Monthly Archive: July 2017

Coach or Therapist? When to chose one or the other

Coach or Therapist

I’m both a coach and a therapist.  Even when I was offering only therapy, I would often get asked the question “Maryanne, what’s the difference? Why would I choose one over the other?”

I was asked this three times this past week, so I thought I’d address it in my blog, even though it’s dissimilar to what I usually talk about.

A therapist, meaning a psychotherapist – at least in Ontario – is a trained professional who is licensed by a regulatory body to practice. She has proven competencies and a minimum number of practice hours in the field of psychotherapy. A coach isn’t regulated, and the level of training and experience of a coach can vary widely – anywhere from a few weekends to a few years.

I’m going to assume for the purposes of comparison that both coach and therapist have comparable training and experience. So when would I want to see one over the other?

A coach is active, a therapist is more a listener.  Some, including many coaches, believe that therapists see “sick” people, and that coaches see “healthy” people.  I just heard that from a prominent international coach, who always gets this question.  This isn’t true.

What is a “sick” person anyway?  If you’re depressed are you sick?  What if you’re anxious?  Who isn’t depressed or anxious at times?  What about being stuck over some issue that ends up being a huge distraction? If you follow the medical model, then you might believe that someone suffering from depression is “sick”.  I’m not one of those who do follow that model, and there is a growing number of professionals who no longer follow it.

Why? Because labelling someone as sick when they are having emotional issues doesn’t help: if we decide a person is sick, then we look for some external source – like a drug – that will make them better.  But research is proving that no anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication, on its own, works.  The only thing that works is the therapy that accompanies the drugs: it’s the trusting relationship that is built between the therapist and client that eventually leads to relief for the client (and growth for the therapist, because a relationship is always a two-way street). By the way, this is also true for the relationship built between a coach and client.

With this in mind, when to go to a therapist and when to go to a coach becomes a little clearer.  As a therapist, I work with someone at their pace to help them get unstuck from a very stuck place. I am limited by my regulatory college in what I can do, and it can often take some time before my client is able to resolve the issue they came with. As a coach, I offer a set number of sessions with a specific goal in mind: I give my client weekly actionables, with the expectation that they already have the ability to deal with whatever issues are blocking them with little or no resistance. If in the course of the program, we hit something deeper and less movable, then we can take some time out to deal with it, or I refer her to a therapist colleague, who deals with that issue separately.

If you’re stuck in a place that has you going nowhere and are wanting to know which to see – a therapist or a coach – ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I hurting enough to be willing to do whatever it takes to resolve the issue; or am I reluctant to let go of the coping strategies that I’ve put in place, even if they make me miserable? This may seem like a no-brainer, but those strategies were put in place for a reason, and it’s scary to let go of them.  Are you ready?  If not – if you feel you need to deal with this at a slower pace, then a therapist might be the better answer.
  • Am I willing to take the time to work with a coach for 2 to 3 hours each week over the next 3 to 4 months? Therapy takes longer, and this might be the better option for you.  Coaching is more action-oriented – there’s more homework – and correspondingly leads to faster results.
  • Am I willing to commit to a 3 to 4 month program? Therapy sessions are one at a time (so that there is no pressure to achieve major changes in a set period of time), and paid for one at a time; coaching comes in packages and are typically paid for up front.  A good coach will be investing a great deal of their time in designing and facilitating a program for you, and to make it worthwhile, will ask for commitment in the form of compensation up front.

No answer is better than any other.  The only criteria are an honest assessment of your needs.


Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .

Trust, one of the 7 pillars of mindfulness

Trust, one of the 7 pillars of mindfulness

I’m part of a coaching support group, where we practice being coaches on each other.  Contrary to some opinions, I find that coaches use many of the same techniques that therapists do, and being part of this group reminded me of what it was like testing my wings as a new therapist.  I remember watching the teachers conduct hot seats in front of us (a “hot seat” happens when a therapist and client work in front of an audience, generating “heat” simply by exposure for both of them; for this very reason, hot seats tend to generate fast results, when done well); as I watched, I marvelled at how brilliant the therapist was and wondered if I’d ever reach that level of competence – doubting at the time that I would.  Needless to say, over the years since, practicing and meeting with clients every day, I have reached that level – and it feels good, because I’m genuinely helping people achieve their dreams in the process.

