The difference between coaching and therapy

With the growth in life coaches, wellness coaches, mindset coaches, basically coaching as a profession and its offer to improve people’s quality of living, it is important for you to know how coaching is different from therapy and what it will involve before you decide which is the right way forward for you.

Which one is right for you will depend on what you want to change and what experiences you have been through. While I’m no expert on every form of psychological therapy out there, I have an academic grasp on several mainstream ones and have been a client myself in two well know forms of therapy. Also, I’m a psychologist and coaching and hold relevant qualifications and training in both.

I had weekly 1-2-1 psychoanalytical counselling for just over 2 years. Then, in 2018, I had cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for 8 weeks. Also, in the past 7 years, I have worked with 3 different coaches. I intend to continue to engage with coaching and or other therapies in the future depending on what I need. Each experience of the above was positive for me but they didn’t do the same thing for me. I had a different experience during each process and grow differently through these. Each one of these has a different goal so it is not as relevant to try to judge which one is better because it’s not about that, it’s about what you are looking to shift within yourself to which one will be the most appropriate.

Here’s my summary of how coaching is different to therapy based on my personal experience and professional expertise:

The counselling focused on my family relationships, childhood experiences and exploring my thoughts and feelings related to the big life events and situations that I was willing to discuss with my therapist. There was no end goal discussed or a time frame for this counselling. It was 100% on my terms, if I sat in silence for half the session then that is what happened without any questioning from my therapist. I was able to release some emotional hurts and pains through this form of talking therapy. The therapist did not offer alternative viewpoints or challenge my way of thinking. He was there to validate me and my experience and that was time well spent for me. I experienced an emotional shift towards my past which helped me nurture the big relationships better after those counselling sessions.

When I started the CBT process, the theme was my current ay of thinking and how I had faulty and unhelpful beliefs about myself which impacted my self-belief and confidence. Without discussing past experiences, the therapist encouraged me to test out how true these beliefs really were and if they weren’t how could I replace them with more balanced, true beliefs. Keeping a thought diary and doing other activities was part of my weekly homework. I finished my CBT stint with a deep understanding that my thoughts are not always facts and we are not to believe everything we think! I also now had practical strategies for changing my thinking whenever I found my self over thinking in a negative way.

Coaching is like CBT in that the client will have work to do outside of the sessions which means commitment to the process is required. Coaching & CBT is not as simple as showing up on time for sessions which is how I found the counselling experience. However, coaching is more focused on the changes the coachee wants to make in order to live more how they want to. And the topics and themes for sessions are limitless. For example; client wants to work on how to handle the hassles of negotiating with their divorced spouse the upcoming holiday period, or they want to get promoted at work though improving their work mindset, or to figure the best morning routine that enables all of their family to remain calm as they get ready for the busy school and work day ahead. All this can be worked though in coaching as well as much, much more.

Within the coaching conversations the focus is on you in the here and now, your options for shifting yourself to a more desired state or situation. Whereas, CBT the goal is to change the thinking patterns and may not involve any consideration of other options for creating a positive change in one’s life.

The bonus of coaching is that the coach can bring in their expertise from a range of psychological areas, for example they can have mindfulness training and work with coachees on the options of using that to achieve some personal goals. Or like me they may be a chartered psychologist so they bring in tools studied as part of degrees, post graduate programmes such as cognitive psychology, positive psychology tools. Equally with the broad definition coaching, other useful strategies can be explored for example I offer NLP if suitable within the coaching experience.

However, I must also recognise that it is not clear why coaching and other forms of therapy work fully. And of course, there will be times when they won’t work for people (usually because they are engaging in one that is not the right one for them at that time in their life).

Some researchers and academics acknowledge that many studies into the effectiveness of different therapies can be prone to the placebo effect. Which means that it is not the actual intervention itself that is enhancing the person’s life, it is their belief in the intervention that is enhancing their life. However, while this is difficult to test properly, I think – does it really matter? If the client is experiencing a better quality of life and feels better within themselves, isn’t that a positive for them?

And equally it is recognised in some effectiveness studies that it may not be the specifics of the therapy/coaching that are leading to the positive changes, it is simply that the client is reaping the benefits of having another person’s full attention for a set amount of time where the client is listened to and met with compassion and no judgement. Don’t we all benefit from spending time and deepening our connections with others?

So back to the focus of this article, which one is right for you? I suggest you do your own research and you talk it through with others. It may be relevant to discuss what options are open to you with your GP. Or make the most of the free exploration chats many therapists and coaches as this will help you gain a better insight into what they can offer you. But if any of the above resonates with you, then one thing I definitely want you to do is to give one of them a go, because that is the only way you will really find out what will work for you.


And if you liked this article, then follow me on Instagram, LinkedIn and like my Facebook page: Helen Neary Coaching. You will find more blogs and one that is more detailed on what is NLP and how it works in coaching, on my website: https://www.helennearycoaching.com/ and contact me on helen@helennearycoaching.com for a free 30 minute session to give you more clarity about coaching and how it could give you positive change in your life. In the meantime, mind yourself.




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