Difference Between Coaching & Psychotherapy

What is the Difference?

compassOn the surface, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish coaching from therapy. Both services provide support to the individual to help them move from their current place to somewhere else they would like to be in the future. Most of us long to achieve something new and discover more of our self. Our desire for achieving great things along with many other societal factors, has contributed to the momentous growth and popularity of coaching.  Unfortunately, one of the key factors that sometimes drives individuals to coaching is the stigma that if you seek therapy, there is something “wrong or broken with you.

While there are definitely key differences between coaching and therapy, some of the most famous architects of psychotherapy like Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow also had a great influence on the science and art of professional coaching. According to professional coach, Patrick Williams*, “Adler and Jung in particular, saw individuals as the creators and artists of their lives and frequently involved their clients in goal setting, life planning, and inventing their futures — all tenets and approaches in today’s coaching. In the mid twentieth century, Carl Rogers wrote his monumental book, Client-Centered Therapy.

Therapy shifted counseling and therapy to a relationship in which the client was assumed to have the ability to change and grow. This shift in perspective was a significant precursor to the field of coaching. Abraham Maslow’s work Toward a Psychology of Being set the framework, which allowed coaching to fully emerge in the early 1990s. All of these pioneers in the psychotherapy world helped make today’s therapy practice vital and refined — and set the foundation for current coaching practices.”

Coaching was born as a result of great advances in psychotherapy and counseling, then blended with consulting practices and organizational and personal development training trends (ie. the humanistic movement of the last several decades, EST, LifeSpring, LandMark Forum, Tony Robbins and many others). Coaching takes the best of each of these areas has to offer and provides a now standardized and proven method for partnering with people for success.

While therapy and coaching may share a common background, it’s important not to confuse the two.

Therapy is vital for those with psychological problems and necessary for anyone who needs to address pain or trauma in their past or current life situation. Coaching tends to work better for individuals who have a dealt with these unavoidable life issues and who have a more solid foundation for moving forward. A therapist may add coaching skills to their practice, but a coach does not engage in therapy. Reputable coaches are trained to detect the need for therapy with clients and have a responsibility to make referrals when necessary.


Patrick Williams sums it up well:

“therapy is about uncovering and recovering, while coaching is about discovering.”


* Dr. Patrick Williams, Ed.D.,MCC, is co-author, with Deborah C. Davis, of Therapist as Life Coach: Transforming Your Practice.