Dear Therapist:

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions in this weekly column. I have an issue I hope you can provide me guidance with. I have been working with a coach for a long time to help me with my personal growth and self-confidence issues. This has helped me become a better person and inspired me to open my own business which was quite successful. However, I recently lost my mother to a sudden illness and am having a hard time coping with the loss. My coach has been very helpful and assures me she can help with this as well. I was discussing this with a close friend and she told me she thinks that this is something for a professional therapist, as it is beyond the ability of a coach.

I was hoping that you could help me decide what to do, because I really want to put this behind me. In your opinion, is a coach equipped to help me, or do I need to seek out a different avenue of assistance.



I think that this is a fairly simple question that begets a similar one. You mentioned that you have been seeing the coach to help work on your personal growth and self-confidence. You wonder whether this coach is equipped to help you with your loss.

I wonder what it was that made you choose a coach in the first place—and why this particular coach. My understanding is that coaches are trained to help people with relatively surface-level issues. It makes sense that a coach could be helpful in areas related to specific goals, like starting a business and perhaps building general self-confidence. When it comes to deeper, underlying issues, however, coaches are not typically trained to identify and resolve these.

I don’t know whether the reason that you chose to seek help was initially for more concrete issues. I also don’t know this coach’s credentials or expertise. However, it sounds as if she has been helpful for you. Once a person has found someone who is helpful in various areas, there may be no need to look further when confronted with other issues.

You should, however, take two factors into account. Firstly, it is important to identify specific goals. Once goals have been established, a determination should be made as to whether your coach is the person who is best suited to help you achieve these goals. A professional should know their limitations, and should be honest about whether they are the right person for the job. Once you have clarity on your goals, it may become clearer to you as well, based on your experience with this coach.

The second factor relates to the cause of the issue with which you are dealing. Perhaps the coach can help you to determine whether the reasons for your issue are surface-level or deeper. I don’t know how recent your mother’s death is. Nor do I know the nature of your emotional reaction or its progression. If your reaction is typical, and you are dealing with the normal grief process, your coach can likely help you. In fact, you may not need help at all. Support is helpful for all of us when dealing with a traumatic event, but the services of a therapist may not be necessary.

If, however, there are deeper issues at work and your emotions are stronger or more continuous than you would expect, it can be very beneficial to deal with these on a more underlying level. This may be true as well with regard to the issues with which your coach has helped you. Although you appear to have accomplished much with her, you have also been seeing her for a long time. Although this is sometimes necessary, work on the unconscious issues that cause surface problems can make it less necessary for you to require help altogether.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 516-218-4200


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