You Need A Therapist Or A Coach? The Differences Between Therapy
And Coaching And How To Know Which Professional You Should Choose.
This article describes 23 differences
between coaches and therapists with regard to their training, background,
focus and philosophy so you can decide which professional you need
to hire to advance your goals. In addition, there are nine warning
signals of how to tell if you may need a therapist, not a coach.
Do You Need A Therapist Or A Coach?
The Differences Between Therapy And Coaching
How To Know Which Professional You Should Choose
Bill Cole, MS, MA
Founder and CEO
William B. Cole Consultants
Silicon Valley, California
The primary focus of the disciplines of therapy
and coaching differ dramatically from the very way they are defined.
The definition of coaching from the Father of American Life Coaching
at Coach University, Thomas Leonard: "Client and coach become a
team, focusing on the client's goals and needs and accomplishing
more than the client would alone." The definition of psychiatry,
from Merriam-Webster: The branch of medicine that deals with mental,
emotional, or behavioral disorders.
Which definition appeals more to you?
Your motivations for seeking assistance from a therapist or coach
determine which one would be best suited for you. Each has a very
specific world-view with which you want to align yourself.
I used to be a psychotherapist and now I am a coach. I was trained
as a mental health professional and also as a professional coach.
In addition to my coaching practice I train and certify coaches
worldwide as President of the International
Mental Game Coaching Association. I prefer the coaching model
over the medical model, for my work. However, therapy is the correct
choice if that is what you need. If you need a coach a therapist
won't do. Each profession has capabilities the other does not have.
This article helps you see the differences between coaches and therapists
with regard to their training, background, focus and philosophy
so you can decide which professional you need to hire to advance
your goals. In addition, I also include nine warning signals of
how to tell if you may need a therapist, not a coach.
Commonalities Between Therapists and Coaches
Coaching and therapy share some common ways of
working, including even some specific techniques and methodologies.
There are many schools of thought, philosophies and approaches in
the each of these worlds, and this article will purposely be slightly
broad and sweeping in comparing therapy and coaching so you can
see the main differences.
Here are some of the various coaching professionals you could hire:
- Peak Performance Coach
- Personal Coach
- Life Planning Coach
- Executive Coach
- Leadership Development Coach
- Career Coach
- Business Coach
- Entrepreneurial Coach
- Financial / Wealth Coach
- Health Coach
Here are some of the various therapy professionals
you could hire:
- Clinical Psychologist
- Mental Health Counselor
- Marriage Family Therapist (MFT)
- Clinical Social Worker
- Professional Clinical Counselor
Both coaching and therapy professionals wear
a wide range of hats as they work. Even though they may operate
within a few primary modes, they should be able to seamlessly shift
between these ways of being with their clients as a helping professional
and change agent:
- Process Expert
- Content Expert
Both therapists and coaches usually strive to
create a client centered, collaborative partnership. They both form
a trusting, respectful relationship that fosters deep listening
and active communication.
They both believe that clients can best find their own unique solutions
to issues, rather than having them come from someone else. Both
use questions that raise personal awareness and increase personal
Both therapists and coaches ascribe to high ethical
and professional standards. Both place the needs of their clients
first, above their own. Both operate on the principle of confidentiality.
Both strive to practice only within the scope of their training
and effectiveness, and know when to refer a client to another professional.
How Therapists and Coaches Differ
Keeping in mind that contrasting lists such as
these can be overly sweeping, and not entirely explanatory of the
subtleties that exist, here are some of the differences between
coaching and therapy.
- COACHING is an educational, discovery-based process of
THERAPY is based on the medical model that says people
have psychiatric maladies that need to be repaired.
- COACHING focuses on self-exploration, self-knowledge,
professional development, performance enhancement and better self-management.
THERAPY seeks to heal emotional wounds.
- COACHING takes clients to the highest levels of performance
and life satisfaction.
THERAPY seeks to bring clients from a dysfunctional place
to a healthy functioning level.
- COACHING rarely asks about your childhood or family
THERAPY continuously explores early-childhood, family and
- COACHING uses the terms blockages and obstructions to
denote what needs to be removed.
