Both coaching and therapy are methods for assisting people in bettering their personal and professional lives, yet they differ significantly from one another in several important ways.
The focus and purpose of the interventions, the population they target, the providers’ credentials and licensure, the methodology and approach employed, the rules and standards they must follow, the duration of the treatment, the insurance coverage provided, and the legal protection offered are just a few examples of the differences that may exist. Anyone looking to enhance their well-being should be aware of these variances since it can help them select the strategy that best meets their requirements and objectives.
Head to Head: The 10 Key Differences between Coaching and Therapy
1. Purpose: The main objective for which coaching and psychotherapy are utilized distinguishes them from one another. In general, coaching is used to assist people in achieving certain objectives or enhancing their performance in a particular aspect of their lives, such as their profession or personal growth. Contrarily, psychotherapy is used to assist people in addressing psychological or emotional difficulties, such as mental illness or interpersonal conflicts.
2. Focus: The sessions’ emphasis is another distinction. While psychotherapy frequently focuses on the past, coaching frequently concentrates on the present and future. A therapist will assist the client in comprehending and working through earlier events that may be having an influence on their current circumstances. A coach will assist the client in identifying their objectives and developing a strategy to accomplish them.
3. Approach: Psychotherapy and coaching both use distinct approaches. While psychotherapy is more exploratory and insight-oriented, coaching is often more directive and action-oriented. A therapist will assist a client in exploring their feelings and ideas in order to acquire insight and understanding, whereas a coach will assist a client in setting objectives, developing an action plan, and holding them responsible for attaining those goals.
4. Training: Coaches and therapists require separate education and training. A therapist is normally needed to have a doctorate degree in psychology, counseling, or social work and to be licensed by the state in which they operate. A coach often has experience in business or a related sector.
5. Length of treatment: Coaching often has a shorter duration than psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can run for several months or even years, although some coaching sessions can be completed in as little as a few weeks.
6. Population: Psychotherapy is typically aimed at individuals with mental health issues, while coaching can be used by anyone looking to improve their personal and professional life.
7. Health care: Therapists are considered healthcare practitioners and must hold a license, whereas coaches are not necessarily subject to any state regulation or licensing.
8. Methodology: While coaching frequently employs a more organized, motivating approach, psychotherapy may make use of a range of evidence-based methodologies.
9. Regulation: Therapists must abide by the moral and legal guidelines established by their professional associations, but coaches are not subject to the same regulations.
10. Insurance coverage: Coaching may not be covered by insurance, while psychotherapy frequently is
Let’s expand further on each of these key differences and see how coaching and therapy compare when it comes to certain characteristics of the practice:
Research has backed up the idea that coaching and psychotherapy serve different purposes. According to a research by O’Connell and colleagues (2015), coaching places a greater emphasis on goal achievement and personal growth than psychotherapy does on addressing psychological or emotional problems. Similar to this, Grant and colleagues’ (2016) study found that psychotherapy is more frequently used to help people address mental health issues like depression or anxiety, while coaching is more frequently used to help people improve their performance in a particular area of their lives, like career development.
Additionally, statistics back up this differentiation. Approximately 1 in 5 persons in the United States have mental disease in a given year, and 1 in 25 adults have significant mental illness, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Additionally, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 20% of American adults report having an anxiety condition at some point in the year.
On the other hand, according to the International Coach Federation (ICF), the coaching sector in the US earned over $2 billion in income in 2017 and that the number of professional coaches has been rising quickly in recent years. This shows that coaching is a well-liked and expanding industry that largely focuses on assisting people in achieving particular objectives or enhancing their performance in a particular area of their lives.
The present and future are the main subjects of coaching sessions. Your goals will be easier to define and prepare for with the assistance of a coach. This might be for something as straightforward as getting in shape for the summer or something more complicated like establishing your own business. Your coach will assist you in identifying your goals and creating a strategy to achieve them.
Psychotherapy sessions, on the other hand, emphasize the past. The therapist may assist you in comprehending and resolving earlier events that might be having an effect on your present circumstances. This can be used for emotions like sadness, rage, anxiety, or difficulty getting along with others. The therapist will assist you in comprehending the causes of your feelings as well as suggestions on how to improve them.
This contrast in focus between coaching and therapy has also been supported by research. According to a research by Norcross and colleagues from 2002, coaching frequently concentrates on the present and future whereas psychotherapy frequently concentrates on the past. Similar to this, a research by O’Connell and colleagues (2015) indicated that whereas psychotherapy is largely focused on treating psychological or emotional difficulties relating to the past, coaching is primarily focused on goal accomplishment and personal growth.
