists but when I’m talking about kids I’m mainly talking about Occupational, Physical, Speech-Language, and Child Psych therapists. These people are highly educated and skilled health care professionals who are charged with diagnosing and treating various aspects of your child’s health and development directly. Their job is to interact with your child and treat your child directly, and give recommendations for changes you can make at home, strategies you can use, and exercises you should complete in order to resolve whatever challenges your child is facing and they are vital members of your team- because they have the clinical tools and knowledge to look below the surface and see what those of us who aren’t health care professionals can’t see with our naked eyes. They generally see your child for short appointments or sessions over a period of time to treat these specific issues.
A parenting coach is there for YOU, a therapist is there for YOUR CHILD.
It’s not uncommon for a new client of mine to come to their onboarding sessions with a list as long as their leg of recommendations that their child’s therapists have given them. They’re in a complete and total panic because they don’t have any idea how to do all this stuff. Like their doctors, teachers, and therapists have given me a list of 84 things combined that I need to address daily, and there’s no way I can do all of these things while holding down the household, let alone a full-time job.
Part of what a parenting coach does is look at all those recommendations all those sources of information and use those to help implement the strategies they suggest.
If I know that your child is receiving speech therapy and their speech pathologist has given you a bunch of different exercises to do daily, I can help you find opportunities to incorporate those into your daily routine and activities you’d be doing anyways.
One of my clients currently has a little guy in Occupational therapy and the therapist gave Mom 12 exercises he needs to do every day, and prior to working with me she was setting aside 3 hours of time every day to work through them one by one. Not surprisingly, her son was not having it he refused to participate. As a parenting coach, I was able to look at that list and make suggestions of how to modify activities and tasks they already have to do like getting dressed, bath time, meal times, regulation breaks so that those exercises became embedded into their life.
Resulting in Mom being more consistent, which means he made more progress, faster.
All of these reports and diagnoses and goals and strategies from these health care providers are data I use to inform the strategy we come up with.
The flip side of that scenario are the clients that start with me first.
This is the more common scenario where the family is experiencing a behavioural challenge they aren’t sure how to navigate, so we begin working together to support them in making changes that will address those challenges and because I work from a perspective of stress reduction. Often there comes a time when I’ve suggested some strategies, we’ve implemented them, and have had either unexpected or inconsistent results…and throughout that process of tweaking and troubleshooting the parents’ approach it becomes clear there is a medical stressor at play.
In which case I support parents in finding and choosing an appropriate therapist and collecting the information they need to get the most out of their relationship with that therapist. It tickles me absolutely pink when my clients come back from a meeting with a new therapist and they report that the therapist was blown away by the level of knowledge they have, the strategies they’ve already attempted, and the documentation they’ve brought with them.
One of my clients recently reported that her child’s new psychologist told her that she’d come prepared with enough information about her child and demonstrated so much knowledge of her child that she didn’t feel she had to go through the 10 weeks of parent sessions prior to her beginning to see her child. She eliminated a two-and-a-half-month waiting period, not to mention at least a thousand dollars in fees for those sessions.
This doesn’t just apply to therapists.
I get constant feedback from my clients that they’ve been praised for how knowledgeable they are in IEP meetings, early intervention appointments, doctor appointments, and then they come back with the data from those appointments and we’re able to maximize the impact of those recommendations so they see rapid improvements.
Coaches and therapists serve completely different roles.
A coach is primarily there for you, to help you maximize the impact of your parenting on your child and support you in supporting your child.
A therapist is there to directly impact your child through diagnosis and treatment.
Not every parent who has a child in therapy needs a parenting coach, or that every child whose parent has a coach will need a therapist. But they are complementary to each other. They can often compensate for each other.
For instance, I have several clients currently who began working with me because their children had been seeing several therapists and they just weren’t seeing any results, but after just a few weeks of working together, we began to see massive improvements in their child’s behaviour.
Does that mean the therapy wasn’t working?
Not necessarily, but it usually means that there were factors that weren’t being addressed within the container of therapy that had significant impacts on the family, and coaching was a better tool for addressing those.
On the flip side, I’ve also had several clients that are diligently implementing my recommendations and aren’t seeing progress then bring a therapist on to their team and suddenly we see gains.
Does that mean my coaching wasn’t working?
No, it just means that coaching wasn’t the ideal approach for addressing those challenges. They’re different approaches for different needs.
I hope that clarifies those differences for you. As always, if you have any questions feel free to drop them in the comments or come post them in the Parenting Posse. I’m always happy to talk parents through the “where to start” decision because it’s going to be different for every child.
Some parents really should see how far therapy gets them before looping in a coach to help them strategize implementation. Others really need to begin coaching first and loop in therapists as needed. If that’s a dilemma you find yourself in let me know and we can totally talk it through.