Currently, there is a system in place which says mental health issues are a dysfunction within an individual. These issues are to be diagnosed, treated, and cured. In other words, we are talking about a medical model approach. This approach involves reliance on the DSM5, diagnoses that meet insurance company criteria, and treatments within specific guidelines set by others.

I no longer espouse this perspective and have adopted a more holistic way of thinking. My approach views coaching and counseling as comprised of three elements: a) the provider’s beliefs, values, and experience, b) the client’s beliefs, presenting problem, and experience, as well as c) the counseling environment. All three factors contribute to the outcome of the session. Therefore, all elements must be considered rather than focusing solely on the client and the presenting problem.

To put the approach into a context, think about this scenario:

  • The counselor/coach has a belief that each client is unique and she has had a migraine headache for three days.
  • The client made an appointment to discuss building a private practice and he had a fight with his partner earlier in the day.
  • The counseling room is comfortable but the walls are thin. The clients know others can and do listen to what is being said.

All of these factors impact the session. The counselor’s headache may make her less attentive. The client may be focusing on the earlier fight and not on the counselor’s comments. The thin walls keep the client from speaking his thoughts.

While I have been a licensed Marriage Family Therapist for years, my underlying philosophical orientation has evolved. For a variety of reasons, which will be discussed shortly, my current foundation is based on neurolinguistic programming, or NLP, and coaching rather than on counseling or therapy.

If you have not heard of NLP previously – let me briefly introduce you.


NLP is a theory that explores the relationship between the way a person thinks, communicates, and behaves. It can be a powerful change agent. The focus is on health, positivity, and beliefs.

NLP strategies examine the fundamental dynamics between a person’s thinking processes (neuro), the way words are used, and how they influence others (linguistic), as well as how the interaction between the two affect behavior (programming). NLP targets ways in which people:

  • communicate externally and internally
  • process, store, and recall information
  • alter their communication to achieve the results and goals they want

NLP does not work for every client in every situation. However, I think you will find it can be a useful addition to your tool box when working with difficult clients or when trying to effect change.


Coaching is a partnership. The coach provides structure, guidance, and support and the client does the following:

  • Examines his/her current state, including assumptions and perceptions regarding work, self, and/or others.
  • Sets relevant individual goals, based on personal desires and needs.
  • Takes appropriate and realistic actions toward reaching those goals.
  • Reflects on actions and share feedback with others.

Coaching is not mentoring or sponsoring, despite them relying on similar skills and approaches. Coaching is short term and client-focused, whereas mentoring and sponsoring tend to be a longer term relationship. Coaching is also not therapy. To understand the differences review the table below:

Assumes the client is highly-functional Assumes the client needs healing
Roots in business/ personal growth Roots in medicine, psychiatry
Works to motivate people to a higher level of functioning Works with people to achieve self-understanding/ emotional healing
Focuses on actions and the future; goal-orientation Focuses on feelings and past events
Focuses on solving problems Explores the root of problems
Works with the conscious mind Works to bring the unconscious into consciousness
Works for solutions to overcome barriers, learn new skills and implement effective choices Works for internal resolution of pain and to let go of old patterns

NLP Coaches believe human beings have a capacity for flexibility and there is nothing that happens mentally or spiritually they cannot learn to handle. The focus is on how a person structures thoughts and beliefs, including those leading to problematic behavior and those creating change.

This style of coaching provides a framework that allows clients to take responsibility for the results they encounter. The goal is to change their focus into powerful, positive, resourceful mind sets. An NLP coach provides a client with access to his or her own inner personal power, self-confidence, self-reliance, and decisiveness using tools and techniques for fast, effective, and sustainable change.