When a person wants to make changes in their life, there are two main sorts of aid that they might receive: coaching and therapy. The method employed in the sessions is one of the key distinctions between the two.
Usually, coaching takes a more direct and goal-oriented approach. A coach can assist you in:
- Create achievable, precise, and quantifiable objectives.
- Develop a strategy to carry out those objectives.
- Hold you responsible for executing the strategy and realizing the objectives.
Contrarily, the approach in psychotherapy is usually more exploratory and insight-focused. A therapist can assist you with:
- Recognize and examine your emotions and ideas.
- Gain understanding of the reasons behind your emotions and actions.
- Recognize themes and trends in your life.
This strategy is comparable to embarking on a self-discovery quest. So that you may make adjustments in your life, a therapist will help you better comprehend who you are and what has happened to you.
This contrast between coaching and psychotherapy in terms of strategy has also been validated by research investigations. Grant and colleagues’ (2016) research revealed that although psychotherapy is more exploratory and insight-oriented, coaching is more directive and action-oriented. Similar to this, a research by O’Connell and colleagues (2015) indicated that whereas psychotherapy is generally focused on healing psychological or emotional difficulties, coaching is primarily focused on goal accomplishment and personal growth.
The training and credentials needed for the individual offering the guidance assistance represent another key difference between coaching and therapy.
- A coach often comes from a business or similar background.
- Although it is not usually necessary, some coaches have certification or training in coaching.
- A variety of certification bodies and initiatives are available, including the Professional Coaches and Mentors Association (PCMA) and the International Coach Federation (ICF) (PCMA).
- A graduate degree in psychology, counseling, or social work is often needed for therapists.
- The state where they practice requires them to hold a license.
- State-specific standards for licensure vary, but often involve passing a test and working a predetermined amount of supervised practice hours.
This contrast in training between coaching and psychotherapy has also been highlighted by research. According to a research by O’Connell and colleagues (2015), therapists must hold a license from the state and often have a doctoral degree in psychology, counseling, or social work, whereas coaches frequently have training in business or a related discipline. Similar to therapists in their respective disciplines, coaches are less likely to have formal education and training in coaching, according to a 2016 research by Grant and colleagues.
Length of treatment
The duration of the treatment is one criterion that definitely sets coaching and psychotherapy apart:
- Has a shorter duration than psychotherapy.
- A few weeks is the shortest time that some coaching sessions last.
- Depending on the client’s objectives, it can also take a few months.
- The client’s goal and the amount of progress made toward it are often what define the length of the coaching session.
- Has a long shelf life, sometimes years.
- The intricacy of the issues being addressed and the amount of progress made in addressing them define the length of psychotherapy.
- According to research studies, psychotherapy treatments typically last between 6 and 20 sessions.
According to a research conducted in 2002 by Norcross and colleagues, coaching is often more brief than psychotherapy. Similarly, a research by O’Connell and colleagues (2015) indicated that although psychotherapy is often longer-term and focused on healing psychological or emotional difficulties, coaching is typically shorter-term and focused on particular goals.
Individuals with mental health concerns are often the target audience for psychotherapy, but anybody trying to further their personal or professional life might benefit from coaching. Psychotherapy has been demonstrated to assist with a variety of life’s pressures and conflicts and has been connected to good changes in the brain and body. It has also been associated to improvements in emotions and behaviors, less sick days, reduced disability, fewer medical issues, and more job satisfaction. In addition to other diseases, psychotherapy can be used to treat depression, poor self-esteem, addiction, grief, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Psychotherapy is intended for those with mental health problems:
- those who struggle with emotional issues like anxiety or sadness or who have mental diseases
- people who are having a difficult time adjusting to regular life due to trauma, sickness, or bereavement
- individuals who had psychotherapy and then obtained a diagnosis
Anyone seeking to enhance their personal and professional lives should consider coaching:
- those looking to progress on a personal level
- anyone trying to better their life and well-being, regardless of whether they have a mental health condition or not (coaching sessions can be coupled with therapy sessions)
- People who are struggling in their personal or professional lives.
Therapists are categorized as healthcare professionals, and in order to practice, they must possess a license. They are qualified to identify and treat mental health issues since they have the proper training and certifications.
Conversely, coaches lack the same degree of education or experience as therapists and are not subject to state regulation or licensing. They could offer advice and support, but they can’t treat or diagnose mental health issues.
The distinctions between therapists and coaches in terms of their role as health care providers are outlined in the following checklist:
- medical professionals
- must possess a license
- trained to identify and treat disorders affecting mental health
- not subject to governmental licensing or regulation
- not qualified to identify or treat mental health issues
- giving support and direction without diagnosing or treating mental health issues
Numerous evidence-based techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and psychoanalytic treatments, are frequently included within psychotherapy. Evidence-based treatments (EBTs) cater to the requirements, objectives, and preferences of the person in order to promote mental health and general well-being. Evidence-based psychotherapy aims to only offer therapies that have been demonstrated to be successful while also delivering high-quality, accountable care.
