Why Coaching Works! by Barry Switnicki, MCC, M.Ed

Ever wonder how coaching matches up to all those other models of helping people?

There have been lots and lots of studies of different types of therapy and what works. Here are some explanations from Michael Lambert and Scott Miller based on 40 years of outcome data. Have a look at the following pie chart and explanations.

Michael J. Lambert, Ph.D., a researcher doing meta research i.e. analyzing data from studies of therapy effectiveness, concluded that "Research carried out with the intent of contrasting two or more bona-fide treatments shows surprisingly small differences between the outcomes for patients who undergo a treatment that is fully intended to be therapeutic."

Rather then looking at the differences and attempting to denote which is better, it might make more sense to look at what works in each, in other words what are the similarities that might account for treatment success.

THE FACTS: Research points to the existence of four factors common to all forms of therapy despite theoretical orientation (dynamic, cognitive etc.) mode (individual, group, couples, family, etc.) dosage (frequency of sessions) or specialty (problem type, professional discipline).

Structure, model, and/or technique (15%): Rather then the types of treatment, what tends to matter is the therapists capacity to structure the treatment i.e. having direction that is consistent with where the client wants to go.  The client has a theory of change or what is possible for them, to utilize that or motivate them to develop one, is what tends to be effective, not cognitive, dynamic etc.  Focus on change, the possibility for change, is what tends to matter.

Relationship (30%): The better the reported relationship at all stages of therapy the better outcomes.

Placebo, hope, and/or expectancy (15%): what the client expects, believes, and wants to happen determines what happens to a large degree.  Research indicates that what motivates people to change is positive not negative thoughts.  The more one focuses on problems the more stuck people feel.  It is hope that causes people to change, not the pain of the problem.

Extra therapeutic (40%): This refers to any and all aspects of the client and his or her environment that facilitate recovery, regardless of formal participation in therapy.

Now let's look at how coaching fits into all this.

As we look at the different factors that influence therapy and apply them to coaching models such as that taught in The Art and Science of Coaching (Erickson College International) it's easy to see why coaching is so effective! Coaching is all about a partnership where clients having their own answers, focused on solutions for the present and the future. Obviously the model is great and this can have up to a 15% impact on client results based on the study results. Let's look at the other factors and understand how coaching has a strong effect on them.

Relationship (30%): Coaching is all about relationship! It's a partnership and much attention is paid to building rapport and not only developing rapport but keeping the power/control differential equal where the client is the expert in what they want while the coach is the expert in the coaching structure.

Placebo, hope and/or expectancy (15%): Coaching is all about focusing on the positive and what solution or goal the  client wants to move toward. Also the coaching structure supports the client in creating a vision of what they want and also developing first steps. This of course supports greater expectancy and hope.

Extra therapeutic (40%): Much of the coaching relationship is also about what clients are doing outside of the actual coaching sessions. In addition clients realize that the more they put into achieving their goals the more they will succeed and most coaching relationships strongly support and expect this effort.

Understanding coaching's influence on all of these factors it's quite obvious at how successful coaching can be for clients. Coaching obviously doesn't work for everyone and it is generally highly effective for those clients it suits.

If you liked this article on why coaching works, you may also like:

Barry Switnicki headshot

Contributing Author:

Barry Switnicki MCC, M.Ed.L. BCC, Cert. Con. Res. transforms leaders and coaches globally through coaching, training, coach mentoring and supervision.Learn more about Barry & see all their articles here >>


  1. Lorrie Hess

    It's really helpful to read such a clear, straight-forward, concise article about why coaching works. I will use it to teach people about coaching. Thanks!

    • elelsey

      Thanks Lorrie! I agree. I read this article by Barry - and thought it would be great for ALL coaches to read! Among other things it really got me thinking about how outside factors have such an influence, and that's where coaching can be REALLY helpful: The pro-active nature of coaching can help people take action to create a life/atmosphere more conducive to the changes they want to make. Warmly, EL


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