Ask Judy #6 How are coaching and therapy different?

9 out of 10 potential clients ask this question. And cocktail party guests do too.

It’s an honest question.

Or, as my imaginary Nana used to say (or would if she existed),

“As long as you really want to know the answer, any question is honest.”

If you were a fly on the wall in coaching trainings and mentoring sessions you’d hear coaches offering perspectives on this very same topic. It comes up a lot.


To my mind, the most important difference between coaching and traditional psychotherapy has to do with premises.

Therapists work from the premise that there’s something wrong with you, that it has a name, and a course of treatment.

More detail: psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and MSWs, are trained to identify and diagnose specific problems that can be found in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). They are looking for what’s wrong – for emotional wounds or as the title of the big book says, disorders.  The methods they use to help heal these wounds and to cope with the difficulties that arise from them depends on the school of thought in which they were trained (Gestalt, Freudian, Client Centered, Psycho-Dynamics, Cognitive Behavioral etc.).

Coaches work from a different premise.

You are already healthy. Ta-da.

You may be stuck and unhappy, frustrated and uncomfortable, AND you are capable of accessing what you need in order to move forward within a guiding process provided by the coach.

Life coaching is about moving forward into a better situation. The focus is on possibilities and future goals.

You’re a whole person (obviously). You have feelings, thoughts, sensations; a past, a future, and a now. All of these are present when you work with a coach.

While a good coach (that’s me) knows when it’s useful to look at the past and understands the value of emotion in all aspects of making change, we are not therapists.

9 out 10 people who ask me the question know what therapy is, or have an idea anyway, but are less clear about coaching. They want to be assured that we won’t be spending endless hours reliving their childhoods.

Consider yourself reassured.

Even more about the differences here. Or, leave a comment.


One thought on “Ask Judy #6 How are coaching and therapy different?

  1. Pingback: Therapy, When Is It Over? | My Everyday Psychology

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