Curious about the difference between a therapist and a coach and which might be right for you?
Let’s explore the similarities, differences, and crossovers so you can find exactly what option might be best for you, or at least have more familiarity with the differences between coaching and therapy. I’ll be speaking from my own experience, having been coached, participated in therapy, and coached many women.
Both coaching and therapy are powerful tools to help you find empowerment in your life.
Similarities Between a Coach and a Therapist
Both a coach and a therapist, if they’re good, will likely start with deep listening. The sessions are all about you and listening for what’s going on, tuning in and seeing things from a more objective perspective. You’ll receive individualized attention focusing on your specific challenges.
If you’re in a group therapy session or a group coaching situation, then the coach or therapist is going to tune into what’s going on for the group. A common mission of therapy and coaching both is to connect you with yourself, help you know yourself better, tune in to yourself, and see what’s going on for you. Ideally it’s also around holistic wellness, the wellness of your whole being. The therapist or coach both want you to do well, do your best, be your best, and experience your best life and greatest potential.
Both coaches and therapists may help with addressing habit-breaking and habit-forming practices, helping you to determine what habits are getting in your way and what kinds of new, beneficial habits you might be able to form. Neither coaching nor therapy is supposed to be about giving advice. That’s really more consulting. A coach or a therapist may be able to speak from their own experience, thus offering some mentoring, but ideally it’s really focused on you and not about giving advice.
Both therapy and coaching have a shadow side.
More clinical aspects can come with therapy, where everything can be a bit more boxed in because there are diagnoses. A good therapist won’t fall into this trap, but it does happen. Similarly, a coach can be bypassing the situation, focusing only on affirmations, getting things done, and making things happen, without addressing the bigger more holistic picture. It’s important to consider the shadow sides of both.
Differences Between Coaching and Therapy
Let’s talk about some of the differences between coaching and therapy.
People usually turn to a therapist because there’s something they’re deeply challenged by, and it can often be about pathology. There’s something specifically going on that’s causing a lack of wellness. That’s not always the case, but this realm of diagnosing and pathologizing is often where therapy thrives, and definitely not what coaching intends.
Coaching is very much about helping you to thrive and express the full expression of who you are, really looking at questions like, What can we do? What kinds of things can we implement in your life to help you to thrive? My experience of therapy has been that it sometimes felt like I was a problem that needed solving. That’s not true of all therapy. I’ve also experienced great therapy where there are a lot of tools and support to help you find what’s going on within you.
Coaching focuses on the idea that you have the power within you to heal. There’s not something wrong with you. You’re not a problem that needs solving. There’s not a pathology to focus on. Therapy can be very symptom focused looking at questions like, What are the symptoms you’re experiencing? Are you having trouble sleeping? Are you feeling anxiety? Are you depressed? Are you not eating, etc? Coaching is often more re-creation focused, looking at these things going on in your life and asking what you want to create in your life, rather than trying to heal symptoms or solve problems, although that is often a benefit of coaching.
I’ve had many coaching clients who’ve had symptoms we didn’t address in the coaching disappear because the coaching went deep and addressed deeper patterns, habits, and awarenesses that made a huge difference in their life. Therapy can be largely about diagnosing, which could have you feeling like you’re stuck in a box with a label, whereas coaching is more about opening to new possibilities. Again, good quality therapists will not box you in or focus only on the pathology or the diagnosis. They’ll focus on helping you to become the best that you can be. This is why there’s so much similarity between therapy and coaching.
A coach cannot diagnose and look at symptoms and causality. They certainly cannot prescribe medication, but coaches and therapists alike can have different trainings that support them in using added modalities on top of their basic coaching or therapy training.
One of the biggest things I always loved about coaching, and why I love being a coach, is that it’s so much about opening up to new possibilities, seeing from perspectives you couldn’t see from before, being able to find things within yourself that you didn’t know were there. That can happen with therapy, but my experience has been less consist in this area with therapy.
There are a lot of therapists choosing to become coaches and a lot of coaches choosing to become therapists. Therapists are required to be licensed. Coaching can get a bad rap in that technically anybody can call themselves a coach. It’s not a regulated industry. If you’re trying to choose between a coach and a therapist, make sure the coach that you’re working with is trained. What training have they gone through? Does it fit the way that you want to work? You can do the same with a therapist, but because the therapy industry is more regulated and therapists have to get a license to call themselves a therapist, you at least know they’ve gone through training. Many coaches will call themselves a coach but they’ve never gone through coach training. Be sure to ask questions around training and experience.
My experience of therapy was that it was a lot of talking. I would talk about things that were bothering me. The therapist might ask some questions, but sometimes those questions felt a bit shallow, such as, “What do you think about that?” Questions from a coach are geared toward helping you to see things from your own perspective. As a coach, one of my favorite things is when a client says, “Oh, I never thought of it that way!” That’s such a powerful indicator that the questions being asked are helping the client make connections within themselves, opening them up to new possibilities. My experience of therapy, and that of many of the clients I’ve talked to who’ve chosen coaching over therapy, is that sometimes the therapy questions can be more stale, where the coaching questions can really challenge you, and push you to find the best of yourself.
Therapy gets a bad rap because sometimes people think that it can go on and on and on forever, with all these questions that never really get anywhere. Coaching gets a bad rap because anybody can call themselves a coach. Both have their shadow side, their difficulties and misunderstandings. This is about asking questions and really understanding who you’re working with and why.