The secret comes from trusting myself and the process.  In both coaching and therapy, the work involves the building of a trusting relationship between the coach or therapist and the client.  The client has to feel safe enough to speak openly and honetly; the coach or therapist has to be open and present and trust herself enough to go with what she sees and responds to, and to be able to say when she herself is stuck or confused.  Both need to trust that this process will lead to worthwhile results.  There isn’t a session I have with a client where I don’t learn something about myself as well as about my client.  It’s a process that benefits both of us, as long as there is trust.

When I first started to apply what I learned as a new therapist, I made the mistake of following instructions, so that I found I was completely “in my head” and equally completely out of touch with my body.  When that happened, there was no learning, no relationship-building, and no trust. The client left feeling dissatisfied and I was left feeling guilty and inadequate.

The way to trust is in being authentic and open, and in remaining in touch with our essential selves, which is always revealed in how we physically respond to our world.  For instance, if I were to think of a past event that brought me pain, my body will immediately register certain sensations – for me, it will be a feeling of tightness in my chest, like there was a heavy metal ball in the centre of it.  If on the other hand, I were to think of a past event that brings me pleasure, I feel a feathery kind of expansion in my chest.  When a client says something that grabs my attention, I feel that sense of expansion.  If I follow that interest, something always comes of it. If I ignore it, the session is pretty much done.

My challenge to you is this: discover in yourself how your body responds to painful and pleasant events. For one day, use this knowing to guide you, and at the end of it, take a moment to see how your day went, and how it left you feeling.

I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me, ‘I love you.’ … There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt. ― Maya Angelou

I first read of the 7 pillars of mindfulness in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book on mindfulness Full Catastrophe Living. These pillars are Buddhist principles that help us be present and mindful in our everyday living. The 7 meditations I offer to anyone who signs up on my website are based on these, and I use them in my own meditation practice.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .

Mirrors – How to get the most out of life with them

Dear friend,

We all remember those special times when we connected beautifully with someone, even for a brief moment.  When a kind stranger helped us as a child, perhaps, or when we met the person we eventually married; when we had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time to connect with someone we truly admire.  Those are moments in time that define us, and they are probably as fresh now as when they happened.  They helped to shape who we are today; we remember those times with fondness and often, gratitude.

There are smaller, less significant, yet equally important events that happen daily, that we might not notice as much.  Like when someone lets us in in heavy traffic, or holds the door open for us at closing time, or even gives us a little extra when we go out for lunch.  They are all genuine acts of kindness, where nothing is expected from us in return.  Most if not all of us feel a lift when that happens, and often end up returning that random act of kindness by “paying it forward” to another person we meet.

These instances give us mirrors into our own souls; they are all moments when someone said “I see you”, and reflect back to us through their eyes what we are giving them.

Then there are other kinds of mirrors we like less; those that can be opportunities for growth.  These can be instances when we are triggered by someone – someone who reminds us of others or other past instances that still make us angry, judgmental, embarrassed, protective – and produces in us a compulsion to armor and defend ourselves.  These are the interesting ones because they are the hardest to deal with. They also bring with them the potential for greatest spiritual growth.

Life will always provide these mirrors, and they will keep returning in our lives until we do deal with them.  Here’s a personal example: I have a teacher, who I admire and who also is very demanding.  At times when I’m not prepared, she will comment on something she’s noticed that she thinks I need to look at, and at times I find myself triggered into anger.  My inner dialogue sounds something like this: She’s judging me again! She doesn’t seem to understand I’ve done this before and don’t need this kind of thing.  I feel completely unseen by her! I wish she’d see me and stop judging me!

Byron Katie talks about this kind of mirror in her book Loving What Is. In fact, the entire book is about turning these times around where we find ourselves defensive and judging others.  She calls this process The Work. This isn’t the place to go into how it works; I simply want to demonstrate what I learned about myself when I applied it to the above.

