The distinctions between traditional therapy and coaching can be considered in four broad categories.
- Past vs. future: Perspectives on the process. Therapy frequently focuses on the past and generally assumes the client has a problem that needs solving; coaching focuses on the future and assumes the client is whole and has the innate wisdom and tools to have a wonderful life.
- Fix vs. create: Why clients come to see you. Clients generally seek a therapist as a resource to fix or eliminate their problem; clients seek a coach to assist them in getting more out of their lives or creating new possibilities in their lives.
- Professional vs. collegial: Characteristics of the helper-client relationship. Therapy clients generally see the therapist as an expert who holds the answers and techniques to fix their problems; coaching clients see the coach as a partner to support their growth and efforts to create an even better life than they have now.
- Limited vs. open: How you generate new clients. Therapists are limited in the ways they can generate clients and how readily they can approach others about their services; coaches can be free and open about seeking clients and discussing their services.
Let’s take a deeper look at the first of these distinctions.
- Past versus Future:
Perspectives on the process In general, therapy has historically dealt with the client’s past and some pain or dysfunction. Traditional psychotherapy focuses on the root of the problem, the history, the family of origin, and other causal issues. The helper’s role is to bring the client to an adequate present or reasonable level of functioning (taking the dysfunction into consideration).
Coaching, by contrast, works with an individual who is already adequately functioning and moves him to a higher level of functioning. From a theoretical perspective, coaching focuses on the future, barrier identification, goal setting, planning, and creative action. Coaching works actively with the conscious mind to facilitate the client to step into a preferred future while also living a fulfiling life in the present.
Now, some of you are reading this and thinking, “But I work in the future when I do therapy!” This may well be the case, particularly if you are trained and practice from a solution-focused perspective. However, if you are helping adequately functioning individuals move to higher levels of functioning by using coaching techniques, you probably aren’t doing therapy, or at least not therapy as defined by most insurance companies. There are definitely some coach-like therapists — in fact, they are usually the individuals most comfortable with the therapist-to-coach transition.