My wish would be for everyone to accept that psychotherapy is not just for “lunatics”. It’s surprising how many times I still hear the “Why would I go to a therapist, I’m not crazy, am I?!” They choose to go to a coach instead, but it turns out that the deep emotional challenges that they are facing exceed the competencies of a coach. So the coach suggests they might want to see a therapist first…
For coach is not a therapist and therapist is not a coach.
Today I’d love to debunk the myths that have grown around therapy and coaching and show you how you can benefit from both those methods to improve the quality of your expat and assignee experience.
It is a fact that many expats or even short-term assignees struggle with grief, low self-esteem, or lowered resilience. This fact however does not mean that because these struggles are common, or as some would say ‘typical’, they are easy to deal with. You don’t have to deal with them yourself.
If you decide to go to the therapist or a coach it does not mean you are self-absorbed and super focused on yourself. It just means that you are ready to face your emotions, thoughts and beliefs, overcome the challenges and as a result build a happy and successful life abroad.
Therapist and coach – who are they?
Psychotherapist is someone who has a degree in Psychology as well as usually in addition completed a therapy course to become proficient in a chosen therapy method. There are multiple methods therapists use and more and more people are familiar with certain terms, like for example: psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), Gestalt, systemic etc. Different types of therapy can be more or less effective with certain types of problems. The good news for expats and assignees is that there is a directory of worldwide psychotherapists who work in various languages and focus primarily on working with people of international backgrounds. It’s the International Therapist Directory.
Coach does not necessarily need to have a psychological background, but many psychologists nowadays do end up expanding their toolkit with coaching methodology. Coach is someone who has completed a relevant coaching course, eg. from ICF or ICC, which usually lasts for a year or so and requires a certain amount of coaching hours to be completed as part of the certification process. That means it is not like a person is in the classroom for a month or so, and then without any practice goes on and starts coaching others. Again, there are a couple of websites that list coaches working primarily with expats, for example the Expat Coach Directory.
In both professions, there are people who call themselves coaches or therapists, but don’t actually have a proper education to claim these titles. Be careful about this and do your research. The professionals who have finished adequate degrees, courses and/or training have more methods and experience they can use while working with you. They have the methodology and experience to help you!
You might also like:
How can therapy and coaching be helpful for an expat?
What can a psychotherapist help you with?
Psychotherapist, first of all, has a much broader knowledge regarding mental disorders than a coach. Unless of course this coach has also completed psychology studies, but let’s separate those two for the sake of this distinction. Psychotherapy gives us the tools to deal with deep emotional issues, recover from a traumatic experience or loss of someone close, it can be a factor in working through a mental disorder. Very often psychotherapists work with psychiatrists, especially in the context of serious mental disorders that require medicines as part of the process.
In the context of challenges that expats are often facing, a therapist can usually be helpful to deal with depression episodes, grief or self-esteem issues. They have methods that can help you minimize the anxiety and get back on track with your emotions.
What can a coach help you with?
A coach, again, for ease let’s assume that this coach does not have a psychological practice, usually works under the assumption that you don’t have any deeper mental issues as those can negatively impact the results of the coaching process. If the coach notices that the challenges that you come with exceed their expertise, they might suggest you see a psychologist first. Many coaches would have therapists that they can recommend to you so that you don’t have to wait a long time in order to get proper help.
Working with a coach puts a lot of responsibility on you as well. You will need to really think through certain challenges, make the effort, do various activities and exercises throughout the process. You will likely break the challenges into smaller pieces, you will likely create some new goals and will be encouraged to follow through. You will likely be looking mostly forward and not focusing on the past. You will likely work on your strengths and using them throughout the coaching process.
You might also like:
Choose the right person to help you
Choosing your therapist
Before you choose a therapist, it is worth familiarizing yourself with some basic therapy types and seeing which method seems to resonate best with you. If you want to work on your current habits and explore how they affect you, you might want to choose CBT. If however, you feel like exploring your past and going deep into the emotional layers is something that you would like to do, or if you are bothered by some beasts from the past, psychodynamic approach might be a better method for you. It really is about doing some research, trying out a few sessions in different approaches and seeing what works best for you.
Choosing your coach
There are also different types of coaching in this profession. However, I feel that in terms of methodology they are not so different as the ones in therapy. It is still worth researching to see whether one resonates with you better than the other. With coaching, it is important to find a person who you click with, which is similar to therapy too. It is important that you trust the person and believe that they are really focusing on what’s best for you.
You can also ask the coach, especially if they are also cross-cultural trainers, to play a role of a mentor or personal trainer. This can be particularly helpful if you want to work through a specific intercultural challenge that you are facing at work. The coaching session might then be split into two parts. First, the coach would share some knowledge with you related to the challenge you’re having, or propose a certain type of self-assessment tool, and then you could work through and practice actual conversations that you will need to have.
Going to a therapist or a coach should not intimidate you. It does not mean you are crazy or weak. The sooner you react and get help relevant to your challenges, the better.
Because some expat struggles are common, it does not mean they are easy to deal with. Don’t wait until they overwhelm you.