If you are considering coaching for yourself, please be aware that I offer a free 45-minute initial session to discuss whether Life Effectiveness Coaching might help you reach your goals.


Attempting to choose between therapy and/or different kinds of coaching can be confusing and frustrating. Because these services overlap in many ways.  And the differences that matter between them are not all that obvious.

So I want to offer some things to consider if you haven’t already. For discussion’s sake, I’ll assume your choices are between doing nothing, self-help approaches, traditional Life or Personal Coaching, Life Effectiveness Coaching, and therapy.


I will say now that, given the significant overlap between your choices, the “best” choice is essentially a judgment call. Even so, it can help to have an organized view of appropriate questions you might want to ask yourself.

The initial questions won’t surprise you, and you may have already answered them.

1.       What do you want to accomplish?

2.       If it’s a “problem” How much of a problem is it?

3.       How much do you want whatever it is to be different than it currently is?

4.       What have you already tried?

(For a more detailed version of these questions, Read further… HERE [LINK])

A next logical question is, which available service is sufficient to meet your particular needs?  I say “sufficient” because it will differ based on your history and your current level of functioning in daily life.

For many of us, the difficulty in identifying this level is often expressed as, “I can’t even decide what ‘normal’ functioning is.  So how am I supposed to compare it with my own?!”

There are many definitions and descriptions of normal available. You may find the one by Fredric Neuman M.D. helpful because it is usefully broad and more detailed than is appropriate here.  It’s entitled, “Determining What Is Normal Behavior and What Is Not” [].

For our purposes, I offer the following definition of normal:

“Having an acceptably minimum level of internal conflict about how we feel, think, and act in life”.

Meaning that a certain amount of internal struggle and conflict is built into the human condition. This is inevitable, given the contradictions, inconsistencies, and pain that life can dish out.

Said another way, a person is not “pathological” simply because they get upset or experience internal struggles. Normal versus pathological is about the amount and degree of struggle, and the day to day ability to deal with them effectively.

Even so, applying this definition still requires a judgment call about one’s level of functioning.  What’s needed is a set of. So let’s use the notion of “adequately stable” as a framework for some common sense anchor points of comparison.



    • Able to maintain employment as needed, even if only “transitional” at times
    • Able to keep a job at least 6 months to a year
    • Reliable housing–
      • not repeatedly being evicted
      • not dependent on someone else’s couch for a regular place to sleep

    • Usually able to pay at least essential bills
    • May have significant debts, but able to make reasonable efforts to address your them

    • Usually able to:
      • Maintain a reasonable mood and
      • Interact with others without constant upset
    • Not in constant “crisis mode”

    • Not constantly at odds with others
    • Able to work with others and/or “fit in” when needed

    • Even if not as many or the kind that you want, they are important and you are willing to work at them
    • Can be vulnerable enough to allow a reasonable degree of intimacy and trust
    • “Friendships” are more than just a revolving set of acquaintances


Next, consider the definition of normal in terms of adequately healthy emotional functioning. This is a very broad and complex topic.  So I want to first establish a shared view between us about emotional functioning in general. This topic is laid out very clearly and systematically in the manual. But the following summary will suffice for now.

The top priority of our brain is to protect us from danger. With enough (perceived) danger, our brain’s physiology literally shuts down thinking so it can’t interfere with taking immediate action. And we have no conscious choice about how or whether to act.  Everything becomes dictated by our emotions which are completely focused on the (perceived) raw need to survive (i.e., the “fight or flight” response).


But there are several “tricks” to understand here that are often missed.

