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The difference between coaching and therapy

woman lying on sofa with hands on her face whilst therapist makes notes

Are you looking for therapy or coaching?

When thinking about getting help and support you may default to thinking about therapy, although you may have heard people talking about life coaching, parent coaching or other types of coaching.

Coaches help you with personal or professional goals and help people reach their goals a lot quicker than if they were to attempt them alone. A coach would have very similar qualities as a therapist in the sense they would have excellent active listening skills, be able to mirror and reflect back your intentions whilst providing a non judgemental confidential space for you to talk.

A coach may provide more feedback, strategies and guidance then a therapist. So what are some of the key differences between coaching and therapy?

Therapy focuses on mental health coaching focuses on goals

Many people seek out a therapist to help them with their mental health. A therapist can help a person who experiences anxiety, depression, childhood trauma alongside other deeper issues.

A coach would help someone reach their goals. So you may have a goal to be a more calm, patient parent and a parenting coach would work with you to reach your desired outcome.

Everyone can benefit from therapy as many people haven’t asked deeper questions about their childhood. People experiencing mental health problems don’t often realise that many of their childhood experiences contributed to their poor mental health. So for example if someone grew up with emotionally neglectful parents then they are more prone to depression, anxiety, insecure or avoidant attachments as an adult.


woman punching hands in the air at sunrise near a beach

“Knowing Oneself Comes From Attending With Compassionate Curiosity To What Is Happening” – Dr Gabor Maté (Author of Hungry Ghosts)

therapy looks at the past

Therapy is rooted in the past and present. A therapist would help people make sense of their past which would require going back to an old event or delving into childhood experiences. Therapy provides people with an opportunity to look at what is going on inside – emotionally, psychologically and interpersonally.

Therapy can provoke intense emotions as you return to past emotional experiences, patterns and traumas. Working with a therapist helps you look at what beliefs you attached to these experiences and how they have shaped your life.

Therapy is not generally time limited, someone may find themselves working with a therapist for many years as they gently work through their personal issues. Coaching is more short-term and people don’t need as many sessions as they get their desired outcome quicker.

There are many different modalities of therapy from traditional talking therapies, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and Somatic therapy to name a few.

Coaching looks at the present and future

It’s always useful to make sense of past life experiences and how they impact you so a coach may touch upon the past yet doesn’t spend as much time delving into your history as a therapist would.

A coach would find it helpful to understand the limiting beliefs that were formed in childhood to best know how to support you in overcome current limitations.

A coach is more concerned with the present and how to assist you moving forward. Someone working with a coach would have more specific measurable goals than a person who would be having therapy.

woman writing down notes whilst drinking coffee with client

When to see a therapist:

  •  When you experience mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, disassociation, attachment disorders
  • You want to heal from past traumas
  • You need support regulating your emotions
  • You struggle forming deep relationships
  • You having eating disorders or addictions

When to see a coach:

  • When you have goals that you want to achieve
  • When you feel stuck and want to make changes you just don’t know how
  • When you desire a life purpose and meaning but don’t know where to start
  • When you want accountability and support in moving forward
  • When you want a clear road map to facilitate your growth
  • When you feel your life is on autopilot and want to create change
  • When you want to stop unhealthy habits and create new ones
  • When you want to hold yourself accountable