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, Owner of ChangePoint Counseling, 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

Therapy

  • 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.

Coaching

  • 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

Therapy

  • Past, present, and future focused
  • Problem-or solution-focused, it varies
  • Can be strength-based, it varies
  • The therapist does offer advice, opinions, and solutions
  • The therapist is viewed as the expert to help resolve or process what’s wrong
  • Psychological testing, diagnosis, and treatment

Coaching

  • Present and future focused
  • Solution-focused and action-oriented
  • Strength-based
  • The coach does not offer advice, opinions, or solutions
  • The coach facilitates the client’s progress, growth, and resourcefulness
  • The coach helps the client build competencies and develop their own solutions. 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.