Because the concept of “coaching” is still so nebulous to the majority of folks, I thought I’d whip up this quick list of comparisons that should help differentiate it from counseling or therapy.
General Un-ease vs. Specific Goal
If you are not sure what’s wrong but you feel generally bad or awful and you need someone to help you figure out what’s wrong, figure out why you feel like things are wrong, or diagnose you with something, you need a therapist, not a coach.
If, however, you feel generally healthy, but you really want something specific to change in your life—your job, your fitness level, your joy level—and you are simply not sure how to go about getting that specific change to occur and you could use some guidance, you need a coach.
Investigating the Past vs. Planning for the Future
If you want or need to carefully investigate events from the past to figure out “why” things got the way they are so you can try to heal those things, you need a therapist, not a coach.
If, however, you are far more intrigued by “what” to do next so that your future can unfold of your own making, in service to your specific goals and dreams, then you need a coach.
Ascending toward Normal vs. Flying toward Amazing
If you feel like you’re in deep pain and you can’t see a way out of it, you need medication to stop yourself from harming yourself, or you generally can’t find any happiness in any part of your life, you need a therapist (and maybe some effective meds, I don’t know). You really just want to feel "normal" again--whatever that means for you.
If, however, things are generally OK in many areas of your life—even great in some of them—but you want some specific parts of your experience to be even better (or amazing) and you want assistance figuring how to make them so, you need a coach. You already feel pretty normal, it's just that something in your life is "stuck" and you want it to be unstuck so you can fly.
Other Oriented (sometimes) vs. Self Oriented (always)
If you have an awful marriage or you feel like your family (present or past) is holding you back from the life you want and deserve, you definitely need a therapist.
If, however, you are more concerned with how to maximize your own wellbeing, joy, and contentment within the family and relationships that you currently have (and wish to keep), then chances are good you need a coach. (Read Marianne's profile on the Relationships Coaching page for an example of the latter.)
Asking "why" vs. Asking "how"
Often in therapy, one needs to stay entrenched in past events—what happened and why did it happen—in order to heal them and move toward living in a present with greater knowledge and understanding.
In coaching, we deal with the present and the future: what you have and what you really, really want, starting now. Knowledge and understanding of the past are wonderful to have going into it, if they are put to use in an active way to help you achieve the present and future of your dreams. But the “why” is always far less important to us in coaching than the “what” and “how” you will approach things right now to move into the future of which you dream.
In general, I would say that people who need therapy or counseling tend to have larger, more encompassing feelings of un-wellness that are very challenging to address in terms of goal setting and attainment.
• I’m totally depressed and I have no idea how to get out of it.
• I’m anxious all the time and I can’t work.
• The abuse I suffered in my childhood is preventing me from having the relationship I want.
But in coaching, the client’s specific goal or desire can be explained in a specific statement that clearly warrants active brainstorming and future-oriented goal setting:
• I want a new career and have no idea how to leave the one I’m in;
• I want to live my life traveling the world and have no clue how I could make that happen;
• I want to have a more active lifestyle and I can’t figure out what steps to take to get there;
• I want to write this novel that I have been thinking about for 20 years and I am too scared to start, etc.
In coaching, you can identify a goal or a dream or an outcome of deep desire, and the coach will help you find out ways to attempt to achieve those things. Coaching is about forward motion into the you that you always wanted to be, or the life you always wanted to lead, or the feelings you always wanted to feel on a daily basis. Without so much concern for the “why” or the “how did I get this way.”
In addition, coaches are not typically qualified to work with really sick people. I am the first to admit that I will never be able to tell you if you should be on an antidepressant and, if so, which one. I won’t even recommend diets or supplements to people—those are not the things I do.
• I listen to you more carefully than anyone (even you) ever has;
• I ask effective questions, getting to the heart of your dreams;
• I get you to think about things you have never thought about in service to your goals and dreams;
• I recognize where you’re at and I hold space for you to move forward in the direction you want to go.
That’s what a coach does. That’s what I do. Do those things resonate with you? Are you ready to start leading the life you desire? Why not try coaching? Your first session is just a click away!
And by the way, I am a huge fan of effective therapy. I was lucky enough to have had one of the best therapists ever when I was feeling a huge overdose of general un-ease and needed to figure out for myself why I was not able to have the life and relationships I wanted. I would not trade that therapy experience for the world! You can read a bit about it here.
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