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Differences Between Coaching and Therapy

20th October 2021
two women sat at a white table talking

Coaching and therapy presume that we experience events that wound us psychically when we are young in the natural course of life.  As we grow, some people’s wounds remain raw and painful. Those people often act defensively, protecting their wounds from further injury. Other people grow healthy callouses over their wounds, protecting them from daily blows. These people are often seen as resilient and high functioning. But, in truth, both types of people, the raw and the protected, have wounds in their systems.  The natural outgrowths of these wounds are self-limiting beliefs which are born to protect our younger selves, and often creating some degree of self-sabotage as we mature. Consequently, people may find themselves hitting the same issue repeatedly as they move along the paths of their lives. At some point, desiring a different result, they seek help. Perhaps coaching. Perhaps therapy.

People often ask about the difference between therapy and coaching. A more useful question to ask would be “How are they similar”, to which the answer is.“ many ways”. The differences tend to be more about coaches and therapists themselves, than about the skills or processes that each uses. A good therapist can undoubtedly act as a coach and an effective coach as a therapist.

Many therapists will say that what they do is not coaching and that a coach can’t ‘therap’. Coaches, for their part, distance themselves from therapy by saying, among other things, that they are about looking forward; they work with the future whereas therapists work with the past. To be fair to therapy, not all forms look to the past. Traditional therapists, perhaps, but many also look forward as well. A coach, they say, works to help people improve on something; a therapist fixes what is broken, be it a spirit, an ego or a relationship.  It is likely that if the client thinks it helpful that both past and future will feature in conversations with any competent practitioner, however, they style themselves. Once again, any distinction between the two approaches will be more due to attitudes and beliefs of the therapist, than their chosen professional label.


  • is typically designed for people who have suffered from abuse, or trauma, or traumatic relationships in early childhood. Past experiences are holding them back from being fully functional and healthy. In coaching, the client has a baseline health level and wants to improve in their personal and professional life.
  • is more focused on healing. It is also focused on the “why”. For example, why did you do that? Or, why did you take on that story? It tends to look at the unconscious, and the subconscious, and how they may contribute to unhealthy behaviour patterns. Coaching tends to focus on the “what” and asking “what” questions to move a client forward in his/her life.


  • focuses on the now and actions to take for the future, whereas therapy focuses primarily on the past.
  • As in therapy, when self-limiting beliefs interfere in a coaching relationship, the coach helps the client identify the issues. In pursuit of the coaching goals, the coach provides as many tools as possible so the client can learn to stay empowered.  So while the goal for coaching may not be to heal, it is to empower the client. Ultimately, coaching and therapy share that objective.
  • Generally speaking, coaching is more focused on helping clients achieve their future goals, while therapy tends to have more of a past and present focus. That being said, many coaches should be able to help clients understand how the past contributes to their present, and therapy can help clients achieve their future goals.
  • The focus in therapy is more on healing from the past, while the focus in coaching is more on getting the client to where they wish to be next.



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