Psychotherapy vs. Coaching

What’s the difference between Psychotherapy and Coaching?

Psychotherapy and life coaching are both capable of nurturing transformation. The primary distinction is that coaching is, in essence, a mentoring process, whereas psychotherapy is, at its core, a healing process.

The consensus on differences between the two highlight that psychotherapy includes exploration of a client’s past (as well as present and future), while coaching focuses exclusively on the present and the future the client wants to create.

In addition, here are some further distinctions between the two services.

The heart of the matter:

  • Psychotherapy works with the specific troubling psychological states (referred to as “diagnoses” in the mental health field) that coaching does not, such as depression, anxiety, or traumatic stress. Some sense of emotional pain is usually what brings a person to psychotherapy. You may have a clear picture of the way your want your life to be and feel, or you may not.
  • In contrast, the centerpiece of coaching is usually a very specific obstacle you want to surmount, or a vision for your life that you want to move toward. Examples could include the goal of improved self-care, a deepening of your soul life or spirituality, the journey to a meaningful career, learning to work with your body on healthful habits or the management of illness.

The technical side:

  • Psychotherapy is a regulated term for psychological counseling/therapy, which may be used only when it is provided by a therapist or counselor who is licensed in their field. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, with a governing board that sets forth legal and ethical standards for my practice of psychotherapy. I am licensed in the state of California to provide psychotherapy only to people living in California.
  • Coaching is an unregulated term, which means that there is no governing board, no legal standards, and no central ethical code (though several independent coaching organizations have created their own code of ethics). Essentially, anyone, whether educated and trained or not, can call themselves a coach. When choosing a coach, it is extremely important to inquire into the coach’s credentials, education and training to ensure that you are working with someone who is experienced and competent. I can provide coaching services to folks across the world, provided they have access to the Internet.
  • Because psychotherapy is regulated, you have certain rights under the law, including the right to confidentiality, which do not legally exist for coaching. I am dedicated to the privacy of my coaching clients, but it is important to be aware that the law does not recognize coaching as a confidential collaboration. For example, if a client is involved in litigation and my records or testimony are subpoenaed, I have more recourse under the law to attempt to protect a therapy client’s confidentiality than a coaching client’s privacy.

Still not sure which is right for you? Here are some questions to ask yourself as you explore whether psychotherapy is the best fit for you:

  1. Are you experiencing emotional pain that seems to be negatively impacting your life?
  2. Do you often feel pervasive sadness, or anxiety that feels unmanageable?
  3. Have you experienced a trauma – recently or in the distant past – that you suspect may be influencing your life today?
  4. Have you noticed a pattern of feelings, thoughts, relationships or behavior that you feel is holding you back or keeping you stuck?

And, some questions to ask yourself as you explore whether coaching is the right path for you:

  1. Are you feeling distress over a very specific obstacle?
  2. Do you have a specific goal, or vision for your life, that you want to move toward?
  3. Have you tried to turn this area of your life around, without success? Do you feel that being mentored could be an effective way to create the life you want?
  4. Do you feel motivated to work hard, with plenty of guidance and support, toward your goal?

If you are still not sure which service is right for you, don’t let it stress you! I am here to help you sort through your needs and identify the best path. Contact me for a free 10 – 30 minute phone consultation.