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Shadow Work is Therapy, Not Coaching


Opinions expressed by BLCC contributors are their own.

I firmly believe every coach needs to have their own coach. No one knows the true power of coaching as well as coaches. So why not hire one of your own and practice what you preach?

I was recently in search of a new coach and had a session with a potential candidate to sense if we would be the right fit to work together. What I found was an alarming NO!

Why did I have such strong feelings walking out of that coaching session?

Two words: Shadow Work.

Shadow Work is Therapy - Not Coaching | Pin Image!

What is Shadow Work?

The coach I spoke to told me that she goes deep into shadow work in her coaching practice. Shadow work is a term coined by psychiatrist Carl Jung meant to explore the dark corners of our psyche that may have been repressed and often caused by trauma. Let us be very clear in saying that coaches are not properly trained to take clients through shadow work or treat trauma.

This is 100% the responsibility of a licensed therapist. So be very careful to check if the coach you choose to work with has the proper credentials to do what they say they are going to do.

How does Shadow Work show up in practice?

A licensed therapist who is appropriately trained to help clients navigate trauma and shadow work can provide great benefits if you’re interested in delving into this practice.

By building greater awareness of the self and working through these sometimes uncomfortable truths, shadow work can help you:

  • Gain self-acceptance
  • Grow self-love and confidence
  • Improve overall well-being
  • Have better relationships with others
  • Go forward in life with better clarity

It takes commitment and courage to dive deep into your past and understand the patterns that may still be appearing but this work can be really rewarding. Once a therapist has taken you through this work and you have gained the benefits above, a coach can then help you create a better future. Just remember that as it comes to recognizing old patterns popping back up, that is still something you want to speak to your therapist about.

Should I just hire a therapist?

If your goal is to work through past traumas and dive into shadow work, then a therapist will be best suited to help you with that. However, many of our clients have experienced increased benefits working with a therapist and a coach in tandem. The therapist will help you through the past self and gain awareness of how your past affects you today. Meanwhile, a coach will help you chart a new path forward and will focus both on the present and your future.

Many of us at the Best Life Coach Collective have had therapists and coaches, sometimes at the same time, and can attest to the benefits of having both in your life. In a recent podcast episode, I likened it to having both a personal trainer and a physical therapist. Each has specific training and plays a distinct role in healing the body or building muscle. As such, they will not cross the boundary into one another’s lane. With a physical therapist, you can fix your pain but you can’t build significant muscle. With a trainer, you can get fit and build muscle, but you won’t be able to treat underlying pain.

Similarly, with a psychologist alone you can heal past trauma, diagnose and treat mental illness, and recognize how this affects your present. However, you won’t have a structured path to achieving a better future outside of treating mental illness. With only a coach, you can build a better future but you might not be aware of underlying patterns or mental illness that are blocking your path to success.

Combine both and you become an unstoppable force moving forward with purpose.

Shadow Work as a Niche

As a coach, you may be thinking, but I Shadow Work changed my life and I just want to help others do the same!

This is great, I am SO happy that you were not further traumatized by your coach, as this can often happen. Would you see an unlicensed therapist? I doubt it. Yet, this is what Shadow Work often is. There is a very clear line that separates coaching from therapy, and crossing that line is damaging to you, your clients, and the coaching profession.

The ICF Code of Ethics states that coaches will, “Remain alert to indications that there might be a shift in the value received from the coaching relationship. If so, make a change in the relationship or encourage the Client(s)/Sponsor(s) to seek another coach, seek another professional or use a different resource.”

If you do not have the appropriate license for therapy, it is your responsibility as a coach to let your client know that they will be better served elsewhere.

The truth is, there is no amount of personal experience that can replace professional education when dealing with trauma. Find another way to serve your clients that they can benefit from in tandem with a therapist.

Buyers Beware

This experience highlights the importance of choosing your coach wisely.

With the right coach, you truly can make a drastic difference in your life. But there are many unqualified and untrained “coaches” out there that you must filter out in order to find a qualified one that can truly help you. If you experience a situation like I did, run. Run far away.

If you’re interested in learning more about the unregulated industry of life coaching, check out our podcast episode about it and hear some of the suggestions we have for finding a qualified coach.

For more help choosing a qualified coach, visit our Find a Coach page where we have already done the vetting for you. All of the coaches in our directory have had to share proof of certification and testimonials in order to join the Best Life Coach Collective.

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