Life Coaching vs. Therapy - What's the Difference?
Coaches and therapists share a common goal – to enhance well-being and outcomes for those they serve. Some therapists are also coaches. Some coaches are also therapists. Deciding which is the best fit for the client depends on their needs and goals. Keep in mind, the same client may work with a therapist and a coach to address different needs and goals. It doesn’t have to be a question of one or the other. Here’s an overview of the primary differences:
Functioning on the Wellness Continuum
Think of wellness on a continuum with the mid-point as 0 representing normal functioning. Negative numbers are to the left of 0 and represent dysfunction. Positive numbers are to the right of 0 and represent thriving. Therapy addresses dysfunction with the goal of bringing clients back to normal functioning (0). Coaching takes functional clients from 0 into positive numbers to thriving.
Coaches help clients take a proactive role in their lives, to begin setting and working toward goals to learn to thrive by doing, because we all hit setbacks in life. If we accept just okay (normal functioning) we remain consistently at-risk of falling into dysfunction and dependence. If we remain proactive, working toward thriving (positive numbers) and hit setbacks we’re still better than okay. We’re also better equipped to bounce back and continue the forward momentum.
The patient is struggling with dysfunction related to psychological issues, concerns, or symptoms that interfere with daily tasks.
The patient needs help coping, alleviating pain, or distress related to trauma, disorders, or illness.
The patient wants to work through the problems and get back to normalcy.
The patient is looking for a mental health professional to help them overcome and live well again.
The client is functional and does fine with daily tasks. The client is considered psychologically normal and copes well enough.
The client wants to be better, grow, or set and achieve higher goals.
The client wants to improve performance, relationships, or life satisfaction.
The client is looking for a success partner to help facilitate the next level of growth, advancement, or change.
Past, present, and/or future focused
Problem-or solution-focused, it varies
Can be strength-based, it varies
The therapist may use a directive approach – telling, advising, sharing opinions, and giving solutions
The therapist is viewed as the expert to help resolve or process what’s wrong
Psychological testing, diagnosis, and treatment
Present and future focused
Solution-focused and action-oriented
Coaching is a non-directive approach – listening, inquiring, reflecting, and supporting clients as they develop their own solutions
The coach facilitates the client’s progress, growth, and resourcefulness
The coach helps the client build awareness and competencies. No diagnosing or treating.
We Promote Thriving Together
Therapists often refer clients to coaches as a next level of support. Therapists help clients get back to normalcy and begin moving onto thriving. Coaches can pick up the work from there to support clients as they continue to set and achieve meaningful goals and build skills for ongoing success.