Coaching vs. Therapy: What's the difference, and which do you need?
This is absolutely more confusing than it should be, especially since (a) the requirements to use the title "therapist" can vary by where you live, and (b) all sorts of people are calling themselves a "coach" nowadays.
There's no one right answer, but here's my opinion in brief:
A psychological therapist is licensed, and they've attended a full Master's-level program in that field. Licensing is a rigorous process that takes a significant amount of time and energy, and it equips therapists to deal with more clinical-level disorders and complex trauma.
Within the realm of psychological therapy, other professions include: psychiatrists, who have a medical degree and can prescribe medications, and psychologists, who have a doctoral degree in psychology and can fully evaluate and treat mental disorders. I am none of those.
A counselor is someone who has completed training in one of many psychology-related modalities. They're able to hold space for a client to help them through a variety of challenges. But, counselors have a more limited scope of practice.
The term "counselor" is less legally regulated, so be sure to properly research a prospective counselor to see what kind of training they have. In my case, I completed a two-year comprehensive training program in counseling at the M.E.T.A. Hakomi Institute of Oregon. You can read more about that on my Coaching Info page.
A coach (e.g., a life coach, executive coach, etc.) is focused not only on supporting you in the moment, but on helping you achieve your goals and guiding you to a place of greater fulfillment in your life. A good coach will be able to imagine a "future version of you" that feels possible to achieve, and they'll regularly challenge the limiting beliefs and stories you have in your head to help you reach that place.
Some coaches specialize in things like productivity, time management, finding your ideal career, building your business, and many other areas. You can read more about my specialties on my Coaching Info page.
The word "coach" is the least regulated of all of these, so please be especially careful with researching a coach's training, style, and experience. In my case, I completed the Co-Active Coaching training program at the Co-Active Training Institute in San Francisco, commonly considered to be the most rigorous and respected program in the industry (and the one most trusted by Fortune 500 executives).
So, what do you need?
My passion is to provide service at the intersection of coaching and counseling.
I generally focus on the coaching side, but I'll pull in other techniques depending on the agreement I've set with the client, what they're wanting from a session, and what I know about their unique background.
- My coaching approach is more focused on where you want to go, how you want to feel, and overcoming what's been stopping you from getting there. If it seems helpful, I might also take on more of a "consultant" or "mentor" perspective where I offer specific advice or invite you to try some experiments.
- My counseling approach is more focused on helping you get really present in the moment so that we can explore what's happening for you, trace that back to old beliefs, and help you find your own revised perspectives.
What's my style?
As you can probably gather, I'm not a drill-sergeant type coach. If you want someone who's hyper-focused on pushing you hard and holding you accountable to rigid goals, I'm not the person for you.
Instead, people tend to describe me as:
- Powerfully present, grounded, steady, and committed
- Relatable and non-judgmental
- Inclusive, and able to see and represent a variety of perspectives
- Highly-logical and sharp, but also highly-empathetic, sensitive, and emotionally intelligent
- Holding an almost piercing level of focus on the client, but through a lens of compassion, kindness, and possibility
Sound like a good fit for you?
If you're still having trouble deciding what type of person you need: Which of these challenges resonate most with you right now?
- Getting closer to your life purpose
- Feeling happier or more fulfilled
- Advancing your career
- Making friends or finding a partner
- Improving your relationships
You’re looking less for a counselor and more for a coach to help you better define or move toward your purpose in life.
Maybe you’re unhappy with your career or your relationships. Maybe you feel lonely and disconnected. Maybe you like your job but you feel like you’re stagnating for some reason.
I can probably help you.
PROFESSIONAL GROWTH, HIGH PERFORMANCE
- Improving your soft skills and how you navigate politics at work
- Navigating impostor syndrome
- Expanding your business
- Becoming a better people manager
- Growing into a courageous, resilient, emotionally-intelligent leader
If you’re looking for a “high-performance”-type coach to turn your business around, give you insider tips to optimize your sales funnels and SEO, or learn "psychological hacks" to get ahead, then I’m probably not the right guy for you. There are all sorts of people who will happily take you through their programs.
That said, I do regularly help leaders at some of the top companies in the world.
I can probably help you.
But, it won't be a quick fix. You'll need to take the time to slow down, really get to know yourself, and build your emotional intelligence. If all goes well, that should ultimately lead to improved performance in your work too (or to seeking out a different path!).
MILD MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
- Getting support with personal growth issues such as happiness and fulfillment
- You regularly experience mild depressive thoughts or a general sense of stuckness
- Or, you regularly experience mild anxious thoughts or a general sense of overwhelm
You regularly deal with challenging feelings like depressive or anxious thoughts, but you’re mostly able to move through life in a way where that part of you isn’t highly visible to others.
Maybe you’ve considered seeing a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist but it doesn't feel right for you. Or maybe you’ve seen one and you’re wanting a different perspective that feels less clinical or traditionally Western. Maybe you're happily seeing a psychologist and you'd like a coach as well.
I can probably help you. (Also, I have many clients who choose to see me as well as a psychotherapist since we each provide a different perspective and set of tools.)
MORE SEVERE MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
- You're dealing with one or more clinically-diagnosed disorders
- You have significant trauma in your past
If you're dealing with a mild form of a diagnosed condition such as depression, I might be able to help you, but we'd have to talk about it and see if we both felt comfortable working within some limitations of scope.
Otherwise, I'm not the right fit for you if you’re dealing with serious psychological disorders or trauma responses that regularly have a major effect on your life and make it hard to function.
I don’t know what your specific situation is, but I have close friends who have dealt with challenges like this and I empathize with you.
I recommend looking for a therapist on Psychology Today. I also recognize how daunting that can be, particularly if you lack insurance or face other financial constraints. There’s no easy solution, so I just want to acknowledge that reality and say that I feel compassion for you.
This is outside my scope of practice.