What’s the difference between therapy and coaching?
First, here’s what’s similar: Both therapist and coach LISTEN without judgement. Ideally, both help a client come to their own best conclusions and decisions. Both may offer a different perspective on a given topic that the client hasn’t thought of. Neither will be directive unless the client expressly asks – and even then will offer options.
Here’s how they’re different: Therapists are like archaeologists. They help the client dig in the past but only in service to the present and the future. They help bring events, traumas, false beliefs, memories and repressed feelings to the surface to be touched, held examined, classified, and then stored appropriately. Therapists help clients learn coping skills and strategies to manage anything that may come up at the “dig” no matter how painful. The purpose of this is to become conscious of the inner dynamics that may be driving mood, behavior, reactions and decisions – and to use the energy that becomes available when long buried emotions are released. Also, therapists help teach clients new approaches and responses triggers and challenges.
Coaches are like architects. No digging for long buried bones. Maybe a little digging to start a foundation of something new. Coaches help clients identify goals, be they personal or professional, make a plan to achieve those goals, identify obstacles ( in the enviroment or within the client) and come up with ways to overcome them – and most importantly, help hold the client accountable for each step toward their goal. This is valuable for a number of reasons. One, just talking through a possible idea with someone who has no personal interest in the decision or outcome can, all by itself, lead to clarity. Two, if the coaching relationship is taken seriously, it is very helpful to have someone to answer to and be accountable to. There are as many types of coaches as there are specialties in counseling and psychotherapy. Health and fitness coaches, relationship coaches, sobriety coaches, life coaches, career coaches, executive coaches. Many large corporations require middle managers to have an executive coach.
Another analogy: a psychotherapist is like a physical therapist getting you back to good health – a life coach is like a marathon coach, helping you win the race. Which do you need?