The Ultimate Rundown of Therapy vs. Coaching (And Why it Matters)

Most therapists I know are skeptical of the coaching industry--rightfully so. It’s no secret that this space has issues.

Unlike therapy, coaching is an unregulated industry. As a therapist who has worked hard to earn and maintain their license, you’re understandably wary of anyone selling life advice for big bucks without the credentials to back it up.

However, therapy and coaching are more similar than you might realize.

Now, that’s not to discount all the issues with the coaching space. I just don’t want you to write off the value that coaching can bring to clients--and to your brand.

Adding coaching to your service menu can help you reach more clients and monetize skills you’re likely already using in your therapy sessions. Separating your coaching services from your therapy offerings can also give clients a clearer understanding of what they’re signing up for and can help you reduce burnout.

In order to do this in an ethical way, it’s vital to define how therapy and coaching are different--and similar.

Therapy vs. coaching: Differences

As I’ve already touched on, the big difference between these two industries is the lack of regulation in the coaching world. Nearly anyone can call themselves a coach, no matter their background, training, or credentials (or lack thereof).

The same does not go for therapists--which, of course, you know. You grind through tons of classes and internship hours to earn your degree, and then there’s studying for your licensure exam . . . not to mention the CEUs needed to maintain your license. Whew!

Beyond that, there is no code of ethics that coaches must follow. Lacking this framework pretty much gives coaches a free range to do . . . well, whatever they want. Which can be a scary thought. Therapists like you, on the other hand, follow strict codes of ethics and privacy laws like HIPAA. Coaches, not so much.

As a therapist, you also have the ability to diagnose mental health issues, provide testing, and support people through deep dives into trauma healing. Coaching isn’t meant to do those things (not to say that some coaches wouldn’t advertise that--yikes).

While the glaring differences between the coaching industry and the therapy realm may be enough to make you think, “Noooo thanks!” I urge you to bear with me. When done ethically, coaching can have amazing results--for both you and the client.

Read on for the overlap between the two fields.

Therapy vs. coaching: Similarities

One of the biggest things that unites therapy and coaching is the focus on helping clients reach their goals. Setting goals, creating action steps, and discussing barriers to achieving goals are all integrated into the fabric of the therapy and coaching processes. Having an external motivator (AKA you as the therapist or coach) also helps people with accountability: another feature of both industries.

In your role as therapist or coach, you also provide the vital service of being part of your clients’ support network. You focus on building rapport with your clients so they feel comfortable being themselves and expressing their thoughts, feelings, desires, and fears. You provide a safe space for them to be vulnerable and to grow.

Part of that relationship involves getting informed consent. As a therapist or (ethical) coach, you give your clients a rundown of exactly what your work together will entail. As you know, this also involves setting boundaries and protecting your clients’ confidentiality. You may collaborate with other professionals in your clients’ life to support their progress--but only with their explicit permission, of course.

Both therapy and coaching can be performed in a group or one-on-one setting, and both have the intent of improving clients’ mental health and overall wellness.

Aside from all the logistics, there are also tons of soft skills that you as a clinician bring to the coaching relationship.

  • Communication: You’ve honed in on your listening and attending skills.

  • Non-judgment: You’re a pro at letting go of automatic judgments that enter your mind.

  • Empathy: Your clients feel seen, heard, understood, and validated.

  • Situational awareness: You’re aware of environmental factors and their impact.

  • Empowerment: You encourage your clients to activate what’s been inside them all along.

Your years of working directly with people, processing with supervisors and peers, and doing your own internal reflection have prepared you well to take on a new role as a coach.

See? Therapy and coaching aren’t so different after all. But it is important to be clear about what each offer entails.

Why care about all of this?

Good question. Because I care about access and you care about supporting your clients. And because:

  • Having these conversations can inform your therapy and your coaching practices and determine boundary setting.

  • It can be difficult to understand when to refer as you dabble in coaching.

  • I never want to see entrepreneurial-spirited clinicians practice out of scope as they integrate coaching.

  • Your coaching clients deserve to have their expectations set and met. No misleading or disappointment, please!

  • These conversations allow you to have conversations with your many types of clients which fosters collaboration, communication, rapport, and trust.

Ultimately adding a group program, membership or 1:1 coaching offer can mean less clinical burnout, improved client outcomes (thanks to your framework and ability to direct the focus of the work) and more money in your pocket.

It doesn't make you any less of a helper either.

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