Mental Health
Coaching Or Therapy: Which Is Best For You?

Coaching Or Therapy: Which Is Best For You?

5 min read


Guest Author

On the surface, identifying the differences between therapists and coaches can seem like an exercise in semantics, as they often use the same words of self care and betterment. Both therapists and coaches can assist you in setting and achieving goals and both are focused on helping you become a better version of yourself.

That said, there are differences between coaching and therapy. In this article, we’ll be going into the subtle, but crucial, differences between what therapists and coaches offer their clients and what questions to ask yourself to determine whether therapy or coaching is the best fit for you (spoiler alert: it could even be both!).

First, let’s establish what therapists and coaches are:

What is a Therapist?

A therapist is a clinician focused on the treatment of mental health conditions. They have an MD; PhD; or Master’s degree in a specific field, like social work, or clinical psychology. Therapists are also licenced by a state-governed board.  

What is a Coach?

A coach is a professional who is focused on helping you achieve set personal or professaion goals. They can come from any educational background, and they are often very experienced in a certain field. Coaches can earn certifications from private programs or professional organizations but coaching is not regulated by a government entity.

It is important to note that seeing a therapist and a life coach is in no way mutually exclusive. Therapists’ and coaches’ services can even be mutually beneficial!

Find out if therapy or coaching is a better fit for you.

The difference in what coaching and therapy offer you:

The most important distinction to make between therapists and coaches is that therapists are medical professionals qualified to both diagnose and treat mental health conditions.

If you are looking for support with a mental health condition or experiencing mental health symptoms, then absolutely see a therapist. They, and only they, are qualified to diagnose and help you.

However, if you are looking for therapy or coaching for personal growth or to get “unstuck,” the choice is less clear cut. How can you choose?

Well, coaching is primarily dedicated to achieving goals. Goal setting and follow-through is a coach’s core motivation, and the center of the work you will do in coaching. They are very much focused on the future: guiding and focusing your continued development. If you have already specific personal or professional goals, that you don’t know how to achieve or want assistance achieving, then seeing a coach can be immensely beneficial.

On the other hand, a therapist’s core motivation is caring for your mental health. What that care looks like can be varied. It may even include  setting and achieving various goals. However, the key difference between therapy and coaching is that your emotional and mental health, in the present, is a therapist’s first and last concern.

Common Misconceptions About Coaching vs. Therapy

Because the differences between therapy and coaching can be so nebulous, there are a few common misconceptions about the traits that distinguish therapy and coaching that we’d like to clear up:

Therapy is open-ended; coaching is a discrete number of sessions.

Many therapy programs, including skills-focused groups such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), are a set number of sessions. Also, while certain coaches might offer a set number of sessions, there is nothing preventing you from forming an ongoing relationship with your coach.

Coaches make healthy people healthier while therapists “heal the sick”

This is simply not correct.

If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, then please see a therapist, but that doesn’t disqualify you from reaping the bountiful benefits of also seeing a coach.

Likewise, therapy isn’t just for people with mental health conditions. Beyond treating mental health conditions, therapists can help you grow as a person, form deeper and more fulfilling relationships, and gain so many other personal and professional benefits.

A Note About Insurance:

One of the biggest differences between coaching and therapy is that coaching isn’t covered by insurance while therapy can be (if you meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental health condition and the treatment for that condition is deemed appropriate by your insurer).

It is important to learn the nuances of what your specific insurance does and doesn’t cover. It may even be the case for you that going out-of-network would actually be cheaper and easier, but the point remains that coaching is usually out-of-pocket while you can access therapy through insurance or organizations that provide low-fee mental health support.

Still Unsure? That’s Okay!

There are a lot of differences between therapy and coaching, but also lots of similarities, and it can be hard to figure out which would be better for you.

If you are still on the fence, talk to a few coaches and therapists who seem like they might be the right fit. We can even recommend a few for you!

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