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  • San Chima

The difference between Coaching and Therapy - Coach vs Therapist?

Updated: Feb 9, 2023

There are a whole bunch of myths around therapy or counselling, and coaching. On one hand you have people arguing that the two disciplines are entirely different. On the other, you have people arguing that they are effectively one and the same thing. However, this puts the individual in a tricky position, it is coach vs therapist? How do you know which service will benefit you most?

I’d argue that, primarily, it comes down to goals and intentions. I also assert that there are differences and that these need to be respected. But there are also similarities. Let’s explore how this works in practice.

Coach vs Therapist

This is where many problems in understanding arise: there are many different types of therapist and counsellors, and there are many different types of coaches. For example, there are differences between CBT counsellors and psychodynamic therapists. And, there are differences between life coaches and business coaches. You aren’t comparing the uniform disciplines.

So, we inevitably have to take a broad approach to discussing the differences and similarities. However, you should also explore which type of coaching or therapy is right for you.

The similarities between coaching and therapy

The most obvious similarity is that both counselling and coaching are about you and both should be non-judgmental. Neither is like a chat with a friend, where there they have their own investment in the relationship, or where you need to balance their needs and reactions with what you say. Having this dedicated time to focus solely on you is incredibly powerful and motivating.

It’s very unlikely that you would make this time for self-focus in your everyday life, without the regularity of a planned and structured session.

Furthermore, both therapists and coaches have the desire to help people. They are both working towards positive change in their client.

The differences between coaching and therapy

For me, the clearest difference comes down to goals. With business coaching, we focus on specific behavioural outcomes. There should be concrete measures of success.

There’s also another very notable difference. Coaches, by and large, offer advice. I am a business coach because I have decades of experience in successful business. I know what works and what doesn’t. Therefore I can, and do, use that expertise to help you shorten the learning curve. A therapist is far less likely to offer advice. Instead, their role is to guide you to come to your own conclusions. That can be a mighty long process to say the least.

A coach is more likely to cut to the chase and pull you up on an issue that’s preventing you reaching your goals. A therapist is more likely to offer you the supportive environment where you can realise those issues on your own.

Depending on the type of therapy, and the type of coaching, there’s another difference. Coaching is more likely to focus on the present and future (achieving goals). Therapy is more likely to focus on the past and present (understanding oneself). It’s important to realise that it’s not black and white.

However, certainly in business coaching, the raison d’être is to identify your business goals and then help you achieve them. Thus, coaching is very specific. You can expect benchmarks and regular check-ins for progress reports. However, in good coaching, you will also look at any limiting beliefs, so that you can scale hurdles which have held you back in the past.

It’s an uncomfortable realisation, but there’s also a stigma to be confronted. Seeking psychotherapy, wrongly, prompts a shame response in society at large. Individuals can be reluctant to seek therapy for fear of being seen as ‘damaged’ or ‘sick’. Coaching doesn’t face this same stigma. Seeking coaching is largely seen as positive, and something to be proud of.

Should I choose coaching or therapy?

Having explored the differences, it is then down to the individual to decide which process is right for them, in their current situation. This is an immensely personal decision and will involve consideration for the type of coaching and therapies on offer.

For a coach, especially a business coach, to be beneficial, you need a baseline of good mental wellbeing. From this baseline, they will help you with strategy and achievement through exploration, encouragement and knowledge. If you need some help to get to that baseline, then therapy is probably more suitable at this time.

Coaching is exceptionally powerful for implementing changes in your life. It can help you scale hurdles and it is supportive. For those in business, coaching can help you to realise business success through a more straightforward route.

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