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Confusing criticism of coaching

April 5, 2012

“Coaching”* seems to be a bit of a buzzword in Sweden these days (as far as I can judge from here in Germany). Can’t find a job? Get some coaching for your job search! Want to advance your career? Having problems at home? Can’t seem to score on the dating market? Coaching! It solves everything!

Anyway, yesterday four university psychologists wrote a critical debate article in Svenska Dagbladet**, claiming that coaches may confuse their clients. Having never been to one, I wouldn’t know. I do know that the psycologists confused at least one of their readers, namely, me.

Some of the criticism I recognize from the academic medicine criticism of quackery. The methods haven’t been tested scientifically. Or they have been tested and found ineffective. Practitioners only use one method, which is advertised as a magic bullet that helps against everything. Anecdotal reports of success replaces proper statistical studies. Any positive results achieved are due to the placebo effect. Meaningless, but authoritative-sounding, titles abound. All those arguments are used in the article, all of them have merit in the medicine discussion, I’m willing to grant that they probably have equal merit here. Though I find the article badly enough written that it would never have convicted me, had I not been familiar with the reasoning beforehand. It mostly reads like whining to me. “Those coaches are stealing business from us, even though a coach only has half a year of education, and we have five or more! This can’t stand!” (my paraphrase, and yes, it’s a mean one, and yes, I’m aware that this is probably not how the authors actually feel about it. It’s just how I read it.)

Now to the confusing parts. According to the article writers, coaches “lack the competence to evaluate the actual effects of the coaching. In practice, they rather evaluate and justify their contribution by the clients saying that it felt good, and that they are satisfied with the coaching they recieved.” (my translation) So… if your job is to help somebody, and that somebody claims that you did help him/her, how is that a bad way of evaluating your own performance? What’s the “actual effect”? Are people not qualified to know for themselves if they were helped or not? Do we really need a psychologist to tell us that?

And about those titles. “Licensed Stress Therapeut” and the likes. The psychologists write that “this gives the prospective client the impression that there is an extensive system of regulation and quality control behind the education. This is not the case. These licensings and diplomas actually don’t mean anything. They were issued by the providers of the education…” (my translation again) Is that supposed to mean that my “Master of Engineering” is worthless, too? Because all the degrees and diplomas I possess were also issued by the provider of the education, in my case Chalmers and KTH. (Well, considering how much luck I’ve had in obtaining an engineering job…) Anyway, who else is supposed to issue diplomas, if the educating school isn’t?

I just don’t get it, man. And that’s my main problem with the whole article: the authors are assuming a lot of background knowledge that I can sometimes extrapolate from another field, but sometimes plain don’t have. Mission objective: explain. Mission: failed.

* Yes, the English word, even in Swedish-language texts.

** “The Swedish Daily”, second-biggest newspaper in Sweden.

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