THERAPY uses the term "pathology" to describe the "patient's"
- COACHING focuses more on the present and future.
THERAPY focuses more on the past and present.
- COACHING advances the client's potential.
THERAPY "cures" the patient.
- COACHING is used by people who already are succeeding,
but who want to succeed even more and at a faster rate.
THERAPY is used by people whose lives are not working.
- COACHING focuses more on thoughts and behavior and how
the client acts and thinks about things.
THERAPY focuses more on emotions and how the client feels
- COACHING comes out of the human potential movement and
the performance world.
THERAPY has its roots in the medical model.
- COACHING focuses on solving problems in the now.
THERAPY explores the historical roots of problems.
- COACHING works with the client's conscious mind.
THERAPY focuses on bringing the patient's unconscious mind
- COACHING focuses on creating the future.
THERAPY seeks to heal the past.
- COACHING seeks to bring more power, control and joy
to the client.
THERAPY seeks to remove the client's pain.
- COACHING assumes a co-equal partnership between coach
THERAPY assumes the therapist to be more of the expert,
and in control.
- COACHING has strategies and objectives.
THERAPY has a treatment plan.
- COACHING asks "What is next?"
THERAPY asks "Why"?
- COACHING helps clients design their lives.
THERAPY resolves issues.
- COACHING takes an active, energetic approach.
THERAPY takes a more passive, reflective, background approach.
- COACHING focuses on what is possible.
THERAPY focuses on what is the problem.
- COACHING is goal-oriented, solution-focused and results
THERAPY mainly seeks to increase patient insight, yet some
therapists are solution-focused.
- COACHING may also utilize feedback from bosses, peers
THERAPY usually involves only the patient and therapist.
- COACHING takes the client from where they are and helps
them move forward.
THERAPY examines unfinished emotional business from all
stages of life.
You can see that coaching essentially assumes
that the client is OK, and is full of potential, whereas therapy
assumes the client is "sick" or "dysfunctional" and seeks to heal
them so they function "normally".
Nine Signs That You May Need A Therapist, Not A Coach
One major way to help you decide if you need
a coach vs. a therapist is how you view what motivates you to engage
one of these professionals. Do you mainly seek to resolve something
you sense is wrong so you can become a more normally functioning
person? If so, you probably need a therapist. On the other hand,
if you feel OK or fine, but instead want to improve or enhance something
or add capabilities and functionalities, then a coach is probably
a better choice. Here are nine warning signals that tell you a therapist
is more suitable for your needs at this time.
- You spend lots of time in each coaching session ventilating
about negative emotions and stressful situations in your life.
- You tend to be rather emotionally brittle and easily set off.
- You become defensive or overly sensitive to constructive criticism.
- You have fears or phobias that seem extreme and resistant to
- You can't seem to make progress on your issues and keep coming
back to the same themes that keep you stuck.
- You avoid talking about certain issues, out of fear, embarrassment
or shame, or poor attentional control.
- Your coach expresses frustration that you won't properly do
homework, follow-through or speak openly about certain issues.
- You believe you have depression, severe anxiety, or addiction
- You have a strong personal reaction to your coach, negative
or positive, which gets in the way of the working relationship.
I said at the outset that this article would
have some striking overgeneralizations, for the purpose of illustrating
the main differences between coaching and therapy. In this short
article it is not ideal to characterize both professions in such
stark contrast. But now I think you have a clearer picture in your
mind of the ways each profession views the world, their clients,
and the process and preferred outcomes of their work.
I encourage you to do more reading and thinking about these differences
so you can make an informed decision about the best professional
who can help you reach your goals in life.
Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.
Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority
on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and
CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps
organizations and professionals achieve more success in business,
life and sports. He is also the Founder and President of the International
Mental Game Coaching Association (www.mentalgamecoaching.com),
an organization dedicated to advancing the research, development,
professionalism and growth of mental game coaching worldwide. He
is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school
alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author
and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league
pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For
a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments
visit him at www.MentalGameCoach.com.
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