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Podcast: Is Life Coaching the Same as Therapy?

Would you benefit from a therapist or a life coach? What’s the difference? Today, we welcome Dr. Jen Friedman, a consultant and coach with a doctoral degree in psychology, who helps explain the distinction between therapy and coaching. She breaks down the purpose and benefits of each and details which practice could help you the most.

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Guest information for ‘Jen Friedman- Life Coaching Therapy’ Podcast Episode

Dr. Jen Friedman is the founder of JENerate Consulting. She is a consultant and coach who capitalizes on her doctoral degree in psychology and over 20 years of experience in non-profit leadership, mental health, and education to focus on her passions of enabling personal growth, developing leadership, building cohesive teams, and creating effective systems to enhance culture. Jen works with organizations as well as individuals, both locally and across the country. She speaks widely about topics such as growth mindset, brain-based leadership, and emotional intelligence. You can contact her directly at jen@JENerateConsulting.com or check out her websiteTwitter or LinkedIn.

About The Psych Central Podcast Host

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.

Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Jen Friedman- Life Coaching Therapy’ Episode

Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.

Gabe Howard: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of The Psych Central Podcast. Calling into the show today, we have Dr. Jen Friedman, who is the founder of JENerate Consulting. Dr. Friedman is a consultant and coach who capitalizes on her doctoral degree in psychology and over 20 years of experience to help people and organizations develop leadership, build cohesive teams and create effective systems to enhance lives and organizational culture. Jen, welcome to the show.

Dr. Jen Friedman: Thanks for having me, Gabe.

Gabe Howard: I am very excited to have you here because in general, therapy is understood. But life coaching, leadership coaching, just any type of coaching in general is significantly less understood. And in fact, most polls show that people believe that coaching is is just kind of a scam so that untrained, unqualified people can provide therapy. And it’s something that the medical community, the doctors, the therapists, the PhDs, they don’t race to debunk that. Which is why I wanted to have you on the show, because you’re the rare combination of PhD and coach.

Dr. Jen Friedman: Yes, it is misunderstood and I’m happy to provide more clarity for it.

Gabe Howard: Let’s just talk about the differences right out of the bag. What is the difference between traditional therapy and coaching?

Dr. Jen Friedman: So therapy really is focused on helping people heal. People go into therapy because they’re experiencing significant symptoms and significant issues that are interfering with their lives in some way. It might be interfering with their social lives. It might be interfering with their work life, their home life. And they want to fix that. They might have anxiety, depression, which manifests in fears or cognitive distortions. That’s what they want to do in therapy, is fix those things. Whereas in coaching, most people are coming from a point of functional. And they want to transform and become even better and even more productive, even more successful. And they want to be transformed and inspired and focus on that. So they’re not necessarily looking to fix anything. But as a coach, I’m going to meet them where they are and take them even further.

Gabe Howard: Thank you so much for that, Jen. Let’s talk about their similarities because I usually don’t get to ask anybody this question because I’m usually talking to just a therapist or just a coach. So you’re really in a unique position because you provide both to tell us what they have in common, what coaching and therapy really share.

Dr. Jen Friedman: So one of the things that is most obvious is that people will gain insight into themselves in both situations if they’re in therapy. They’re going to gain insight into what kinds of things are really interfering. What kinds of maladaptive coping strategies they’re using? What kinds of issues that are just repetitive bad habits are getting in their way? So they’re developing that insight. And in coaching, people are developing that insight as well into what their strengths are, what their next course of action is to elevate themselves further. And so there’s this unique and common thread of self awareness and self insight. Also, in both of those situations, people are developing connections with their coach or their therapist. Any good therapist, any good coach is developing a real solid partnership with their client. And that is really the basis of any successful experience, is rapport. If you can build good rapport with someone, you’re going to get much farther. Where things are different is that we are really as a coach, again, not looking to fix a person, but meet them where they are and take them to the next level of success and growth in whichever realm they’re looking for. Usually it’s multiple realms like personal and professional.

