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  • Writer's pictureEmily Argyle

What Are The Differences Between Coaching And Therapy?

Self-improvement, therapy, and coaching are major buzzwords. This article explores the differences between coaching and therapy, as well as coaches and therapists, in order to help you understand each and which might be the right fit for you.

Self-improvement, therapy, and coaching are major buzzwords these days. This article is aimed at helping you understand how both coaching and therapy function, as well as their major differences.

Anyone may benefit from coaching or therapy but it is important to understand the focus and outcome of each to determine which is the right fit for you and your needs. While therapists and coaches both work in helping people improve their lives, there are meaningful differences between these two types of professionals.

The Differences Between Coaching and Therapy

I often explain the different approaches of coaching and therapy with the phrase:

"Coaching works with the Celebrated Self and therapy works with the Wounded Self."

This means coaching is focused on working with a client's strengths, aspirations, and potential, while therapy is focused on working with a client’s traumas, emotional wounds, and unresolved issues.

5 of the most significant differences between coaching and therapy are:


  • The primary focus of coaching is to help clients achieve specific goals.

  • Therapy is focused on addressing mental health concerns, diagnoses, and trauma.


  • Coaching tends to be more action-oriented and focused on the present and future.

  • Therapy is often more introspective and focused on the past and present.


  • The relationship between a coach and client is often more collaborative and equal.

  • The relationship between a therapist and their client is more hierarchical. With the therapist taking on a more authoritative, specialist role.


  • Coaching tends to be more short-term and focused on achieving specific goals within a set timeframe.

  • Therapy can be long-term and focuses on helping clients manage ongoing mental health treatment and concerns.


  • Coaches do not need to be licensed or have formal mental health training. They may have earned specialized certification, endorsements, or professional expertise that qualify them.

  • Therapists are required to have a current board-issued license for practice and specialized education (usually a master’s or doctorate degree) in psychology, counseling, social work, or a related field.

Training and licensure offers the most insight into the differences between coaches and therapists as professionals. Let's take a closer look...

What is the difference between a coach and therapist?

What is a life coach?

A life coach is someone with specialized training in coaching, and is skilled at helping individuals make meaningful, positive life changes. In coaching, a person partners with a coach to work on specific goals and make intentional improvements in their lives, usually within an identified time frame.

Coaching sessions are typically action-oriented. A coaching session is more than a nice conversation, it is focused on a specific topic and aimed at identifying strategies and plans to achieve your desired outcomes. Coaches work with their clients to develop skills, identify strengths and values, overcome challenges, and create plans to achieve goals.

Coaching does not follow a medical model, diagnose, or deliver treatment. High-risk needs (e.g. suicidal ideation, trauma, mood disorders, alcohol or chemical dependency, rape and abuse) are not appropriate for coaching services and should be referred for therapeutic evaluation and treatment. Coaching costs are not typically covered by insurance companies.

What is a therapist?

A therapist is a board licensed mental health professional that works with clients to address mental health concerns such as managing a diagnoses (i.e.; depression, anxiety, BPD, etc.) and trauma.

Therapy sessions are more introspective and focus on exploring and understanding the underlying issues of someone’s current challenges. Therapy often focuses on reflecting on the past and processing difficult experiences or understanding the origins of personal cognition, emotion, and behavior patterns.

Therapy is considered a type of medical treatment as it involves psychological methods and therapeutic approaches (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy) to address mental health conditions, diagnoses, trauma, and other high-risk needs.

Only licensed professionals may provide therapy, including: Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW), Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC/LCPC), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT), Clinical Psychologists, and Psychiatrists. Currently in the United States, each state has their own licensing requirements and regulations. These exact requirements will vary depending on where you live. Therapy costs may be covered by insurance as a “medically necessary” treatment.

A Complimentary Partnership

It is important to note that coaching and therapy can be complementary. Many people choose to work with both types of professionals.

If you are already in therapy but want to work on achieving a specific goal, a coach can help you create a plan and provide accountability. Similarly, if you have completed therapy but want to continue your personal growth journey, a coach can help you set new goals and achieve them.

While coaching and therapy are a powerful pairing, they are not interchangeable.

In some cases, coaching and therapy may be recommended as a broader treatment plan for specific conditions, such as ADHD. For those working with a general practitioner or psychiatrist to manage medications, coaching and therapy may both be encouraged to create an effective, holistic support system for you. Finding the right mix can be life changing.

The Decision is Yours

“Decision is a risk rooted in the courage of being free."
– Paul Tillich

If you are ready to gain valuable tools for self-improvement and self-development, both coaching and therapy have a lot to offer you. While they differ in their approach, focus, and training requirements for professionals, both can help you make positive changes in your life. If you are still unsure whether to pursue coaching or therapy, meet for a consultation appointment where you can ask the professional all of your questions to make the best decision for you.

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