I often get asked, “What is the difference between coaching and therapy?”

Typically—in the medical model at least—the word therapy suggests correcting an imbalance or ailment. I realize there are countless forms and methods, many of which have a strong positive orientation. My purpose here is not downplay any therapeutic approach, rather to know where my boundary is. Coaches are not trained to identify and treat disorders. If diagnosing and fixing an imbalance or ailment is the task, then I am delighted to involve a therapist. In my coaching work, the focus is on emerging more fully into our authentic being.

If you listen, you may notice people very often think and talk about themselves as if there’s something wrong. If you listen to yourself, you may notice this too. We get ample support for this point of view from friends and from the culture at large. The road to fulfillment appears to be to find the problem and fix it.

I was speaking with someone whose descriptions of himself all revolved around what was wrong with him. His sentences started off with, “My problem is…” waiting for me to agree and offer suggestions for how to fix himself. But instead I answered, “I refuse to buy that there is something wrong with you.”

The skill is in the listening. This is not about invalidating what a person might be saying. All the experiences being described—whether it is a feeling of lethargy in the body, a self-critical voice in the head or an impossible-to-complete todo list on the desk—are no doubt happening. It is just that in the listening there is a choice: to buy into these things as evidence of a problem that needs to be fixed or as evidence of greatness.

I suggest this practice. Make a list of all things that you think of as problems, things that might be wrong with you. What, if only it would go away, would make you a better person?

Review this list and deliberate appreciate the person—you—who is saying all these things about him- or herself. What happens for you when you refuse to buy that there is anything wrong with you?