In business and in my personal life, if there’s coaching available for a new thing I’m trying, I’m all over it! I love the accountability. A coach can keep me focused and help me set goals just outside my comfort zone. In the past, I’ve also had therapy when I’ve wanted to understand myself better or soften psychological distress or upset. There’s a lot of overlap between the two. Both can make you happier and mentally healthier and improve your life. However, there are some key differences and certain situations where one is more appropriate than other. Hopefully, this post will help you figure out which one is right for you.
So, What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Therapy?
Let’s start with some definitions…
Coaching is a form of development in which an experienced person, called a coach, supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance. Coaching involves the belief that the individual has the answers to their own problems within them.
Therapy is a treatment intended to relieve or heal discomfort or a disorder. Therapists are licensed mental health professionals who specialise in helping clients develop better cognitive and emotional skills, reduce symptoms of mental illness, and cope with various life challenges to improve their lives.
Coaching started in the world of sports. Every top athlete has a coach. In the last few years, coaching has extended its reach and become applicable in almost every area of life. There’s a coach for everything these days – business, wellbeing, confidence, personal fitness… the list goes on.
The aim of working with a coach is to maximise your performance in a certain area and achieve your potential. It is goal focused and about helping you learn rather than being taught or told. Coaches don’t necessarily need to be an expert in the field. That would be a mentor – someone who has gone before you and can teach you what you need to know.
Like therapy, coaching is a partnership. However, it tends to be more informal. A coach should make you feel inspired and motivated. It’s their job to help you achieve your personal best and produce the results you want in your personal and/or professional lives.
Bear in mind, anyone can call themselves a coach without any training or experience, so do some research before deciding who to work with.
Therapy is a treatment. Its aim is to help you feel better and stronger, to help you heal and recover from psychological distress, trauma or a diagnosed mental health problem such as depression or anxiety. However, you do not have to have a formal diagnosis to receive therapy. Some people have therapy, especially CBT, to help them understand how their mind works. Our thoughts impact how we feel and what we do. They create the world we live in, so managing your mind can change your world.
Therapy deals with mental health. Coaching deals with mental growth. The motive for entering therapy is usually to get away from pain or discomfort, rather than moving towards desired goals. Therapy is more likely to involve understanding and working with past experience than coaching.
The therapeutic alliance you have with your therapist is part of the treatment process. As such there are therapeutic boundaries, a therapy contract and the relationship is more formal than you would have with a coach.
In general, therapists will have formal training and be accredited in their field. However, this isn’t always the case and caution is required. If in doubt, you can talk to your GP who can help you understand the different pathways to having therapy and the different types of therapy available. Unfortunately, there are therapists who say they offer CBT when they are not adequately trained. You can learn more about how to choose a qualified CBT therapist here.