Being a physician can be very challenging! Sometimes we recognize that we are in a rut that we need help getting out of, but determining who should help can be difficult. Coaching is gaining in popularity across industries, including medicine, leading many to seek out a coach. After experiencing coaching services myself, I have had many friends and colleagues ask me whether they should get a coach or not. When considering coaching, it is important to think about the other options for help before making a decision. Most often, the alternative to coaching being considered is psychotherapy.
First, it is important to note that coaches are not therapists. While they may have overlapping skills, such as active listening and the facilitation of reflection, their training and skill sets are very different. Coaches may have special training that is specific to the principles of coaching, but they are not trained mental health professionals. They are not equipped to manage mental health issues, like depression. As such, the type of help you need lies in the essence of the problem you are trying to address. Here are some questions to consider when trying to determine what type of help you need:
1. Do you have symptoms of depression or anxiety?
Do you have any of these symptoms: sad or depressed mood, loss of interest in activities, appetite changes, difficulty with sleep, loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, or difficulty concentrating? What about excessive worrying, irritability, or feelings of impending doom? If so, consider therapy. Therapists are experts in treating depression and anxiety. Furthermore, symptoms of depression and anxiety can interfere with your ability to function at a high level. If you are feeling down and unmotivated, coaching is not likely to be effective.
2. What problem are you trying to address?
Are you looking for help with a specific problem? Are you looking for support or strategy? Or do you feel generally down, lost, drained, distressed, or empty? If you have identified a specific problem or set of problems that you need guidance on, then coaching could be right for you. A coach can help you leverage your own strengths to move forward. However, if you feel down to the point that it interferes with your work, relationships or other vital parts of your life, it may be helpful to consider therapy. High levels of distress or emptiness can be a barrier to progress and addressing this first can create a better foundation for pursuing personal and professional goals.
3. Are you ready for action?
Being ready to make a change requires being in a physical, mental, and emotional state that supports reflection and deliberate action. Take an assessment of the current state of your life. Do you have the time and space to reflect and initiate change? Are you ready to expand your horizons and reach new heights? If so, coaching may be for you.
If you are already engaged in coaching and are wondering whether you should consider therapy instead (or in addition), take a step back to think about how your coaching is going. Are you making any progress? Or, do you seem to be perseverating on the same things? Are you discovering deep internal personal issues, perhaps from childhood, that are unresolved? If so, consider engaging a therapist.
Both coaching and therapy can be incredibly helpful support systems for the practicing physician, but it is important to select the right one to get the outcome that you are seeking. Coaches facilitate growth and inspire action by creating space for clients to identify their own solutions. Therapists are trained to help with deeper symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues that might be holding you back. Take the time to think about which might be most appropriate for you!
Muyibat Adelani, MD
Muyibat is a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon at Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis, Missouri and has been in practice for six years. She completed her residency at Washington University and her fellowship in joint replacement at Stanford University. Her clinical interests include primary and revision hip and knee arthroplasty. In addition to her clinical practice, she is highly involved in medical student and resident education, including the Washington University School of Medicine Gateway Coaching Program for medical students. Outside of work, she enjoys sports, photography, and interior design.