On the other hand, coaching frequently adopts a more organized and motivating approach. Instead of addressing particular mental health disorders, the goal of coaching is often to assist people better their personal and professional life. Coaching is often not guided by the same evidence-based models as psychotherapy, despite the possibility of some overlap with therapeutic treatments. Instead, coaching frequently focuses on assisting individuals in setting and achieving their own unique objectives as well as in creating new habits and abilities to enhance their life.
- Evidence-based techniques: Numerous evidence-based techniques are used in psychotherapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Functional Family Therapy are a few typical examples of evidence-based psychotherapy techniques.
- Each person needs a customized treatment plan, based on the extent of their substance abuse, whether they have a mental illness or have experienced trauma, and other considerations.
- Psychotherapy is used to treat a variety of mental health issues, including addiction, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug use disorders.
- Organized, motivating approach: Compared to psychotherapy, coaching frequently employs a more structured, motivational approach.
- Focus on strengths and positive traits: A strengths-based coaching strategy makes use of the client’s inherent strengths, resilience, and resources to enhance quality of life and lessen bothersome symptoms.
For psychologists, the APA Ethics Code imposes a higher standard of behavior than is mandated by law. If psychologists’ ethical obligations clash with laws, rules, or another controlling legal authority, they must publicly declare their adherence to the Ethics Code and take action to amicably address the issue.
It is crucial for clients seeking therapy to bring up concerns regarding the therapist’s code of ethics at either the initial consultation or therapy sessions. Even though they are working with patients from all over the world, therapists must abide by the legal and moral requirements of the state or nation where they have their license to practice.
As opposed to therapists, coaches are not subject to the same regulations. The same level of regulation that applies to therapy practitioners does not apply to coaching organizations, despite the fact that many of them have ethical codes and standards of behavior.
- legal protection: psychotherapy is subject to legal regulation.
- Focus of regulation: psychotherapy focuses on deeper self-exploration and treating psychological concerns.
- Progress reports: psychotherapy uses progress reports
- Legal protection: Coaching is not subject to legal regulation.
- Focus of regulation: Coaching focuses on goal setting and developing an action plan to accomplish those objectives.
- Progress reports: coaching does not necessarily use progress reports
The National Alliance of Mental Illness claims that one reason psychotherapy may be reimbursed by insurance while coaching may not is the national scarcity of mental health specialists, particularly in some regions of the country. Additionally, because insurance companies do not adequately compensate providers of mental health and drug use therapies, many of them do not accept insurance. There is, nevertheless, some optimism for resolving network adequacy problems.
Coaching: Since it is viewed as a self-improvement or personal development service, it is frequently not covered by insurance.
Psychotherapy: Since it is a mental health treatment, insurance often pays for psychotherapy.
To sum up, there are two separate methods for assisting people in bettering their personal and professional lives: coaching and psychotherapy. While there are some parallels between the two techniques, there are also some significant distinctions. While psychotherapy has a past and current emphasis and is often intended for those with mental health concerns, coaching tends to focus on future goals and objectives and is targeted at anybody trying to better their life. Coaches are not regulated or required to have a license, whereas therapists are considered healthcare practitioners and must.
While coaching utilizes a more solution-focused, goal-oriented approach, psychotherapy involves talk therapy and frequently explores the past to treat pervasive psychological difficulties. Whereas coaching may not be covered by insurance, psychotherapy frequently is, and therapists are required to follow tight ethical and legal guidelines while coaches are not given the same legal safeguards. People may choose wisely when seeking assistance to enhance their lives by being aware of the distinctions between coaching and psychotherapy.
O’Connell, J., Kolt, G., & Wong, P. (2015). Coaching and mentoring: A critical text. Routledge.
Grant, A. M., Curtayne, L., & Burton, D. (2016). Executive coaching for leadership development: An empirical analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(4), 697.
International Coach Federation. (2017). ICF 2017 Global Coaching Study.
Norcross, J. C., Karpiak, C. P., & Lattanzi, K. (2002). The future of psychotherapy: the new alliance. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(3), 261-265.
O’Connell, J., Kolt, G., & Wong, P. (2015). Coaching and mentoring: A critical text. Routledge.
Criddle, W.D. (2007). The transition from therapist to executive coach. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 25, 121-141.
Price, J. (2009). The coaching/therapy boundary in organizational coaching. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 2, 135 – 148.