How are psychotherapy and life coaching different?

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

I’m asked this question a lot, so here’s my take on it. One of the most frequent answers you’ll hear is that therapy focuses on the past and coaching focuses on the future. I think this is a bit of an oversimplification. The big difference is in the basic paradigm that both the professional and the client bring to the work. Therapy connotes that there is something wrong that needs to be fixed, and that the therapist can do the fixing – much like medical model it’s based on. We go to a physical therapist when something isn’t working or is causing pain. The physical therapist then goes about locating and identifying the problem, and applying the appropriate therapy to the client. Coaching, in this analogy, is more like going to a personal trainer. You’re not in pain, per se, but you have some areas you’d like to improve upon, and you know the value of outside perspective, maybe you need some new ideas, encouragement never hurt, etc. You get the idea. Both the physical therapist and the personal trainer are working with you and your body, how it feels, and how it functions – but with very different perspectives. And you go to both of these professionals with a different mindset. And, by the way, both are useful and appropriate for different people at different times, and sometimes, at the same time.

So the mindset of the client differs in each paradigm, as does the mindset of the therapist or coach. Using the medical model, which we do when we’re using insurance – the therapist is more of an expert, providing a diagnosis, developing and implementing a treatment plan. It’s hierarchical. In the coaching model, the coach is a facilitator, a co-creator, more of a partner or colleague.

There are some practical considerations too. You give up some confidentiality when you bill an insurance company. For example, you may not want your spouse to get the EOBs (explanation of benefits) in the mail for your therapy sessions if you’re in the process of divorcing. Some people just don’t like the idea of their insurance company knowing anything about their personal life.

And there’s the issue of payment. Does coaching cost more? On the surface, yes. But it depends on how long you’re in therapy; those co-pays can add up. And it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges. I think there’s a time and a place for therapy. I value it and I’ve made a meaningful career out of it.

There a lot of times when people need a little help or perspective, and they wouldn’t think of going to ‘therapy’ for it. Executive coaching and weight loss are the most popular discrete goal-oriented issues for which people hire coaches. Less goal-oriented coaching examples include; improving relationships, improving parenting, dealing with divorce, and co-parenting, chronic illness, deepening spirituality, 12-step and recovery, learning to cultivate more joy, making a career change, navigating menopause, transitioning to retirement, and my personal favorite - learning to slow down in our manic fast-paced world.

Whatever your reason, my hope for clients is that in our work together you will rediscover your deepest self, re-connect to your own inner wisdom, and learn to live life from that center within you, with greater joy and peace.

Click HERE if this sounds like something you’re ready for.

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