A line in the sand between coaching and therapy
DBT

What’s The Difference Between Coaching and Therapy

Maybe you know there are some barriers between you and a goal you would like to achieve. But you aren’t quite sure how to go about making it happen.

Maybe you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by a challenge in life. But are unable to pinpoint exactly why.

Seeking therapy is a natural, logical step when attempting to change something about your life. But could coaching also be beneficial? 

Check out these six differences to distinguish between coaching and therapy!

venn diagram showing differences and similarities between coaching and therapy

1. Coaching focuses specifically on the future. Therapy may engage with past, present, and/or future.

Therapists are trained to help a client process past trauma, habits, or emotions. When providing guidance or strategies for managing life’s challenges, therapists ask about your history as well as your current emotional state. Coaches specifically focus on encouraging a client to use strategies and systems to change future behavior in order to meet the a task-oriented goal. 

2. Coaching is a refining process. Therapy usually works to redefine parts of the client’s emotions, perception, or understanding of themselves and others.

Coaching uses the skills which clients already possess. Or it introduces new skills and helps to hone them into being more effective and efficient for a specific situation or need. For example, if organization is a struggle, a coach will help tweak and improve systems a client already uses. They may also introduce new skills which fits into the defined limits of an existing system. 

3. Coaching focuses on task-oriented goals. Therapy focuses on mental health.

A coach is trained to help a client achieve task-oriented goals. They do this through introducing strategies, refining skills, and providing encouragement as the client works through a problem or challenge. Coaching can specifically focus on helping clients be more effective in activities of daily living such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, dishes, or even organizing physical space. A coach can help a client navigate through the logistics of how to complete a task. They may suggest systems and ideas about the best way to approach a particular situation.

A therapist is a licensed mental health professional who is trained to help navigate the psyche of a client. They will provide support that will dig deeper into the a client’s mental state. Coaching can be a stand-alone service. However, if there is an emotional barrier in the way of progress, it’s likely that the coach will recommend pairing their services with therapy too.

4. Coaching is about creating systems that work for the client.

Coaching is specific to the needs of the client. They works to find strategies and systems which support them in achieving their task-oriented goals. This could look like a planner calendar for organizing daily tasks, a strategy for fielding emails at work, or a mantra for staying emotionally-regulated during challenging conversations.

Coaching will help you with the logistics, or how to complete the task. Therapy will navigate the reasoning behind why the task is difficult. They will help with the emotional processing what happens before, during, and after completing the task.

5. Coaching usually finishes sooner than therapy.

So long as the client is willing and motivated to implement strategies, a coaching cycle will be relatively short in comparison to therapy. Therapy will likely peel back layers and unearth new emotions to navigate during each session. This means that therapy could last many months, years, or even a lifetime! This doesn’t mean that therapy is more or less effective than coaching. Instead, it sheds light on one of the major differences between the two.

6. Coaching finishes when the task-oriented goal is achieved or when the systems work for future tasks.

That is, of course, unless the client identifies a new task-based goal! Then, the coaching cycle would start again. You set a new goal. You test and implement new strategies or systems for efficacy, until ultimately, that goal is achieved too. In therapy, it is likely that goals may be achieved, but with more of an evolutionary process than a specific, objective goal. Coaching will likely take less time overall, as it’s intention is to be more specific and focused than therapy.

Therapy and coaching are similar in that they put the client’s needs, goals, and aspirations first! Our amazing team of therapists and coaches at MCCC can work together to help you client reach your fullest potential and whichever route you choose. You can be certain that, if you are willing to put in the work, you will see the results you want as you grow into the next chapter in your life. 


About the Author

Executive Functioning Coach, Emily Renda

Emily Renda is an Executive Functioning Coach at Montgomery County Counseling Center. She has a passion for helping others grow. Her background is in education where she was able to create positive change for students both educationally and emotionally. She is certified in universal designed learning. This means she is a pro at tailoring a client’s learning style to their needs. Emily is currently accepting coaching clients online.


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