What’s the difference between therapy and coaching? Which do I need? If you’re asking these questions, you’re not alone. Therapy has been around for a while, and coaching is a somewhat newer phenomenon. Both can be hugely beneficial—let’s take a look at how they differ.
In general, therapy focuses on the past. In therapy, you look at your history and seek answers about the present. In therapy, we ask: How did I get here? Why did this happen? Therapy is designed to relieve pain, unpleasant symptoms and restore functioning. Therapy is often used to treat depression, anxiety, and recovery from a traumatic life event.
Coaching, on the other hand, focuses on the present and the future. In coaching we acknowledge where we are now, and then ask: Where do I want to go? How do I get there? Coaching helps people identify what their vision is and helps people identify their next steps forward. Ultimately, coaching empowers you to create your own personal fulfillment.
Therapy assumes there is something wrong with your life, your mental health, your relationships or your current way of being.
Coaching assumes you are relatively healthy and adjusted but want help navigating a life transition, visualizing your future and attaining personal or career goals.
Therapy positions the therapist as the expert and the client as the patient. Coaching is a co-creative process, a partnership of equals.
In therapy, the therapist is often seen as responsible for the process, direction and outcome of the treatment. In the coaching relationship, the coach is responsible for the process; the client, for results.
Therapists are bound to federal and state laws and standards of practice regarding diagnosing, confidentiality and therapist-client relationship. These laws are all designed to be protective of clients, but can often be limiting.
Coaching is not bound to the same laws and allows room for a more natural, maybe even informal style of relationship that many people desire. A coach will feel more like a friend, but one who is really professional and focused on your growth—someone who asks the tough questions, but also laughs with you at minor setbacks.
Which is right for me?
Asking yourself what you’re trying to achieve, what kind of process sounds right, and what style of relationship you prefer can help you decide between therapy and coaching. Therapy is, without a doubt, an effective treatment for mental health issues. I believe 100% in its value and benefit for those working through trauma and mental health issues. I have spent the last 18 years providing therapy for many people who needed it.
I also met with a lot of people who didn’t really need mental health treatment, but needed a mentor, a coach—someone to guide them through a challenge and hold them accountable to their life goals. In either case, the important thing is realizing that you’re not happy with your current state, or maybe that you’re not fulfilling your own potential.
I’ve tried therapy before…
Many people seek therapy when they are in distress and then continue on because they need ongoing support for life stuff. Some people return to therapy (sometimes with ambivalence) when what they actually need is someone to help them identify and reach their next stage/goal/dream. Either or both of these options might be right for you. The important thing to come back to is your desired outcome for seeking support. And if you’re not sure, reach out. I’d be happy to talk it through with you.
I hope this helps you understand the difference between therapy and coaching so you can determine whether it’s therapy or coaching that is best for you at this time.