Therapy can often be focused on the past and looking at, What was your mother like? What was your father like? How did that make you feel? What was going on? What were the stories? Sometimes those stories can get repeated a lot. That was my experience of therapy, and I’ve witnessed others in therapy that are stuck in their story, repeating the same stories with no solution coming out of it. When I see big changes and shifts coming out of therapy, it’s usually because they’re working with a therapist who’s added additional modalities, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, EMDR, Internal Family Systems, or other types of practices. Coaches can also have these trainings though. This is why it’s important to ask about the types of trainings and experiences being offered.
Coaching is very future focused. Where are you now, and where do you want to be now? That doesn’t mean coaches don’t look at the past, because your past informs the present. It helps you and the coach to understand where you’ve come from, and what’s been going on. However, the coach is not going to have you rehashing your story and dredging up the past. In fact they probably shouldn’t in any big ways, because there can be a retraumatization of things, depending upon how they’re brought up and whether or not they have training to deal with trauma. Coaches can be trauma-based coaches with specified training to handle this though, just as therapists may specialize in trauma healing and support.
Therapy can sometimes be covered by insurance, and most coaching is not. That may be a consideration for you when it comes to cost. Coaching is often paid for by your company. If you’re working with a coach for development in your work or career, a company will often pay for it.
Crossovers Between Therapy and Coaching
There’s a lot of crossover, as you’re probably seeing, between therapy and coaching, and yet there are subtle, distinct differences. As more coaching comes to awareness for people, and more people are getting truly trained as coaches, they’re also getting trained in specialties that were often only in the realm of therapy. For example, Jungian Analysis was a very common training for therapists, and now there is Jungian based coach training available. A lot of modalities and ways of looking at things are starting to be trained in both therapy and coaching realms.
The biggest key is to ask yourself, am I dealing with severe trauma, or severe emotional difficulties such that I cannot function on my own? No coach should be trying to address these without having a therapist also on board. This is where there’s a lot of crossover between coaching and therapy. Many people choose to have a therapist and a coach. The therapist might be the one that they talk to when it comes to regulating their emotional realm and depression or anxiety, and then the coach can be someone that helps them to take steps forward and close the gap between where they are and where they want to be. The coach will be very future focused, whereas the therapist is helping them process the trauma and deal with some of the past history.
Both coaching and therapy should ideally be a journey to the Soul, a connection to your True Self. Both have many myths. Some think coaching is for short term focus, and therapy is for a longer term processing. For me and the type of coaching I do, I always tell people it’s not about a quick fix or a magic pill. We’re going into some often challenging work. We’re deepening into things that maybe you haven’t seen or noticed before, not traumas per se, but looking at the ways that you think about things, the stories that you tell yourself, and the emotional blocks that happen.
I believe the best therapy and the best coaching are done over time, when we’re really willing to take the time to know ourselves better, to go on that journey, to really connect with our True Self in whatever format that’s going to be. Many think coaching is more about goals and results, whereas therapy can be more developmental. I’ve experienced both with both, developmentally growing with both therapy and with coaching in terms of looking at where I’ve been, where I’m going, understanding who I am, deepening into my psyche/soul based world and life, knowing myself better, and opening up to more possibilities while achieving new results. Modalities are an important factor in getting the results you want, and it really depends a lot on the training, the learning, the understanding, the study, etc, that your coach or your therapist has.
Whether exploring a therapist or a coach, understand what they have worked with, what they specialize in, what is their unique niche, and is it specific enough to help you.
How to Choose a Coach or Therapist
How do you know which one is right for you if there are all these crossovers and similarities between coaches and therapists?
First of all, if you’re severely depressed, seek therapy. While for severe depression and anxiety, I feel therapy is definitely something worth working with, I personally feel, in my holistic approach to life, that there are many different ways of addressing these that don’t require medication. Therapy doesn’t have to mean medication. I personally work with homeopathy and other things to address mood challenges, and then focus on the therapy or the coaching for talking things through and seeing things differently, rather than choosing medication. However, if medication is definitely something you feel you need, or you feel your struggle is so deep that that’s important, therapy is the way to go for you.
If you’re seeking more measurable outcomes, looking at, Where am I now? Where do I want to be? How can I look at how far I’ve come through these coaching sessions, through this process, through this journey?, coaching may be the right path for you.
Seek referrals from others. If you know someone who’s been through similar situations, and they say, “I know this great therapist,” or “I know this great coach that helped me get through that,” then right there is probably your biggest golden ticket to knowing if you can be helped or not. Trust your gut. See who and what resonates the most with you.
Another thing you can do is try a session. I offer a free exploratory call that will help you to know whether coaching feels right or not.
Some therapists also offer free consults. Sometimes you have to pay for a single coaching or therapy session in order to get a full feeling of what a true session is going to be like, but it’s worth it to give it a try and see what feels right. Try a therapist. Try a coach. See what works, and see if you want to do both. As I said before, coaching and therapy can truly complement one another.
How about you? Have you tried therapy? Have you tried coaching? What’s been your experience? What do you see as the main difference between them? Do you have a preference for one or the other? Share in the comments.
If you’d like to explore coaching, please book a free exploratory call with me. I’d love to talk to you and see if coaching and my particular style of coaching is right for you.
For a video version exploring the differences between coaching and therapy, watch here: