Therapy Versus Coaching: Why Do the Differences Matter?
You may be considering getting help with some concern areas in your life. So, you begin to do some research for a helping professional. You will likely run into many different options including therapists and coaches. But what is the difference between therapy and coaching? How do you know which is right for you?
To begin with, the purpose or objective of both therapy and coaching are similar. They both work to support growth and wellness. Therapy, or counseling, though, helps people address and solve problems. Additionally, counseling has a goal to help people find healing from trauma, mood disorders, substance abuse, and more. Alternatively, coaching’s goal is to help people who are overall already mentally healthy achieve their personal goals, stay motivated, explore options, change mindsets, and overcome obstacles.
A key tenant in therapy is the ability to form a strong working relationship, or therapeutic alliance, between the therapist and client. This means that you believe your therapist wants to help you and feel comfortable opening up and sharing with them. As such, it is important for the therapist and client to be able to see each other face to face. With technology advancing, online counseling has been growing exponentially, as it offers a nearly identical ability to see each other face to face, just through a video portal. The reason that the face to face component of counseling is so important is that it is vital for the therapist to be able to attend to the client’s nonverbal communication as much as their verbal communication. Much can be lost without being able to visually see a client’s posture, facial expressions, or dress/attire. In comparison, coaching often occurs over the phone without the option for a face to face interaction. For coaching, since the primary task is to help clients focus on reaching goals, and less on the emotional component of their concerns, this telephonic communication is sufficient.
One of the starkest differences between therapists and coaches is the training involved in the respective professions. Therapists typically require, at minimum, a Master’s Degree in the Counseling field. In addition, they require a licensure in the field of counseling. Licensure is achieved by providing a required number of hours of counseling while receiving supervision by an already licensed counselor. Finally, therapists receive licensure monitoring by a board in the state they live in and require continued education to maintain their knowledge and credentials in the field.
On the other hand, coaches are not required to hold any licensure, certification, or specific degrees. As such, they should not be diagnosing or treating mental illness or substance use disorders.
A therapist is a trained, licensed professional who is able to formulate a treatment plan to help you reach your goals and find healing. Therapists are expected to use evidence-based techniques amidst their treatment of your concern areas. Alternatively, a coach is not providing actual treatment. Instead, they will create a plan with you with the primary objective of reaching a specific pre-set goal.
Given therapists are required to hold licensure in the field of counseling, they are also expected to follow strict ethical guidelines and can be sanctioned if they are found to not follow expected ethical codes. These ethical guidelines include very specific rules about how they maintain their client’s confidentiality, i.e., how they maintain their client’s privacy. Ethical guidelines for counselors also outline important rules regarding how to have and maintain appropriate boundaries with clients. For instance, there are specific rules prohibiting having a relationship with a client outside of the typical counseling dynamic. These ethical guidelines are meant to ensure the safety and welfare of clients.
Differently, coaches do not have any ethical guidelines they are required to follow. Because of this, there is no overseeing body giving guidance to coaches regarding boundaries or confidentiality.