I first asked myself if “She’s judging me again” was true.  On the surface, with no inquiry on my part, it seemed true; there was a certain comfort for me in thinking it was true.  But actually I had no idea whether or not it was true.  In one sense it was true; after all she is my teacher and it’s her job to judge me. In another sense – in the sense that she was triggering me – I had no idea. Then I asked: how do I react when I believe it’s true?  How I react is with anger.  On the other hand, who would I be without thinking she was judging me personally?  The answer: I’d be fine, and able to take in her comments without rancor.  Finally, what happens when I turn this statement around?  For instance, “I’m judging her again”, or ”I’m judging me again”, or even “She isn’t judging me again” – are these at least as true as the initial statement?  In this case, the first two turnaround statements are definitely true, and give me the mirror I need to see – that it’s me who’s judging personally – both me and her. The last statement, if true, would be devastating; after all, if she isn’t judging me, what is our relationship really about?

What I’ve just demonstrated is a very simplified version of what Katie goes through in her book. It’s a powerful tool that helps us see the reflection that someone else is ultimately gifting us.

The point? Every moment that impacts us is a mirror moment, a moment when the universe is giving us a reflection of ourselves.  Without these moments, we’d never grow and learn. And life would be a lot less interesting.

Now I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences, knowledge, opinions.  In the comments below, share one thing that you experienced as a mirror moment that changed your day, or even your life.

This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1; the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy the richness this brings to the topic of the week with all three parts.

Byron Katie – The Work Explained

Quote of the Week
If you want to find the real competition, just look in the mirror. After awhile you’ll see your rivals scrambling for second place.
― Criss Jami, Killosophy


At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at

The power of adversity


I grew up in chaos.  My mother contracted MS early on, then miraculously went into remission, leaving only numb fingers for some years.  Later on, the nerve damage was more impactful, but most of the time growing up, her MS had only one major impact on the rest of us.  That’s right, chaos.

You see, as she was lying on her bed, day after day, unable to move or see, she would contemplate many things; and the biggest thing was: what was truly important to her.  As a result, when the miracle happened, she no longer considered things like housework and order to be all that important.  Creativity, on the other hand, was vastly important, but only a certain kind of creativity – creativity that led to practical solutions, and that bettered our lot in what she considered a meaningful way every day.  So, art was out, but sewing and designing clothing was in; ballet was out, but working in clay creating pots and dinner-wear was in; writing was out but cooking well definitely was in.  One other thing that happened is that us kids were expected to take up the slack in housekeeping, and even though I won’t go into what that looked like, I will suggest you take a few creative moments imagining what 4 kids might do with it.

This molded certain ways I operated into adulthood.  For instance, I would witness friends and associates struggling with whether or not to do what their parents were against, and would get that, in this way, I was fortunate.  I remember thinking more than once as an adult making my own way:  Wow!  This would have been a lot harder if I hadn’t grown up with chaos! We were a pretty independent bunch, and that gave me something very precious: personal power.

Yes, there were many ways in which I didn’t have this power and had to learn to regain it, but not when it came to my own independence. I had that in spades, and all because of the adversity I met in childhood.

Research and scholarly wisdom has thus far focused on the detrimental effects of childhood abuse and/or adversity. Willem Frankenhuis and Carolina de Weerth in their research paper Does Early-Life Exposure to Stress Shape or Impare Cognigion?  discuss evidence showing that, in addition to the detrimental impact of childhood abuse, there are some positives.  This doesn’t negate the negative impacts of such abuse, which can be severe, far reaching, and difficult to correct.  What it does show is that adults who experienced childhood abuse or adversity have, compared to safely nurtured children, better skills that help them deal with potential threats.  These people are better at detection, learning, and memory on tasks that protect them from these possible dangers.

