The skilled helping role in coaching and counselling

The skilled helping role in coaching and counselling

So what is it like to go to a psychologist, coach, counsellor, mediator? All these roles (some aren’t mentioned) have in common that they offer help. They are forms of skilled helping.

But yet their helpfulness is not the same as other professionals. Apart from content (the what) the help is much more situated in other factors. I had an unknown person recently dropping me an email who wants to come for coaching or counselling but were very reluctant. The person asked ‘but what if I don’t agree with what the coach or counsellor says I should do.’ That communicates to me a certain impression that some people have about professional helping. In part my answer involved the following.

Professional Skilled helping with Elmo Pienaar


It helps to consider in what ways it is different – professional skilled helping from for instance doctors. Professional helpers will give different answers to the question. Here is mine on a basic and practical level, the level that is perhaps oversimplified.

  • I don’t prescribe – I’m not a doctor
  • I don’t judge – I’m not lawyer or a judge
  • I don’t tell – I’m not a teacher
  • I don’t preach, speak or lecture – I’m not a pastor, motivational speaker or lecturer
  • I don’t nurse (directly or indirectly)
  • I don’t do persuasion – I’m not a politician and you are welcome to differ from me
  • I don’t operate – I’m not a surgeon
  • I don’t do death by structure – I’m not an engineer
  • I don’t do pretty figures (sometimes) – I’m not a business person who needs to impress or convince
  • I’m not a scientist and aren’t interested in arguing causality or the facts

Please understand that these are not bad… for that role! I won’t say that there are, at least on a minimal level, perhaps some aspects present of the above in professional skilled helping. Some! But if your counsellor or coach and you see yourself scoring big on any one of the above then you or your clients are in trouble because they have not studied to be an engineer, doctor, or other professional.

My role is much more like a collaborator, a supporting author, a skilled conversationalist. I’m a scaffolder, co-constructing (with you in the driver seat) the awareness from where what our conversation is about becomes incrementally possible. Our conversations could be about anything: performance, conflict, meaning, addiction, executive life.

Sometimes its simple: You want us to do an action plan and we do it. Sometimes our conversations are just that, conversations; that serve the purpose of practicing your voice, showing your calculations (as my maths teacher always said) but those in your head or heart. So as you notice the content and aim of professional helping can be very diverse. And if you are in my practice being a collaborator means asking you about your preferences in working together and not secretly treating you with some book knowledge.

I help you attend and engage in intent. These are things that modern life has shoved to the side. Where in today’s fast paced life do we have the opportunity to just be, put everything on the table. Friends are supposed to fulfill that purpose, but even friends aren’t always skilled conversationalists and they have their own ‘stuff.’

It is the greatest privilege of the skilled helper to be spending our time with you working towards either ‘doing’ or ‘being’ or both.

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