There is a lot of overlap between therapy and coaching. While both practices are goal-based, a therapist typically drives therapeutic goals while a coach acts as a guide to support a client’s identified goals.
Therapeutic goals address mental health issues, behaviors that meet the criteria for a psychological disorder. Often these behaviors are causing a significant disruption in the client’s daily functioning. Because of this, therapy is based on an intervention model. Therapy typically dives deep into a person’s past to understand what is causing the current dysfunction.
Coaching, on the other hand, helps individuals manage thoughts and behaviors before they create dysfunction and impact relationships, work, school, and other life areas. Coaches work from a prevention model. They look at what strategies can be put in place to avoid serious disruptions in their clients’ lives. They help their clients determine what each client wants to change in the present in order to attain future goals.
If an individual works with a therapist to reduce mental health issues, it is not uncommon for them to switch to working with a coach later (or to work with both professionals simultaneously). A coach supports the individual in maintaining their emotional and behavioral functioning, while working on the life or business goals the individual could not focus on when their thoughts and behaviors got in the way. In addition, for some people working with a coach has less stigma associated with it than working with a therapist, allowing for the work to be done more effectively without the cognitive block in the way.
When one of my clients firstcalled, she inquired about therapy because she was increasingly feeling sad and tired. She shared that over the past several months, her company had experienced some financial downturn and the board of directors turned to her to oversee the layoffs planned as a response. The CEO advised her to write up a letter, leave it on the desks of those being laid off and to call security if anyone gives her a hard time. My client was speechless. “I couldn’t even think straight. I know he was trying to make the process easier for me, but I couldn’t picture doing what he had suggested as a real approach.” She never considered overseeing layoffs as part of her role as Chief Operating Officer, but she had no choice. She felt trapped and overwhelmed, and assumed therapy was her next step.
So how do you know what you need? When debating whether therapy or coaching is the right approach for you, ask yourself:
When I presented this information to my client, she indicated that her emotions were not inhibiting her daily functioning, but that she wanted to get them under control to handle the layoffs at her typical level of performance. She also wanted to identify a way to conduct the layoffs in her own way, reflective of who she was as a leader and which resonated with her values. In other words, her needs would best be met by coaching.
Over the course of our engagement, she created a plan for the layoffs and practiced strategies to control the thoughts creating the negative emotions. Her sadness lifted and she was able to think clearer. This allowed her to act consciously and creatively rather than reactively. She came up with a proposal to save 10% of the jobs, and the board accepted it. Three years later, when the CEO retired, the board offered her the position. “Coaching didn’t make me into someone different,” she shared with me. “It allowed me to reconnect with the best version of myself and use my skills to dominate a situation.”