Are boundary definitions preventing coach therapists from offering their clients the best possible interventions? Kate McGuire reports


Why do we do what we do as coaches and therapists? What is the best way of doing our work to achieve our purpose? What enables us and what gets in the way?

At the AICTP conference (Association of Integrative Coach-Therapist Professionals) on 9 February 2019, speaker Kate Manley described how, as a therapist, she had sometimes felt constrained from making certain interventions with clients because they fell outside the boundaries of a therapeutic relationship.

After training as a coach, she felt there was a lack of depth in coaching work. How, I wondered, does it serve our clients when highly qualified practitioners feel unable to offer useful interventions because of the boundary definitions that we might apply to our work?

Julia Vaughan Smith has gone in the opposite direction – from executive coaching to therapy – and now concentrates on working with trauma. Her view is that nearly all personal difficulties are connected in some way to early ‘trauma’, which she describes as the internal damage caused by stressful external events, and which she views as a spectrum on which we all reside.

In other words, trauma is going to show up in the coaching room, and we should be ready to work with it. She talked about recognising that “here-and-now” issues arise from “there-and-then” causes and that solutions need to be appropriately tailored with the powerful tentacles of these root causes in mind.

I believe I meet the consequences of trauma frequently in my work. My professional purpose is to enable people to unstick themselves from unhelpful historically formed patterns to create a new future, particularly mid-career women who are struggling with how to be senior and authoritative and successful and female, in a male-defined professional world.

Helping women step into their power involves reflecting on how they can move away from a historical legacy that no longer serves them. I work in the territory where coaching and therapy intermingle. I believe this is where deeper, more sustainable personal change happens.

This has led me recently to qualify as a Fusion Certified Therapeutic Coach in order to feel more comfortable – resourced, knowledgeable, competent – in working with issues traditionally defined as therapeutic.

This is in addition to my original coach training and a Masters in Organisational Change which emphasised the psychology of individuals and organisations, and ongoing supervision with an integrative practitioner.

And yet I don’t know where to turn for professional development or accreditation that sanctions and enhances this integrative way of working. None of the current overseeing organisations seem to know quite what to do with me.

We “talking helpers” continue to debate the many issues that arise from working in the integrative ground between coaching and therapy, not least how to ensure we have the appropriate competence as practitioners, and appropriate contracts with our clients.

How do we nurture the person-centred, responsive approach of drawing on a multiplicity of approaches, while putting in place appropriate safeguards for our clients? How do we evolve a governing framework which adequately reflects, supports and develops the way we are working in practice?

Until we have the answers to these questions, practitioners like me – and the attendance level at the AICTP conference confirms I am not alone – continue to test boundaries and push at definitions, as we work with our hopeful clients.


  • Kate McGuire is a coach and founder of Fenner McGuire
2 replies
  1. says:

    Kate, you raise such important issues here. Like you I am dually qualified in therapy and coaching. I mainly work as a supervisor now and many ask to work with me as they know I have a therapy background and wish to explore their client’s concerns more deeply, to work developmentally as well as with performance issues. In my experience the levels of self awareness, of relational capacity and emotional wellbeing all play their part in enabling deep work to happen. We have in supervision a place where reflective practice in a safe and supportive relationship can enable coaches who wish to work in this way, opportunity to do so. I must admit to saying often, I feel a rant coming on! My rant is about looking at what is going to work when my supervisee and her client are together as they come into a co-created dialogue, and not shall we call this therapy or shall we call this counselling or therapy. Do we need permission to do what is needed in the moment? Do we need an authority to define the boundaries for us? Perhaps there will evolve a new name for folk who work across current boundaries that acknowledge the richness this can bring to people’s lives. I think Julia Vaughan Smith’s work is profoundly important in this kind of discussion. She reminds as that we owe it to ourselves and our clients to know about trauma, how to recognise it and how to work with it. We don’t necessarily have to be therapists to do this, but to recognise when a client may need a therapist and this capacity can be developed in supervision. This means being willing to explore our experiences, to know we are all in the same boat, ‘wounded healers’ all of us, why else are we drawn to this work I wonder? End of rant!

    • says:

      Fiona, I so agree with you. What helps people, and how we make sure we are qualified to deliver it, that’s what matters. Labels and formal “permission” are not what our clients (mostly) care about. I’d love it if a new name evolved because nothing I’ve seen so far really does it for me. Keep ranting – we need to keep the conversation open on this.

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