One often-sited example is the study where children are given the option of delayed or immediate gratification, knowing they will receive a larger treat if they delay than if they don’t delay.  Children raised in an emotionally safe environment will opt for delayed gratification; those raised in a stressed unsafe one will opt for the “fast” immediate option, strategizing that something is better than nothing.  These children can never count on a stable environment and so they take what is offered in the moment rather than wait for what might never happen. Both strategies make sense, considering the two different environments.

Another example is the ability to shift focus in unpredictable environments.  Adults from adverse childhood backgrounds are, on the whole, better at shifting focus without loss of accuracy than their peers from stable childhood backgrounds. In other words, flexibility in times of instability is easier for the first set of adults, which is an asset in unsafe times.

The big learning for me from this study is this: no matter what our background is, children take whatever situation they end up with and adapt as best they can.  In Gestalt Therapy, this is called Creative Adjustment. It’s wonderful to know that we have this capacity in us; it’s something some of us can truly appreciate as a strength that is well-earned.


Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .

Personal Power or Stress? One thing you can do to regain your Power

These days, I often hear people saying that stress is good – that there’s a difference between “good” and “bad” stress, and that they want more “good “ stress in their lives.

All well and good.  But what, exactly is “good” stress?  When I ask, I almost always get some variation of the following:  it’s the kind of stress that gives you the drive to get something done; it gives you energy instead of taking it away; it’s when you’re in the “zone” and everything is moving like a knife through butter.

I get that – most if not all of us have experienced those moments of pure productivity in our lives.  And they are truly wonderful.  But this kind of stress is only “good” if it happens periodically.  These days, many of us expect ourselves – or are expected by others – to be that productive all the time.  When that happens, this “good” stress turns “bad”, and we end up feeling overwhelmed and powerless.

So the question of interest for me is: How can I determine when I’m moving from “good” to “bad” stress? The answer: by attending to my knowing, another way of saying trust my gut.  This is another phrase used a lot these days – it’s so easy to talk about and yet so hard for most of us to do – because it’s something we have spent most of our adult lives eradicating.

Those times when you didn’t feel like staying up late, but were talked into it; or when you were uncomfortable walking into an elevator with an angry-looking stranger but did anyway; or any number of situations you found yourself in where your gut said I don’t like this and your head said It’s OK – you’re imagining things, Gut! Those times added up into a disconnect between you and your knowing.  And that disconnect led to you losing your personal power, because personal power resides in your knowing.

We have personal power when we are sure of ourselves, when we trust ourselves to know what’s good or bad for us, and then always go for it.  Every time we ignore that wise part of us, we lose a bit of our own personal power, sending us into increasing self-doubt, increasing overwhelm.

Why? Because what’s in our head is knowledge we’ve collected from others = our parents, teachers, community leaders and friends.  This kind of knowledge is useful but not something that should ever replace what we know for sure.  And what we know for sure is in our gut, not our head.

If you’re uncertain of this, try this out: On a day that might rain – that looks possibly like it might and the forecast is uncertain, stand for a few minutes, eyes closed, and see how you feel about the weather. I don’t mean emotions or judgments, I mean sensations, because that’s the language of the gut.  Your body knows better than your head – or the forecast – whether or not to take an umbrella.  Then whatever your gut says, simply go with it.

Whether it rains or not, you’ve just taken care of yourself. Whether it rains or not, notice how you feel – relaxed or stressed? Relaxed or uncertain? Relaxed or in doubt?

You can relearn to do this in any situation. This is Personal Power.

This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1; the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy the richness this brings to the topic of the week with all three parts.

Three Steps to Cultivate your Authentic Power

Quote of the Week
You are more powerful than you think
It’s bigger than you
Leaders are made, not born
Leveling up is a choice
They say you can’t, we know you can
Dance with fear
See, assert, change
Overwhelmed is temporary
Out loud, in public
Hard work is far better than busy work
The crowd is wrong. The critics are wrong. Useful feedback is precious…
Management matters. So does leadership…
“Here, I made this.” Or possibly, “Here, we made this.”
See the end before you begin the journey
Culture defeats everything
It’s personal
-Seth Godin, 17 Rules for the New World of Work

At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at