  1. The brain’s “Safety Template” is established from birth on and continues building the rest of our lives.
  2. It is built by the brain’s ongoing comparison of present experience with “emotionally defined” memories of danger and safety.
  3. The way these memories are physically encoded in the brain includes lots of information about the emotions involved. But very little is included about concrete specifics of who, what, where, when, why.
  4. So even vague resemblance between current reality and an emotional memory can be misperceived as “just like the past”.
  5. This means our Safety Template can make serious errors about what it perceives as dangerous in the present.
  6. Further, external input to the brain ALWAYS reaches our emotions BEFORE it can be processed by our thoughts. Meaning that the brain’s own physiology makes “purely rational” perception impossible. There simply is no such thing.
  7. Said otherwise, our emotions are the second most powerful determiner of our thoughts, emotions, and behavior. The first is the need for physical survival.
  8. Any and everything else has to pass through the “gateway” of our emotions, which then tell us how safe we are.
  9. And the answer to that question from our emotions then determines most of how we think, feel, and act.

In this sense, how we handle our emotions determines how (well or not) we relate to external reality. And this in turn largely determines how “stable” we can be in life.  That is, the capacity to “be stable” (read “be normal”) requires dealing with reality as reality, not just with how we feel about that reality.

As a result, our functional stability depends heavily on our ability to distinguish between our feelings and external reality. And also on then taking action consistent with external reality. Not just acting on how we feel about (what we perceive as) external reality.

And this, of course, requires clear and effective (“Real”) [LINK] thinking. Which is precisely what is shut down by our brain when it perceives a strong enough danger.

So, the higher the stakes, the more important the (perceived) danger becomes, and the less we can process it rationally. And the more pure emotion drives our behavior toward danger that may not even exist in the present.


Now we come to the most important and most complicated “trick” of all.  Due to the brain’s physiology, our Emotional Brain can initiate feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in us without our Thinking Brain knowing it is happening. [LINK TO MANUAL]

So, the Thinking Brain does the only logical thing to do: it assumes that these same thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are necessarily about the present. And our Thinking Brain (read “we”) don’t even know we don’t know that we don’t know when we’re doing it. (That last sentence is worth understanding clearly, by the way.)

The above, of course, is what is meant by “the role of the unconscious” in our everyday experience of  (what we perceive as) external reality.  Any adequate view of emotional health needs to include the physical reality of these processes and give place for their impact on what we think we do purely “by conscious choice”.

And finally, it is crucial to understand that some degree of distortion in perceived reality is a built-in part of normal human behavior. It is not just a function of psychopathology. So a healthy respect for the possibility that our feelings are misguiding us is essential to overall healthy functioning.


We can now address the question: “what is normal/healthy emotional functioning?”. Normalcy, stability and emotional functioning all have a role in what we call normal or healthy. But of these elements, emotional functioning is the most telling, since it so heavily influences the other two.

So for practical purposes, assessing one’s “level of functioning” is best reflected in one’s level of emotional functioning. Which brings me back to my earlier point about identifying services that meet your particular needs.

In general, therapy is indicated when there is a significant enough problem with emotional stability and/or reality perception.  You can always simply choose a possible coach and/or therapist and ask to discuss what’s involved with them before starting .  (Many coaches and some therapists offer an initial session without a fee.) You can also see a list of specific indicators [LINK] suggesting a need for therapy along with a similar list from a coaching perspective [LNK].

To see a list of common issues frequently addressed by Life and Personal Coaching, clicke HERE [LINK]



Most forms of helping people change tend to resemble each other in what they attempt to do (For details, read further here)[LINK]

What tends to differ are basic assumptions and perspectives about what is being done.

Therapy generally assumes the client is psychologically ill or has wounds and damage that need repair and healing. The therapist is seen as an expert who knows more about the client than the client can know.  And the therapist uses that special knowledge to help “cure” the client.

Life and Personal 

Coaching assumes that clients are basically healthy and already have the knowledge and internal resources they need . They just need help and encouragement to discover and apply these to achieve their goals.

The Coach’s Goal is to help clients recognize and utilize these through:

  • Inspiring motivation by helping the client identify and connect with their highest values and aspirations
  • As well as their most positive view of themselves and their capacities
  • Encouragement and support for the client to take action in ways consistent with these to achieve their goal

Traditional coaching MAY* also use a variety of tools and techniques for addressing psychological and emotional blocks to moving forward (See *NOTE)