Gabe Howard: Therapy has a sort of a governing body. There’s licensing, there’s insurance, there’s educational requirements. You can’t just open up a Web page and call yourself a therapist. But over on the coaching side, it really does seem like anybody can just decide, hey, I’m a coach today and boom. Is there training? Is there licensure? How does the general public know that they’re getting a good, honest and safe, we’ll go with safe, coach?

Dr. Jen Friedman: That’s a great question. And there are some collectives that are organizations that have specific rules, regulations, ethics tied to them, the International Coaching Federation ICF is one of those. And people can go through a coaching program and become a certified coach or a master coach. And it will be governed by that body. And then they are responsible for adhering to those specific standards that that organization set forward. Not everybody has to be a certified coach, correct? I think the word coach, because it’s used in so many different ways, you can be a basketball coach,

Gabe Howard: Right.

Dr. Jen Friedman: Very motivating, develop great partnerships with the people you’re coaching, whether it’s kids or professionals. You can be a life coach. You can be a career coach and guide people towards their next career. And so I think the term coach itself, because it’s so widely applied, is really what is confusing to people. And people who are certified by a specific coaching organization don’t necessarily make it to the level of expert coach. So just like any therapist who even though they’re governed by a regulatory body, they may not be a good fit for a person or they may not be a great therapist. They just got the education required in order to meet the criteria of the governing body.

Gabe Howard: Now, from your vantage point, you are qualified, trained and licensed as a therapist and you’re qualified, trained and excelling as a coach, which makes me wonder, why did you choose coaching over therapy?

Dr. Jen Friedman: So I have been working in lots of different arenas for the last 20 years, so I’ve been working in education, in nonprofit leadership, and I’ve been working in different organizations where mindset has been a very compelling theory and applied practice. And I’ve studied Carol Dweck’s work and applied it both to kids and adults. And I find it so compelling. It really aligns more with the coaching model where it’s the ultimate growth mindset. Coaching really focuses on becoming the most powerful use of the term yet where you’re growing into what you will become. You just haven’t gotten there yet. But the hopeful position that you will get there, it’s really focused on empowerment and creating a vision toward the future. I’m really passionate about focusing on people’s strengths. I really believe that everyone operates with underlying assumptions and that their strengths, everyone has them. It’s so important to draw those out of people. Therapy doesn’t always focus on strength, but again, looks to fix different things that people are dealing with and that are getting in their way. Choosing the coaching field really helps me focus more on growth, mindset and people’s strength. Though it’s similar to therapy and you’re empowering people and helping people reframe how they’re doing things, it’s really looking at optimism and positivity more than looking at fixing and maybe what’s broken in a person, because I don’t believe people are always broken. And the majority of the time I don’t think they’re broken. I think we’re not focusing enough on people’s strengths and how much talent they bring to the table. And perhaps if we focused more on how much talent they’re bringing and how many gifts they really have, they’d feel like they were less broken to.

Gabe Howard: I really like everything you said there, and I’m going to kind of ask you the exact same question except from a completely different perspective. Let’s say that you’re an individual and you’ve decided that there is something that you wish to change. Whether you see it as a deficit, whether you see it as just a strength that you can improve on, there is something in your life that you want. So you’re now sitting in front of the Internet and you’re trying to decide if you want a therapist or a coach. How would a person make that decision? Because I imagine that there’s some probably excellent examples of things that coaching is not appropriate for. How can they help tease out when seeking a coach is appropriate versus when seeking a therapist is appropriate?

