Infinite Potential

psychotherapeutic culture

January 4th, 2012

Last July I Blogged about the distinction between coaching and psychotherapy.

Part of my work in the area of the distinction between coaching and psychotherapy relates to what I call “the psychotherapeutic culture”. This relates to the historical tendency for the psychoanalytic movement and later the psychotherapy profession to define the terms of “mental health”. One of my central points is that the bar has been consistently lowered for having a mental health diagnosis.

January 2017: This Blog entry is being updated now that I have published an article in the Philosophy of Coaching journal in October, 2016:

Coaching from a Philosophy of Science Perspective:


The coaching profession and the coaching paradigm is pushing back on this idea. The coaching paradigm believes that people are fundamentally “creative, resourceful and whole”. More on that another time…

Recent news supports my contention that the psychotherapy culture tends to pathologize normal human behavior. In The National Psychologist (Jan/Feb 2012) the lead article discusses the further “medicalizing” of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) publishes. The DSM is the ‘bible’ of psychiatric disorders. Anyone who receives psychotherapy for ANY reason gets a diagnosis from this manual if they want their health insurance to pay for it. The fifth edition of the DSM is slated to be published in May of 2013. I quote from this article,

[The DSM will] “lower the threshold of mental disorders to the point that sadness at the loss of a love one could be diagnosed as major depressive disorder”.

Need more be said? As a professional coach who is also licensed as a counseling psychologist this tendency to pathologize normal human behavior within a person’s normal adult development concerns me. It blurs the line between coaching and psychotherapy and can confuse both coaching professionals and the consuming public. So that coaches and psychotherapists are absolutely clear about these distinctions I have created a course to examine these differences and the paradigm shift that is occuring.

One last thought. I am not critical in general of the psychotherapeutic profession. I was a psychotherapist myself up till about ten years ago. If not for the psychotherapy profession there would be many ‘lost souls’ in this world with nowhere to turn for their very real psychological disorders. My concern is how overreaching the psychotherapy culture has become in defining normal experiences and behavior within the rubric of mental illness and the stigma that this can bring. This tendency to create dysfunction where none exists does not support the achievement of one’s potential or creating a satisfying life. This is one reason that the coaching profession is being so well receive in the market place. When practiced in accord with the established core competencies, coaching becomes an alternative to psychotherapy for everyday people, who want to develop their potential and create and live a meaningful and satisfying life.

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