Coaching v therapy

A frequently asked question is: What is the difference between coaching and psychotherapy?

The cliché that therapy focuses on the past while coaching focuses on the present and future is a bit of a myth, as there are forms of therapy, such as CBT, that don’t dwell on the past, and forms of coaching that allow for deeper self-exploration.

This blurred border seems to make not a few people uneasy, as therapists often look down on coaching and, at the same time, feel threatened by its efficacy.

Some coaches, too, like to believe there is a definite boundary. But in fact, there is a big crossover. Schools across the world offer training in therapeutic coaching, and a growing number of psychologists and psychotherapists are choosing to train as coaches.

Another wrong assumption often made about coaching is that it is more ‘directive’ than therapy. In reality, the opposite is true. In training, coaches are told ad nauseam that they mustn’t offer advice.

In essence, coaching and therapy have more in common than what sets them apart: they both provide a non-judgmental space for self-reflection and require the helping professional to be highly self-aware and fully present to their clients. They also share the aim of rendering clients more resilient and helping them move forward in life by identifying what is holding them back. In short, they both want people to be happier!

The most significant difference between the two professions is that coaches are not trained to work with mental health issues such as psychoses or personality disorders. Thus, therapy can involve recovery from a state of dysfunction to one of being functional; whereas coaching is much more about helping healthy individuals achieve their full potential.

However, not all therapy clients are ill; many functioning people seek the help of therapists and psychologists. At the same time, coaching clients aren’t always completely healthy.

As Mark Twain stated:

Let us consider that we are all partially insane. It will explain us to one another; it will unriddle many riddles.

Psychotherapists and psychologists choose to train in coaching often as a result of feeling frustrated with the limitations of traditional psychology – which, for example, tends to overlook the mind-body connection.

Besides, many individuals and firms are more likely to hire a coach than a therapist because, when dealing with functioning people, coaching is widely perceived as being more effective at generating paradigm shifts and transformation.

While coaching as we know it will hopefully never replace therapy altogether, it is a much-needed evolutionary step in the helping professions; and in future, like it or not, the boundary between the two is likely to become even more blurred.


Nico DN • Coaching