Dr. Jen Friedman: People have habits and people have routines when they are looking to better themselves, if they really feel like they want to change some habits that perhaps are maladaptive and are again getting in their way, then they may want to look at therapy to change those patterns. We talk in therapy about people repeating and repeating the same patterns until they resolve that. And finally, can break out of those habits and move forward. So if you’re feeling like you have, I don’t know, some monkey on your back and it just keeps getting in the way, you may want to go into therapy to change some of those cognitive distortions, build some different habits and build adaptive coping strategies so that you can be at this neutral, positive point in your life to then benefit perhaps from coaching. But if you’re really ready to imagine the future, to focus on transforming yourself into the person, you want to be calm and you feel like you have the basic skills to be functional and the wherewithal to be hopeful and optimistic, even if you need a partner to help you, and even if you need motivation and inspiration and encouragement and someone to guide you, you’re still operating from that neutral to positive position. That’s when you would choose coaching because you want to make sure that you’re not allowing other things to get in the way of setting the vision for an ideal state as opposed to focusing on the things getting in your way.

Gabe Howard: We’ll be right back after these messages.

Sponsor Message: This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.com. Secure, convenient, and affordable online counseling. Our counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face to face session. Go to BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counseling is right for you. BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral.

Gabe Howard: We’re back discussing the differences between coaching and therapy with Dr. Jen Friedman. One of the things that we hear so often is that some of the coaching is centered around severe and persistent mental illness, like we’ll have a psychosis coach or a bipolar coach or a schizophrenia coach. And these are all coaches that believe that they can help guide you past the symptoms of severe and persistent mental illness like bipolar disorder, psychosis or suicidality, etc. And I know that a lot of our listeners, that’s what really scares them, especially for their loved ones who are, you know, maybe desperate or who are suffering the ill effects of a serious mental illness. And I sort of want to put up an asterisk that everything can be abused. I don’t want anybody to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I just, I don’t want to ignore the fact that we do see some of these things, you know, suffering from depression, hire a get over depression coach to go for a walk in the woods. Can you discuss that whole mentality for a moment?

Dr. Jen Friedman: Yes. Because I think that is scary when you’re dealing with severe and persistent mental illness. You really have to have a trained person who understands the neurophysiology of that illness. You have to have an education about the effective and research based treatments that work best for people with those specific illnesses. You know, there has been research on schizophrenia for decades speaking to how social systems and dealing with those systems and with the thought distortions, those things have to be addressed. You can’t just coach someone out of hallucinations and delusions unless the person you’re working with is highly skilled and trained in that specific disorder. You can’t just coach a person out. Those aren’t habits. It’s not like somebody chose to be a certain way or decided they were going to have a hallucination or, you know, not be able to get to work the next day because they were so severely depressed. These things come from genetics and an issue in our bodies and in our brains. That’s not our fault. And that, again, a skilled person has to know the most effective strategies to use in order to get that client over the hump and to be more functional. So whether it’s cognitive behavioral therapy or even psychodynamic therapy, any implementation has to be based in research. And the research in psychology and mental illness has been going on for 100 years. We have to be educated and use that to help that person be as successful as possible.

Gabe Howard: I really appreciate all of that and thank you for saying that, I just, I know that in times of desperation, it’s easy to seek out what appears to be a simple answer, and unfortunately, especially when it comes to serious and persistent mental illness, it’s not simple. I understand how enticing it can be. You know, when I see some of those ads on the Internet, they just always make me shake my head. So thank you for addressing that.

Dr. Jen Friedman: Of course, and also, you know, psychopharmaceuticals have come such a long way. And psychologists and other therapists are trained in the effects of those and can work closely with a psychiatrist to give the person that multiple benefit of those two professionals who know what they’re doing. And a coach that isn’t trained and that can’t do the same.

Gabe Howard: I completely agree with that. Now, let’s switch gears a little bit. One of the things that does excite me personally about coaching and something that I thought was a great idea even when I first heard about coaching 10 years ago, was organizational coaching, because obviously you can’t move your organization into therapy. It doesn’t quite work that way. But I know that things like organizational understanding, leadership, understanding, roles of employees versus management. And just a general understanding of workplace culture. These are things that coaching has really excelled in addressing, especially for small to mid-sized businesses. I’m really excited about how coaching impacts, I’m using businesses, but really any organization with multitudes of people.

