The Difference Between Coaching and Therapy

The distinction between coaching and therapy is one of the most misunderstood concepts about this industry. I’ll get into the detail on what defines each, but first, the most important thing to remember is that both therapy and coaching are meant to help survivors. The two may differ in HOW we help, but at the end of the day, we’re all invested in a survivor’s recovery.

Bobbi Parish — founder and president at The International Association of Trauma Recovery Coaching uses a great medical analogy to highlight the difference between therapy and coaching.

Therapy is for survivors who have the equivalent of a serious physical injury. For example, if a survivor is facing suicidal urges. Because the survivor is not in a stable, safe state-of-mind, coaching would not be beneficial to them because they cannot work toward recovery without first treating the imminent danger/condition.

Once the imminent danger/condition is treated and a survivor is in a more stable, safe state-of-mind, the survivor can begin work on their short and long-term recovery goals.

Going off that analogy, what that means is that coaches often work in conjunction with or after a survivor works with a therapist (there are some exceptions where a survivor may never need traditional therapy and moves right into coaching, though).

So what does this all really mean?

  1. Coaches approach work with survivors with a trauma-informed perspective while therapists approach work from a medical model.

  2. Coaches do NOT diagnose a survivor’s mental illness while therapists can and will diagnose mental illnesses.

  3. Coaches do not prescribe treatment or medication while therapists can and might prescribe treatment or medication.

  4. Coaches work collaboratively with survivors to develop their recovery plan while therapists design and assign a treatment plan.

  5. Coaches provide education about trauma and recovery.

  6. Coaches set goals with their survivors and help them develop a plan that helps them achieve those goals.

  7. Coaches share their personal experiences when appropriate to let their survivors know they are not alone in their recovery or their trauma while therapists traditionally do not.

  8. Coaches help shift a survivor’s negative perspective on control, autonomy and personal decision making to a healthier, more positive outlook.

  9. Coaches celebrate and also encourage their survivor to celebrate their progress in their recovery and build a healthy view of themselves and the world.

  10. Coaches focus on the present and the future while also acknowledging past experiences and trauma.

  11. Coaches focus on actions and behaviors that encourage high self-esteem and encourage survivors to think about the future and their role in it.

  12. Coaches encourage accountability and homework between sessions.

While this is not an exhaustive list of the differences, it’s important to note that as the world’s experts learn more and more about trauma, the more cross-over there is between what a therapist does and what coaching does. There are many therapists who work with their patients in a “coach-like” approach. Many therapists are actually actively seeking ways to conjunctively treat patients with the support of a coach.

I hope this post provided you with some understanding about the differences between coaching and therapy. I’m happy to provide any answers to questions you may have, too!

EducationJade Eby