What is the relationship between coaching and psychology? It’s complicated. In this article we’ll unpack it with the help of the Handbook of Coaching Psychology. Hang in there.

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Hi I’m Nick Redmark, I’m a coach-in-training and a psychology nerd, and in this publication I go deep into how to find more meaning in life. If you want more meaning in your life, subscribe to my newsletter to keep updated.

What Is Coaching Psychology?

So, what is coaching, what is psychology, and how are they related?

The first thing we need to say is that the concepts you are going to learn are more blurred than not, and that defining clear boundaries between the fields is a difficult ethical problem. What contributes to the problem are the different origins of these terms.

The origins of coaching

Coaching comes from the world of sports, where athletes have coaches who help them improve their performance. It has then evolved into increasing performance in general, such as in the workplace. Now it can be used for improving your life in different areas (transitions, leadership, career, productivity, goal setting, work-life balance…). Coaching has always been practice-oriented and focused on the positive and improving the positive. Coaching is an unregulated field, where everyone can call themselves a coach. To compensate for that, certification organizations such as the International Coaching Foundation (ICF) have emerged with the aim to formalize the process of coaching and to make it the subject of research.

To learn more about coaching psychology I recommend the Handbook of Coaching Psychology

The origins of psychology

Psychology, on the other hand, started with a focus on mental illness and is very tightly connected to academia. To call yourself a psychologist you need to have a graduate degree. A psychotherapist then needs years of additional training. With some exceptions, such as humanistic psychology, only in recent decades, with the advent of Positive Psychology, there has been a shift towards the study of the improvement of human wellbeing beyond the zero point. We have reached a point where there can be a marriage between these two disciplines.

Psychology in coaching

Truth is, coaches have always applied psychological principles (whether sound or not) to help their coachees. Often these principles and assumptions are implicit and based on practice and intuition rather than research. Research about what works and what doesn’t in coaching has really just begun. On the other hand, many principles from the world of psychology can start to flow into the coaching practice.

Coaching psychology

Coaching psychology is a term then defined by the International Society for Coaching Psychology (ISCP) as

a process for enhancing well-being and performance in personal life and work domains underpinned by models of coaching grounded in established adult and child learning or psychological theories and approaches. It is practised by qualified coaching psychologists who have a graduate degree in psychology, relevant post-graduate qualifications, and have undertaken suitable continuing professional development and supervised practice. Coaching psychologists provide services for individuals, teams, organisations and the community.

The ISCP is clear: to say you practice coaching psychology you need to be a psychologist. I can’t sell a coaching psychology service. Nonetheless I’d argue that any coach should try to ensure their practice is sound and effective from a psychological perspective, especially since coaching as an activity per se hasn’t been researched much.

This is coaching psychology

That’s it: coaching psychology is the practice of coaching based on the principles of psychology. It is a protected term reserved to people with a psychology degree.

Have you been coached in the past? What approach did your coach take? Let me know in the comments!


Hi, I’m Nick Redmark, your Meaning-Centered Life Coach. Want more meaning in your life? Get it now on nickredmark.com and subscribe to the Nick Redmark Newsletter to get more of it in the future!