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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.  

Treatment Offerings

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.  

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When you engage in therapy, you should expect your counselor to provide ongoing support to you throughout the process of counseling.  Your counselor will be working from the mindset of helping you to find healing from your concern areas. They do this by guiding you to the point of recovery from your symptoms so you can feel relief and betterment in your life.  Counselors typically believe the path to recovery and wellness is by developing healthy emotions and relationships. Counselors help clients learn new skills to get to the goal of wellness. Counseling is often less focused on visible, easy to see results.  Instead, counseling can be geared to help someone focus on more existential goals, such as feeling more whole, feeling more purposeful, or functioning better as a person.  

A coach is encouraging and motivating, typically envisioning their client as someone who is already whole.  What this means, is that coaches believe their client already possesses the needed skills to reach their goal.  Instead their focus, which impacts the style of their coaching, is to help their client get results.  Their style is very strategic to help their clients build healthy patterns to get them to their goals.  Therefore, a coach is more so focused on identifying what their client is meant to do, rather than how they feel.  The coach is mainly providing accountability and empowerment to help the client reach their goal. 

Concern Areas

Finally, we have outlined the major differences between a therapist and a coach. So now, how do you decide which helping professional is right for you? Both therapists and coaches serve important roles in helping people with their struggles. Still unsure whether you should see a therapist or a coach? It all depends on what issues you want help with.

When to look for a Therapist

  • Depression (sadness, reduced interest in activities, change in appetite or sleep, loneliness or withdrawal, thoughts of death)
  • Anxiety (racing thoughts, rapid heartbeat, excessive worry, panic)
  • Sleep problems
  • Relationship concerns
  • Stress from a traumatic experience
  • Grief after a loss
  • Improving life satisfaction
  • Feeling overwhelmed with life stressors
  • Parenting struggles
  • Substance abuse

When to look for a Coach

  • Identify ways to advance at work
  • Determine a preferred career path
  • Exercise goals
  • Nutritional changes
  • Smoking cessation
  • Educational guidance
  • Day to day organization
  • General goal setting

Getting assistance from a professional you trust can help you find relief from whatever concern areas you are struggling with.

Therapy Versus Coaching: Why Do the Differences Matter?

Jacqueline Getchius, MA, LPCC

Jacqueline Getchius, MA, LPCC, is a licensed professional clinical counselor and owner of Wellspring Women's Counseling based in Minnesota. She has a passion for helping young adults through transitions in life and women struggling with infertility, miscarriage or stillbirth, perinatal depression or anxiety, as well as parenting concerns. With seventeen years in the mental health field, she loves spreading education and empowering people to get the help they need. She offers free 30-minute consultations to new clients and provides online counseling to women in Minnesota. She can be reached at or 952-479-0195.

APA Reference
Getchius, J. (2019). Therapy Versus Coaching: Why Do the Differences Matter?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 28 Jun 2019 (Originally: 28 Jun 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 28 Jun 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.