People sometimes ask me, “What is coaching, exactly? Is it kind of like therapy?” I say it’s like having a plumber or an electrician come to your house. They both work on the same building, but they have 2 different purposes. You may not want one doing the job of the other.
The primary purpose of therapy is for healing. This assumes a disabling condition or something from the past that is currently impacting one’s daily life. There may be depressive episodes, heavy anxiety, severe mood swings, bipolar behaviors, self-destructive or compulsive behaviors, irrational or troublesome behaviors or addictions.
Any of these conditions would be treated with the intent to alleviate a person’s distress or to become sound or healthy again. The purpose of coaching, on the other hand, is to forward and enhance one’s effectiveness and fulfillment. The process spends little time on the past, only as a reference to current situations. Coaching takes a person from where they are and provides the tools, support, and structure to live into their potential.
Perhaps the clearest difference relates to functionality. Therapy is intended to move people from a dysfunctional state to a functional one, or to move further along the scale to sound daily functioning. The therapist’s relationship to their client is one of fixing a problem by figuring out which interventions will assist the process. In coaching, the client is moved from a functioning state to an optimal state or beyond.
While there may be obstacles and external influences to change that can be part of discussion, the client is not seen as having to be fixed. The coach partners with the client to connect inner purpose and passion to outer goals and strategies for sustainable results. It is assumed that the client has their answers and knows what is best.
Coaches and therapists can work in cooperation with a client. I have worked with coaching clients who also saw a therapist. With permission from my client, I would stay in touch with their therapist and we would coordinate efforts on the client’s behalf. Concurrent with healing, there would be forward movement with clearly defined appropriate action steps. A coach can also help empower a person to get needed help from a therapist. A therapist can suggest a coach for day to day accountability with prescribed courses of action.
While the above is, admittedly, a simplification of each field, the purpose is to draw some basic distinctions between coaching and therapy. For readers seeking help for themselves or others, request a conversation with a potential coach or therapist to help determine if it is an appropriate fit for you.