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What’s The Difference Between Coaching And Therapy?


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What is the difference between coaching and therapy? It’s a common question and rightly so, it’s an important one. Coaches and therapists are in a trusted position and we take this responsibility seriously.

People seek help for a number of reasons. Maybe you’re on a journey and you want to explore what the next steps look like. Perhaps you’ve reached an impasse in your life and you’re keen to move beyond it. For those at a career crossroads, a new role or a completely different direction could be on the cards.

Whatever your reason for reaching out, you’ll want to feel like you’re in safe hands. It’s not always easy accepting that it’s time to stop and take stock because often you’re feeling vulnerable, confused or overloaded.

I’ve put together a quick guide to make sure you get the right support for you.

Coaching and therapy – the difference

The short answer is that there is no clear line between the two.

The truth is that the two professions sit on a spectrum, with the boundary being as individual as the practitioner but with one proviso. Therapists can move into the realms of coaching but it doesn’t work the other way around (unless of course, they are qualified therapists).

For example, as a coach and mindfulness practitioner, I can’t help you to unpick trauma. What I can do is refer you to someone else and then support you and your nervous system through the process. I’ll work side-by-side with your therapist and then help you decide what you want to do next.

How do I know if I need a coach or a therapist?

The only way to find out is to have a conversation with a practitioner that you feel safe with.

I know that I’ve been charged with my clients’ wellbeing so I’m sensitive to the nuances of what they express. If it’s clear that they need therapy, then that’s what I’ll recommend. It’s not that I'm removing my support, I’ll still be there if they want me but if I know they need deeper healing, I’ll help them to find it.

The real question you should be asking

I think it’s not so much a matter of asking whether you need coaching or therapy as one of 

‘Who do I need to support me?’

This makes it more personal. Yes, there may be areas that the practitioner can and can’t work in, which will affect what they’re able to do but just as important is their outlook and purpose. Who are they, what energy do they bring, what are their specialisms and how do they work?

Tip: the right person will allow you to ask as many questions as you like and will give you time to decide. They won’t rush or hurry you into a decision and they’ll keep checking in with you every step of the way. They’ll move at your pace.

Questions to ask a coach

There are probably hundreds of questions you could ask but these are the ones that I think are most important. They’ll tell you what you need to know about the practitioner’s ethics, sense of responsibility and level of accountability – as well as their interests, background and personality.

  • What kind of coaching or therapy modalities do you use? What do you enjoy using and what results do you get?

  • What’s your journey and how does your work fit into it?

  • What are your qualifications?

  • How do you work? Face-to-face or online? Over what period of time? How easily can I change tack or take a break to embed what I’ve learned/felt?

  • What can I expect from you and what do you expect from me – in terms of commitment and accountability? (Not everyone thrives through tough love, for example.)

  • Have you worked with X or Y? (Burnout, trauma recovery, career transition – whatever is relevant to you).

The list could go on but these cover the bases. Take a little time out beforehand to add to it so that you get a good, rounded idea of them as a person and a practitioner.

Go with your gut

Sit quietly afterwards, breathe deeply and reflect on:

  • How did they leave it with you? Was there any pressure to sign up?

  • Have a statement ready like ‘I’ve got a few others to talk to, I’ll get back to you’. How did they respond and how does this make you feel?

  • How interested were they in you? Did they talk about themselves overly or did they give you adequate space to express yourself?

  • How did they make you feel? Before, during and after you spoke? Did you feel safe, listened to and seen?

  • As far as you can tell, do their ethics and energy align with yours?

  • Do they feel like a natural part of your journey?

And remember

Don’t be worried about hurting their feelings. An honest practitioner will have your wellbeing at heart. They’ll allow you to come to a decision that makes sense for you. So if you don’t take them up on their offer, they won’t pressure you.

They’ll also make a sound decision on whether they have the right skills to ensure your safety and progress or they’ll refer you to another service. 

I’m here if you need me

For the reasons outlined above, I offer everyone I work with a free initial consultation. I want to make sure we’re a good fit so that you get the very best out of our time together.

If your needs lie elsewhere, then I’ll let you know. Don’t worry.


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