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Therapy? Coaching? Both? posted Apr 17, 2018


So you think you might need therapy, but you’re thinking getting a coach might not be as deep. Meaning, people are less likely to think you’re crazy. How about “you” are less likely to think you’re crazy. Because no one else has to know. Well, let me help you out with this quandary. In this very short, to the point, crystal clear article, I’m going to clear all of this up for you. This is what you can expect for your free-time: I am going to share with you the differences between coaching and therapy and help you figure out which direction you should go. Repeat, this article helps you decide which is best for you, NOT tell you which one to choose Here goes.

Same Difference
Both therapy and coaching are goal-oriented or driven. The first order of business is sharing with the professional what you what to change. The goal is why you’re there. You’ve tried to fix the “thing” and you can’t so you seek professional help to help you achieve the goal of fixing the thing. It could be getting over begin shy or learning to relax when you’re in public places. 
Naming, specifically, your goal is the most important aspect of both therapy and coaching. Remember the more specific your goal is the better your journey to achieving it. Sometimes the coach or therapist may have to help narrow down your problem so you can work more specifically toward your goal.

Both therapy and coaching may have homework—activities between meetings that you do toward achieving goals. Doing things to challenge yourself to overcome being shy like talking to strangers at the market, joining Toast Masters to learn public speaking, or voluntarily telling a joke when hanging with friends are all forms of homework. Depending on the school of thought, your therapist may not make suggestions about what you can do for homework in the above case. Your coach, on the other hand, might provide you with a list of choices. However, there are some therapists that may offer you the same list of “to-do’s.” Then there are therapists who might ask you to pay attention the opportunities to challenge yourself then report back what you did and how it worked. The latter is a more indirect approach.


     Therapy (depending on the therapist’s training) can be direct or indirect. Coaching, however, is more direct, as it’s general goal is to change specific behaviors or attributes—save money, be assertive, lose weight, gain weight, etc. So homework must accompany coaching. Therapy, on the other hand, is mostly talking about these things with the expectation that during the talk the client will have moments of enlightenment that will help them achieve the same goals. This approach is an indirect way of getting the same responses. The direct approach is active doing and the indirect approach is inactive doing so that as the client you are always doing something, but it’s not until you have an epiphany—light-bulb moment-- that you become fully aware of the work you’ve been doing. This is the artistry of therapy. Of course, there are therapists whose practices mirror coaching. So the following may hold true for this aspect of coaching and therapy:

  • Therapy can be indirect—assumes other mental processes are working
  • Coaching might be more laser sharp because it is active doing
  • Coach has to be more strategic and hands-on 
  • Therapy relies on the client’s latent resources
  • Coaching could be more reliant on the Coach as a motivator

The Problem

     The problem depends on the relationships involved. If it’s just you and your relationship with yourself or something you are trying to achieve that does not directly involve someone else then you need a coach. Period. But if the relationship is between you and another person then you need to see a therapist. Of course, a therapist is trained to help you with all of the above situations, but a coach is NOT NECESSARILY trained or the latter problems that involve other people. There are mostly exceptions, but this the simplest way to explain the difference as it relates to the actual problem. 

How about Both?
 I’m sure you’re ahead of me on this. Can you imagine having both a coach and a therapist for the same problem, right? I see it. You go to your therapist first and talk. But you want more immediate hands-on help with your problem, so you then go to a coach, who is fully charged with helping you get on the change you’re after. Some clients can’t wait for the esoteric epiphany—they want to know right now what to do, they want to follow a set of directions and call it a day. Again there are therapists who work this way as well. But for those of you who can be patient with the therapeutic process—who can go slow and incorporate the two approaches then wait for the expected change,  the crock-pot approach will work well. Neither way is better, it depends on the individual. I’ve come with an even better remedy: "therapeutic coaching." Solution Focused Therapists are famous for this approach. With this win-win situation, you can have your coach and your therapist too.

28850 PointsGold

Dr. Debra LMFT (MT2416)

/ The Relationship Expert / LMFT