Dr. Jen Friedman: Yes. And it excites me as well. And that’s part of the reason that I did switch into coaching because I love working with organizations and with the place where people gather and organizations are made of people. So when you have all of these people in one place, they go to work every day. Usually at least eight hours a day. You’re talking about a micro chasm of the world in one place where people spend much and most of their time that isn’t spent with their family and friends. You get to see how people relate to one another, how they operate under pressure, how they basically can bring out the best in themselves, or sometimes how the worst can come out of different people. And the magic is in helping people become as self-aware as possible, use tools to relate to one another as best as possible, and to really take the sum of the parts and make a greater whole. That’s the goal with organizations. And when you have people that feel good about themselves, are self-aware, are working towards their ideal state, then they’re interacting with other people who are in that same mindset. They are working better together. Everyone is feeling more satisfied and motivated. Thereby they are more productive. The organization then gets better results and at its finest will have as much innovation as possible because people are in their frontal cortex, is operating in a space with creative freedom and positivity and lots of positive energy. And that’s when you can really get a business from good to great and you can really optimize everybody’s experience plus the outcome and results of the organization.

Gabe Howard: One of the things that you said during the pre interview for this show is that no matter how great you are, you can always be better. And there is a part of me, when I first heard that, it was like, oh, that’s just a sales pitch. I mean, you know, if some is good, more is better. But you actually convinced me a little bit in your writing that, wow. Thinking that you are perfect at something and that you don’t need help is really pretty arrogant. I know that there are people that are thinking, well, I don’t need coaching. I’m excelling in my field. But you feel very strongly that everybody can benefit from coaching.

Dr. Jen Friedman: Absolutely. And again, this links back to my alignment with growth mindset that we are always growing. And really, if we’re not growing, we’re dying just like a plant. A plant has to always be getting its nutrients, getting its sunlight, getting water. The minute one of those things isn’t present, the plant starts to die. There is no homeostasis. And I believe that with people as well, when people are growing, they’re encouraged. They’re feeling good about it. Even when you’re at the top of your leadership game, even the most successful CEOs and leaders in our world know that there is more learning to be done. You can hone your skills to an even greater level and you can take what you’ve learned and your exceptional qualities and then inspire others. So you’re growing by helping others grow. My vision is of people who are positively engaged with others in this life cycle of inspiration, where everyone is constantly growing and becoming better and better versions of themselves. That, I believe is our sole purpose on this earth is to constantly be doing better, becoming better people and engaging others in betterment to make this world a better place.

Gabe Howard: I could not agree more. Jen, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate everything that you’ve discussed and that we’ve talked about. I really think that you have enlightened me and our listeners on the difference between therapy and coaching and how they both coexist in the world together. Thank you again.

Dr. Jen Friedman: Thank you, Gabe. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

Gabe Howard: Jan, it’s been a pleasure talking to you as well. Where can folks find you?

Dr. Jen Friedman: You can go to my Web site at JENerateConsulting.com. I am also on Twitter @DrJenFriedman and on LinkedIn at Jennifer Lerner Friedman, PhD.

Gabe Howard: Listen up, everybody, here’s what we need you to do wherever you have found this podcast. Please go ahead and subscribe. That way you don’t miss any great episodes and go ahead and review us. Use your words. Give us as many stars as possible. And when you share us on social media, tell people why they should listen, and remember, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counseling anytime, anywhere, simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We will see everybody next week.

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Podcast: Is Life Coaching the Same as Therapy?


The Psych Central Podcast

The Psych Central Podcast is a weekly podcast hosted by Gabe Howard. New episodes are released every Thursday at 7 am and can be found at psychcentral.com/show or your favorite podcast player.


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APA Reference
Central Podcast, T. (2020). Podcast: Is Life Coaching the Same as Therapy?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/podcast-is-life-coaching-the-same-as-therapy/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 23 Jul 2020 (Originally: 23 Jul 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 23 Jul 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.