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Therapy vs coaching in the title makes it sound like a competition, it’s not. The two terms describe similar yet different activities. I’m re-publishing this post as the question has cropped up several times recently and this short description explains my view on this.

Is there a difference?

People often ask about the difference between therapy and coaching. These differences tend to be more about coaches and therapists themselves, than about the skills or processes that each uses. A good therapist can certainly act as a coach, and an effective coach as a therapist.

Professionals being what they generally are (needing to establish their expertise as unique to them), 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. 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.

Neither camp seems willing to blur the lines and accept that there is more in common than separates them. That’s often how it is with professionals; each wants to underline their expertise as unique to their domain.

The roots of coaching

Coaching grew out of the human potential movement of the ’70s, which itself drew on insights provided by therapists and researchers finding new ways of doing things around the 1960s. They both came from the same cradle, which was therapy’s second wave, where therapists in the USA were moving away from the old past-oriented/medical model based on Freud’s work.

In practice coaching and therapy use the same set of skills but differ in focus. The main differences between the two tends to be in the practitioner; whereas therapists are trained in clinical matters, coaches more often drawn from business. In my case, when  trained in strategic therapy I was already a business consultant. I have run my workplace consultancy alongside my therapy practice to over 20 years.

The rise of coaching is also market driven. Coaching was originally aimed at the business world; companies seeking to enhance better performance were hardly likely to put their employees into therapy,  coaching was a nice means to a similar end (this goes for individuals too – some people don’t like the idea of doing ‘therapy’, but coaching is OK).

So to come back to the therapy vs coaching of the title, they are similar but not the same. Coaching and therapy are different camps and each is keen to distinguish itself in its own way. From the client’s point of view the important thing is to work with someone you feel comfortable with and who puts your needs and interests ahead of any model or terminology.


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