One question that I often get asked as an executive coach is “What is a psychologist doing working in this field? Don’t you guys work in hospitals or with people with mental health issues?” This is a fair assumption and one that psychologists are themselves in part to blame. In the past, psychology has not done the best job of marketing the varied careers of psychologists, although this is rapidly changing.

While many people do associate psychologists with clinical type work, there are many of us who choose to work at the other end of the spectrum, focussing on what I term supra-performance. Supra-performance can be described as helping people to go beyond average levels of performance. As an executive psychologist, my work is different from that of many a clinician. My focus is on applying psychological theory that allows people, without any so-called ‘issue to resolve’, to maximise their potential, both in their career and life in general.

My approach to executive coaching is grounded in fundamental learnings from industrial and organisational (I/O) psychology. I do, however, draw on all areas of psychology to find what may extract that ‘extra something’ out of those I coach. The analogy is the sports psychologist who will use any theory or area of psychology that can provide a benefit to the athlete he or she coaches. My practice is similar with the exception that my clients are not sports stars but executives who want to reach the pinnacle in their careers.

A problem in this domain of work is that too many psychologists in the executive coaching field are side-lining their credentials and adopting what they perceive as a softer title to describe their chosen field. While I understand this approach, and have myself been guilty of this in the past, I think it unnecessary. What psychologists bring to the field of coaching is unique; our approach is unique and our education is thorough. These are points of difference to be embraced, not shied away from.

I’m extremely proud to be a psychologist, having completed my registration back in New Zealand in 2002. To qualify as an intern psychologist in New Zealand one needs to have completed a Masters or Doctorate (PhD) programme that requires 4-5 years of prior study to obtain a degree at honours level. The registration varies across sub-disciplines but often requires additional study and supervision. I have then worked as both a psychologist, business owner and executive as I develop the skills required for my chosen profession.

I agree that being a psychologist is not enough to make one qualified to work with ambitious executives wanting to achieve higher levels of performance. Corporate experience and a background of demonstrating results in business is important. So too is a commitment to reaching your potential such that the journey you are asking of others is a journey you can fully empathise with, both past and present. An equal mix of both relevant theory and practical experience is the key to being able to add value. This noted, I think psychologists do bring something distinctive to the table; both from their academic background and from a registration process that demands constant learning.

The growth in executive coaching is positive in that it gives executives the recognition they deserve. High performers in business are like high performers in other fields and benefit from an independent person committed to their success. Psychologists have a lot to offer in this regard and I look forward to more graduate psychs adopting this as a chosen career path. The time for the executive psychologist is now.

For those who may not know the symbol in the picture is the Greek letter psi, a symbol often used to represent the study of psychology. 

For I/O psychologists in Singapore looking to reconnect with the discipline, the Singapore Psychological Society is committed to growing a stronger I/O community. Those interested can contact me directly via LinkedIn and I will happily introduce you to members who would like nothing more than for you to join.

 Image source: flickr/derekbruff