People often ask me what the difference is between coaching and therapy. They usually are looking to make changes in their life and aren’t sure which type of support to turn to.
Coaching and therapy are both very valuable processes that can be used separately or together to achieve greater health and wholeness. Both are fantastic ways of getting one-on-one support that is customized to your life, goals, needs, and preferences. These powerful tools complement each other and will help you in different ways. In my life, I have benefitted from them both.
Coaching is a process where the client’s own knowing is cultivated to create action-based solutions. The coach believes that the client already has his or her own answers but may need assistance in revealing that inner knowledge.
The coach is trained in how to ask questions that unlock the client’s own knowing, or what I term soul wisdom. A good coach also pays attention to emotions, as feelings often reveal the hidden truth that might be at the heart of the matter.
Coaching is useful for achieving clarity on any number of issues. Sessions typically are self-contained around a specific goal or objective and the objective is usually achieved within the first session or two. The session concludes with an action plan that has specific steps and dates for accomplishment that the client will enact, reporting back to the coach for accountability.
Coaching is very effective for a wide range of issues, including a variety of things that one might typically see a therapist for – like healing old family wounds or shifting a pattern of behavior – because our soul wisdom knows how to help us do that if we can just listen.
For me, coaching has been a really great tool for tapping into my own knowing. I like the fact that the session is contained around an objective and that I leave with a clear action plan. I have utilized coaching for the following issues in my life (a brief sample):
- clarifying my career goals and making choices about different directions I might take
- designing a healing ritual after a painful breakup
- unearthing why I was so triggered by a specific experience
- identifying how I wanted to handle a challenge at work
- and many more
I am a big fan of the work of Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott who created what I believe is the most effective coaching program out there. I have had clients tell me that they get something from my coaching that they have not gotten from other methods—and I have had the same experience when I receive coaching. Coaching programs and philosophies are different so be sure you explore the options and find the method that brings out the best in you.
Therapy, on the other hand, is a longer-term approach to explore, diagnose and heal patterns or illnesses. The therapist has the expertise and guides the process for the client using any number of traditions or models. Therapy is very different from psychiatry, which is a medical approach for diagnosing and prescribing medicine for any number of recognized mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, etc.
Therapists and psychologists engage in what is called “talk therapy” where regular sessions are designed to help a client look at his or her life and use a variety of strategies for shifting long-term patterns. Sometimes, therapists and psychiatrists used coordinated care to address issues such as depression or anxiety disorders.
There are many types of therapy – some you might recognize are Jungian, Cognitive Behavioral, Gestalt, and Transactional Analysis – some that might be new to you are music therapy, dream analysis, sports psychology, and ecotherapy. For a comprehensive list of types and to find a referral to someone in your area, check out GoodTherapy.org.
I am a fan of Dr. Brené Brown’s approach to therapy, which helps us to identify where we hold shame, and helps us develop the skills we need to live wholeheartedly. You can find a practitioner of her method at The Daring Way.
In my work and research, I have come to realize that most people have suffered a trauma at some point in their life. Learn more by watching my TEDx talk How Your Past Hijacks Your Future. There is a wonderful technique, called brainspotting (similar to EMDR but more powerful), that helps people heal from traumatic events. Brainspotting helped me overcome panic attacks I was having when traveling. In just a handful of sessions, I no longer experienced the panic that had plagued me for years. Miraculous!
Finding a good therapist and coach is a very important task as this person will be a vital part of your support team. Do your homework to ensure that you get the best match for you.
- Ask around for recommendations. Satisfied clients are a good indicator of someone’s skills.
- Be sure the person is appropriately licensed or certified.
- Ask what type of training the practitioner has and the method of coaching or therapy s/he practices (they are not created equal and you want a good match for you).
- Find someone with several years of experience – these are fields where the on-the-job training is invaluable.
- If you have insurance, look at who is covered on your plan. It certainly is nice when insurance covers all or part of the sessions but don’t be so focused on this that you miss the best match for you.
- Schedule an “introductory session” where you meet the practitioner and discover if you are a good match. Be sure to ask lots of questions so that you know how they work and what you can expect.
Don’t be discouraged if you feel that you don’t have the budget for these tools. Many insurance plans will cover part or all of the sessions and many community clinics offer these services on a sliding-scale fee structure so that no one is turned away.
So take a step toward your future and get the support you need to achieve your potential.
- Coaching Training at MMS, Institute (this is where I did my coaching training)
- International Coach Federation
- The Daring Way
- National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists
- Transformational Life Coaching: Creating Limitless Possibilities for Yourself and Others by Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott & Lynn Stewart
- The Gifts of Imperfection by Dr. Brené Brown