What’s the difference between coaching and therapy?

What is coaching?

Coaching is a non-directive, person-centered, strength-based, collaborative support service to help functional clients achieve meaningful goals. Coaching provides the structural support clients need to maximize their personal and professional potential. Coaching emphasizes autonomy, choice, and trust.

Clients come to coaching with an interest in self-improvement or measurable progress. Through coaching, clients find insight and direction to identify practical means to reach their goals. The coach guides and supports the client’s planned, intentional, and purposeful action toward achievement.

Coaching clients are ready, willing, and able to do the work inherent in the coaching process. They are committed to achieving the outcomes they seek.

What is evidence-based coaching?

I offer behavioral science expertise developed through doctoral-level research and study. My training and coaching interventions are supported by coaching-specific and coaching-relevant research from the psychology, education, management, and business literature.

Coaching vs. Therapy

Coaches and therapists share a common goal – to enhance well-being and outcomes for those they serve. Some therapists are also coaches. Some coaches are also therapists. Deciding which is the best fit for the client depends on their current state of functioning and their needs and goals. Keep in mind, the same client may work with a therapist and a coach to address different needs and goals - if the client's clinical issue is well-managed. The therapist may work with the client to address the clinical issue, such as depression, while the coach works with the client around goals that matter to ongoing progress, such as finding clarity around job or career direction or improving academic performance. Here’s an overview of the primary differences:

Functioning on the Wellness Continuum

A therapist friend of mine, Jason Hughes, used the best explanation I've found to distinguish a therapy patient from a coaching client. Think of wellness on a continuum with the mid-point as 0 representing normal functioning. Negative numbers are to the left of 0 and represent dysfunction. Positive numbers are to the right of 0 and represent thriving. Therapy addresses dysfunction with the goal of bringing clients back to normal functioning (0). Coaching takes functional clients from 0 into positive numbers to thriving.

Coaches help clients take a proactive role in their lives, to begin setting and working toward goals to learn to thrive by doing, because we all hit setbacks in life. If we accept just okay (normal functioning) we remain consistently at-risk of falling into dysfunction and dependence. If we remain proactive, working toward thriving (positive numbers) and hit setbacks we’re still better than okay. We’re also better equipped to bounce back and continue the forward momentum.

Client's Needs


  • The patient is struggling with dysfunction related to psychological issues, concerns, or symptoms that interfere with daily tasks.
  • The patient needs help coping, alleviating pain, or distress related to trauma, disorders, or illness.
  • The patient wants to work through the problems and get back to normalcy
  • The patient is looking for a mental health professional to help them overcome and live well again.


  • The client is functional and does fine with daily tasks.
  • The client is considered psychologically normal and copes well enough.
  • The client wants to be better, grow, or set and achieve higher goals.
  • The client wants to improve performance, relationships, or life satisfaction.
  • The client is looking for a success partner to help facilitate the next level of growth, advancement, or change.

Intervention Approach


  • Past, present, and future focused
  • Problem-or solution-focused, it varies
  • Can be strength-based, it varies
  • The therapist may use a directive approach - telling, advising, sharing opinions, giving solutions
  • The therapist is viewed as the expert to help resolve or process what’s wrong
  • Psychological testing, diagnosis, and treatment


  • Present and future focused
  • Solution-focused and action-oriented
  • Strength-based
  • Coaching is a non-directive approach - listening, inquiring, reflecting, and supporting clients as they develop their own solutions
  • The coach facilitates the client’s progress, growth, and resourcefulness
  • The coach helps the client build awareness and competencies. No diagnosing or treating.

We promote thriving together

Therapists often refer clients to coaches as a next level of support. Therapists help clients get back to normalcy and begin moving onto thriving. Coaches can pick up the work from there to support clients as they continue to set and achieve meaningful goals and build skills for ongoing success.

Life Coaching for High Risk Youth

Desistance and Positive Reform Coaching for Young People Transitioning Away From Problem Behavior – Encompasses Life, Academic, & Career Coaching

I developed the DPR Coaching program through formal research to understand how young people involved in delinquency transitioned from offender to non-offender and successful pro-social adulthood. It is designed to support clients as they work through each of the domains found to be essential to success. This program is ideal for teens or young adults transitioning away from delinquency toward positive reform, or those reintegrating from juvenile justice systems.

Coaching plans are tailored to the client’s needs and goals and guided by the following objectives

1. To introduce participants to the Shift coaching model and train them to apply associated life skills –

  • Self-determined motivation and commitment to change
  • Sense of agency and power to choose and act toward desired goals
  • Self-regulation and self-development
  • Identifying and pursuing structural supports (e.g. education, jobs, positive social relationships, etc.)
  • Altering social capital toward relationships conducive to positive change goals and away from those that may threaten efforts toward positive change
  • Immersing and adapting to the chosen structural supports
  • Identifying and leveraging meaning and purpose beyond self and beyond desistance

2. To understand how to be successful on the road toward positive change.
3. To learn to leverage personal strengths and traits conducive to positive change goals and refrain from using those that may threaten positive change goals.
4. To identify life direction and set and pursue goals in line with that direction.
5. To develop the skills necessary to enhance chances of success.

What is the difference between Career Coaching and Life Coaching?

A career coach can help you design a career plan to reach your goals and enhance your well-being at work. From discovering different career paths to making choices that fit your desired trajectory. Many people believe that career coaches are only meant for executive level leaders, but this isn’t true. Career coaches are a great fit for workers who are unsure about what they want to do next, those lacking motivation or engagement, or even recent graduates who need guidance on finding a path that fits for them.

While a career coach will help you achieve job-related goals, a life coach will focus on your personal goals. Life coaches help their clients determine which changes they want to make in their lives, and then help formulate the steps clients need to take to reach these personal goals. Life coaching often involves becoming very aware of how your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors contribute to your satisfaction or dissatisfaction, although life coaches are not therapists.

Career coaching is a more narrowed focus on your work-life for a shorter period of time, and life coaching is a broader focus on your overall quality of life typically for a longer period of time. Either coaching client’s goals or plans may change as they reach different levels of awareness and intention in their lives. Since I offer both services, most of my career coaching work with clients takes a more integrative approach to enhance overall well-being in the process of addressing work-related goals.

Let’s look at what exactly an academic life coach does.

As an academic life coach, I work with my students outside of their school setting. I help them reduce toxic stress and increase their effectiveness and confidence in their approaches to learning. All my coaching clients are eased through a variety of topics to enhance their academic effectiveness. Those topics usually include motivation, commitment, capacity, strategy, time management, prioritization, goal setting, striving, and achievement. They’ll learn to intentionally move themselves through higher levels of academic self-regulation by conditioning constructive habits for achievement and well-being in the process.

Like a tutor, academic life coaches work with a student throughout the semester. Unlike a tutor, who focuses on teaching a single content area, an academic life coach focuses on learning habits across all content areas, focusing on habits, study routines and learning strategies to help the student troubleshoot and enhance their own learning. Often the strategies we put in place are useful across ALL subjects and life domains, well beyond the specific subject(s) the student thinks they need support in.