The Difference Between Coaching and Therapy: One Person’s View
I am a licensed Psychologist, and I now hold a certificate in Life Coaching. You can Google “What is the difference between therapy and coaching? And read about it for a week, but here are my thoughts.
In therapy (or psychotherapy, or counseling), the focus tends to be (historically) on problems that are distressing to the client. Because insurance reimbursement is often part of this picture (but even if it’s not) there is an assessment, a diagnosis (typically DSM or ICD), and a treatment plan. Insurance companies look at it like this:
“Something in life hit you in the ass and knocked you down. We will pay, on a limited basis, for you to get back on your feet, back to baseline. If you want to pursue “personal growth” beyond that, that is great, but you’re on your own—we pay for remediation, but not for personal growth.” (One might say that “Personal growth” is where coaching starts.)
Of course personal growth takes place in therapy, but that is the industry model, and human stuff always presents along a continuum, and is almost never black and white.
Coaching (personal, life, executive) is not paid for by insurance, so there is no pressure or need to pretend it is a medical type relationship that requires a diagnosis, and treatment, and all that. I think of it as “Things are pretty good, but I would like them to be better—in fact, I would prefer awesome.” Psychotherapy clients want to go from -3 to +2, while coaching clients want to go from +5 to +9.
Both involve similar relational components and both rely heavily on psychological principles. Therapy is likely to focus more on the past, coaching more on the present and future. Therapy can feel “heavier”, and coaching “lighter”, though no less profound or transformational for that.
The therapy literature talks a lot about the “power differential” in the therapy relationship, and that purported power differential informs the code of ethics for that industry.
According to the coaching literature, coaches strive to create a more egalitarian relationship in which, of course, the coach brings experience, ideas, thoughts, feedback, knowledge of resources, models and authenticity, all of which will help the client. But the coach looks to the client to be the expert in her or his own life. The coach strives to help unleash the as-yet untapped potential of the client, awakening his or her Inner Knower and Inner Fire so that together they can create new possibilities and options for success, wonder, joy, satisfaction in in the client’s life.
Therapy deals with “psychopathology” (indeed, without a psychiatric diagnosis, the insurance companies won’t pay a dime for “treatment.”) Coaching deals with optimizing one’s life, requires no diagnosis, and works completely outside of the insurance company world. (Many people see that as one of the great advantages to coaching over therapy…On the other hand, you pay out of pocket…)
Of course the reality of things is nowhere near as clean cut and distinctive as the above suggests, but I hope you get the general idea. Many therapists will read this and say “But I work for the empowerment of the client, and I also see them as the expert in the room.” Fair enough, but the reality still is that you are seeing people in a model in which a psychiatric diagnosis is necessary, and in doing so, you are participating in an entirely different energetic space. And if you are a private practitioner, not assigning a diagnosis, and working with strengths, one could argue that you are actually coaching, but calling it therapy.
Here is another metaphor for you:
Two bikes are driving down the bike path. One comes around a sharp corner, and loses control and hits a tree, knocking the tire rim out of whack. The second bike avoids the tree but ends up in the bushes.
Both are in some trouble, but the one with the bent rim has to go to the shop for some help with the bent rim, while the other just needs some help getting pulled out of the bushes, and is otherwise ready to keep rolling.
Hey, I’m trying…Much more on this topic soon…