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What is the difference between therapy and coaching?

What is coaching?

Coaching is the process in which a person pursues transformative change or growth, with the help of an experienced, trained coach. Through the process of coaching, you will identify certain goals you’d like to achieve, and your coach will support you in this process and help you identify the steps you need to take to achieve those goals.

Coaching is about unlocking your own potential, to achieve personal, professional, or social/interpersonal success, and maximize your performance. Coaching is about gaining awareness of your own strengths and obstacles in your life. Coaching strives to empower each person to take control of their lives and make choices that work for them. Coaching is about building confidence, and wanting to achieve more.

Coaching can help you improve your romantic or familial relationships. Or, coaching can help you achieve a promotion at work. Many business executives utilize performance coaching to help them better lead their companies to success, or to work their way up the corporate ladder. The possibilities for where coaching can take you are entirely up to you.

Coaching is not a healthcare service, and as such cannot be billed to your major medical insurance coverage. You are responsible for paying for services, and you are not protected by the same confidentiality and privacy standards as you would be in your healthcare services. Coaches do not participate in any legal or educational services, and your coaching sessions cannot be used for any court-mandated therapy programs or other needs that require a licensed practitioner.

What is therapy?

Psychotherapy, or mental health counseling, is the process by which people receive treatment for a diagnosable mental health disorder. Talk therapy is designed to assess a person’s mental, medical, social, and developmental functioning, and then develop a course of treatment to address any abnormal or undesirable areas of that functioning. Usually, the primary reason for entering therapy is to relieve any feelings of pain or emotional discomfort, or other maladaptive behavioral concerns. Therapy can also address developmental concerns, such as ADHD or autism spectrum disorder, to help children and adults better adapt to their social or educational/vocational circumstances.

Psychotherapists often work closely with medical professionals and primary care providers to coordinate care and develop the best treatment plan for you. Therapy is a healthcare service, often billed to insurance, and becomes part of your healthcare record.

Which one is right for me?

Many people find that their needs can be addressed by either a therapist or a coach. It is your choice, in consultation with the provider, to determine what is the most appropriate fit.

People who choose coaching are generally people who are going through a specific life event or transition, or who are considering making changes. People who seek coaching need support to help them process those thoughts and feelings and help them determine the steps to take toward that change. People who choose coaching may not necessarily have a diagnosable disorder or have any history of mental illness, but recognize that they could benefit from an outside perspective. A coach could provide motivation, help you reframe thoughts, and be a source of encouragement through that life phase or transition.

People who choose therapy may already have a diagnosed disorder, or have been seen by a primary care provider for symptoms of a disorder. Therapy is a good choice for people with significant psychological or physiological symptoms. For example, if you experience panic attacks, or experience mood swings associated with bipolar disorder, it is best if you enroll in treatment with a licensed therapist that can help you monitor those symptoms. Or, if you have a history of trauma and are experiencing significant symptoms of a trauma disorder (such as PTSD, attachment disorders, or dissociative disorders) you would likely benefit more from traditional psychotherapy services (including targeted treatments such as EMDR, TF-CBT, et al.) 

It is very common for people to experience symptoms of anxiety or depression at least once in their life, perhaps related to specific life events (such as during grief of a loved one’s death, or when going through a divorce or separation). While these issues can be and usually are addressed in traditional psychotherapy, some people might feel apprehensive at the idea of “treatment” and having to report personal information to an insurance company. Coaching can be a more accessible and more empowering path toward improvement and wellness.

Key Differences

Psychotherapy is a more traditional service, that is oriented toward treatment for a healthcare issue. Psychotherapy is usually covered by insurance, and is bound by all the same protections that apply to medical healthcare services. Psychotherapists are licensed by their state, after having completed extensive educational programs. Psychotherapy treatment can be limited in scope, and must adhere to guidelines set out by insurance companies and accrediting/regulating bodies (e.g. the American Psychological Association). Psychotherapy can have a “past-oriented” approach, wherein you examine your past experiences and work toward healing from them.

Coaching is not healthcare. Coaches can be certified by one of the many national organizations that support coaching, but coaches are not licensed or regulated by the state. The client is expected to pay cash for all coaching services. Coaches might provide more “outside the box” interventions and have more flexibility to be creative and cater to your specific needs. Coaching is a very “future-oriented” service, and is meant to help you achieve future success.

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