This is a bit of a dicey question, as the differences between two psychotherapists (which we will also call “therapists” in this post) or two coaches may be greater than the difference between a coach and a therapist, depending on who they are. Hopefully no two coaches or therapists are alike, and if they are, they just may be robots.
It’s hard to make gross generalizations, and there is a great deal of overlap between therapy and coaching.
That being said, coaching is not therapy, and it is important to make that distinction.
Many coaches say that therapy focuses on the past whereas coaching focuses on the future.
As a proactive therapist who helps clients work toward a better future, I couldn’t disagree with that more.
Yes, there are some forms of therapy that focus more on the past than others, but there are many present, here-and-now models of therapy such as Emotionally Focused Therapy that take into consideration the past but attend to the present, which translates to a better future.
A bit on therapy
Therapy is typically the process of choice for someone who is struggling with a mental health problem, such as depression, anxiety or problems adjusting to a life trauma of some kind. If there is healing to be done, therapy is a great way to achieve it.
Further, insurance companies will most likely pay in part for therapy focused on an individual if someone has a mental health diagnosis, as therapy has been demonstrated to help manage or “cure” that diagnosis.
Psychotherapists have extensive training in mental health and how to help people with mental health problems.
Therapy is also a highly relational process, helping people achieve better relationships, understand why they may have problematic relationship patterns, and how to change those patterns.
Some therapists have training in family systems theory and have a rich understanding of family dynamics and interpersonal patterns. Many of those who are trained to work with couples do a great job helping couples through rough patches in their relationships and are the go-to people if such relationships cause severe distress.
To have a license to practice psychotherapy, one must go through a credentialing process and take a test, hold a graduate degree in their field, and stick to a code of ethics that maintains the integrity of the profession. Psychotherapy is regulated to protect the public.
In the U.S., psychotherapists hold state-specific licenses. A therapist may hold a license in more than one state, but it is more common for therapists to be licensed in just one state. Therapists cannot practice outside of the state in which they are licensed.
A bit on coaching
Coaching is a bit different than therapy in that there is no regulatory body that oversees coaches, such as a state licensing board. One does not need a graduate degree to call themselves a coach, nor do coaches hold coaching licenses.
That being said, coaching can be very effective, if you’re working with the right person.