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Do I Need a Therapist or a Coach?

One of the most frequent questions that get asked from people who are curious about coaching is, “What’s the difference between coaching and therapy?” It’s a great question, so I wanted to take a few minutes to explore the differences.

I had the very same question when I first learned about coaching. As a psychiatrist, I had experience doing therapy with my own patients. In all honesty, I initially worried that coaches were a bunch of people trying to short cut the path to becoming therapists.

Now, as a coach, I have a clearer idea about the roles that coaching and therapy play. To be honest, at some point in our lives, we could all probably use both.

Why might you need a therapist?

Many people see a therapist when they are struggling with psychological issues or past issues that have resurfaced. Therapists work with you to help you gain clarity on your past and the impact it is having on your current life. The overarching goal is to help you make sense of the past so you can move on better equipped to manage your life.

The focus of therapy is often on past experiences, feelings, or behaviors. You also spend a lot of time working with your therapist on negative patterns, emotions and behaviors that are disrupting your current life. In gaining clarity and understanding, hopefully you are able to gain great mastery over your life.

Who wouldn’t benefit from this? At some point, most of us will get blind-sided by our pasts and could use the support of a therapist to help us make sense of it.

How a coach can help you?

The field of coaching has been around for decades, widely used in business. Coaches help you look forward. A coach partners with you to envision an idealized future self, and then supports you in creating a path to get there. In coaching relationships, you focus on your strengths that will help you move forward.

Coaching is action-oriented. You are an active agent in your life and have the internal resources to move forward. Less time is spent examining the past unless some helpful patterns can be pulled forward to help you move closer to your vision.

Most of us could also benefit from a coach at some point in our lives too. Coaches are particularly helpful when you want to make a major change, are trying to optimize your performance in some capacity or when you are trying to grow towards a more idealized version of yourself but are struggling to see the path forward.

Coaching works best for people who are ready to take action and have a fair amount of psychological stability. If you are struggling with significant current psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, or unresolved trauma, it might be better to stabilizing with a therapist and then work with a coach once you’re on better footing.

Regardless of how it happens, seeking the help and support of professionals is a valuable tool to help you live as your best self. There’s room and a need for both.


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