Wellbeing & Mental Health
October 21, 2021
The Difference Between Coaching & Therapy

On the surface, these two professions may appear disparate; however, when we take a closer look, we can see they share many similarities.

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Lacey Albin, LMFT
Licensed Therapist; Director of Therapist Network

In today’s world, there are a vast array of resources and services available to assist with tackling any number of life circumstances, from health and wellness to achieving a higher level of skills, abilities, and goal attainment. In the realm of wellbeing, two services often discussed are mental health therapy and coaching. On the surface, these two professions may appear disparate; however, when we take a closer look, we can see they share many similarities.


What Is Therapy?

 

Psychotherapy, or mental health counseling, is a form of health care treatment where a person meets with a therapist or counselor to address concerns with their mental and emotional wellbeing, such as unhelpful thoughts, difficult emotions, problematic behaviors, relationship issues, or substance abuse. Therapy can take on many different forms, including individual, family, couple, or group work and exists in a variety of different treatment settings, from a therapist’s outpatient office to inpatient or residential care.


The therapeutic process is always collaborative, with the client and therapist working together to understand the presenting problem and identify steps the client can take to reach their treatment goals. Confidentiality, unconditional positive regard, and a nonjudgmental approach are at the core of developing a strong therapeutic relationship, allowing the client to express themselves honestly and freely to get at the root of their problems. Therapy is an extremely unique and individual process; there is no one-size-fits-all method, so therapists may use a variety of techniques and approaches to help clients address problems and life challenges. 


What Is Coaching?


Coaching is one of many helping modalities (i.e., Therapy, Counseling), in which a trained individual, a professional coach, supports another individual, their client, in achieving their personal or professional goals. International Coaching Federation (ICF) accredited coaches are trained in a wide range of skills to assist the client in shifting their perspectives and behaviors which leads to creating new awareness, uncovering blind spots, and removing barriers to help clients achieve their goals.

 

The ICF defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”. At LeggUP, we define coaching as “partnering with members to analyze their current state, identify potential challenges or obstacles they face, develop a plan to build awareness and strengths, and create customized action steps designed to initiate growth and measurable success.”


Key Differences Between Coaching and Therapy


Support Approach


Therapy may focus on addressing past, present, and future issues. There are many techniques a therapist may use, like: 

  • exploring the history and experiences underlying unhelpful thinking patterns or behaviors as a first step toward disrupting problematic cycles
  • taking a solution-focused or skills-based approach to identify specific tools and techniques to manage and adjust thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to “break the chain, and
  • learning new ways of interpreting and responding to others in order to improve the quality of relationships. 


The therapeutic process may be brief, consisting of only 10-12 sessions, or involve prolonged support in tackling long-standing issues. The frequency of sessions may change over time, as well, for example starting with weekly sessions and eventually moving to bi-weekly or monthly sessions as symptoms improve.

Coaching focuses on addressing an individual’s future goals, such as growth and development in personal and professional areas. Coaching takes a client-led approach, meaning that coaches work with clients knowing that the client is the expert on their life and the inner workings of an organization. The coach’s role, therefore, is to help members grow in productivity and wellbeing by first analyzing their current state, identifying potential challenges or obstacles, developing a plan to build awareness and strengths, and finally, creating customized action steps designed to initiate growth and measure progress. 


Generally speaking, the coaching process may be between 6-12 sessions and vary between 3-6 months.



Certification and Licensing


Mental health therapists have an extensive educational background, obtaining a minimum of a Master’s degree in fields such as Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Clinical Psychology. They also complete thousands of hours of supervised clinical work before taking their state board licensure exams. Therapists participate in continuing education courses and activities each year to stay up-to-date on the evolution of the mental health field. They may also complete additional training to specialize in treating specific mental health concerns or utilizing a particular therapeutic modality like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Psychodynamic Therapy, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).


Coaches bring a variety of professional and educational experiences to the coaching field. Many coaches hold Master’s degrees or higher and have undergone extensive training in niche areas such as Life, Business, Nutrition, Grief, and Financial coaching. All ICF professional certified coaches are required to complete an accredited coach-specific training program of at least 125 hours. They meet a minimum of 500 hours of client coaching and 10 hours of mentor coaching (supervised coaching). They must pass a performance assessment of their coaching and coach knowledge assessment before they can become certified. 


Benefit Coverage


In 2008, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was passed, acknowledging that mental health is just as important as physical health. As a result, most types of health care plans are required to provide coverage for mental health and substance use disorders at a comparable level to physical health coverage.


In recent years, coaching has gained recognition for its value in supporting employee development and satisfaction. Historically, coaching was limited to Executive only or Sales teams. However, as organizations continued to look for ways to grow leadership capabilities, develop high-performing teams, retain talent, and work through change management, the need arose to get coaching to other levels within an organization. Based on the request for supporting employees at all levels, LeggUP offers an inclusive company-wide coaching experience through their fully-insured Talent Insurance program designed for small and medium-sized businesses with 250 employees or less.

How Do I Know If I Need Coaching or Therapy?


Mental health concerns are common today. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults (51.5 million) experienced some form of mental illness in 2019; however, less than half of those affected received some form of mental health treatment. Without treatment, mental health issues can result in significant negative consequences, such as school withdrawal or job loss, relationship problems, physical illness, and suicide.

 

Some signs potentially indicating you should seek therapy include:

 

  • Increased fatigue or trouble getting out of bed to attend work, school, or social functions
  • Trouble falling asleep or increased need for sleep
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating for prolonged periods of time
  • Irritability or feelings of rage
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or loss of motivation
  • Loss of interest in or enjoyment of activities or social connection
  • Difficulty controlling use and quantity of alcohol or other substances
  • Thoughts of suicide or not wanting to be alive

 

Coaching is not therapy, mentoring, or counseling. Because coaching focuses on vision casting, success, the present and future, clients looking for support in improving performance, career wellbeing, and development in specific areas would benefit from a coach.

Some indicators that a coach might be right for you include:

 

  • You need accountability
  • You want to take your professional and personal life to the next level
  • You feel stuck, disengaged from your work, or on a path towards burnout
  • You need a thought partner
  • You are looking to act

The similarities between coaching and therapy are often overlooked; however, these helping modalities share the common goal of supporting and guiding individuals toward creating a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life. While the scope of focus and approach may differ, therapy and coaching can be utilized in a complimentary manner to attain greater outcomes and success in achieving life goals. At the same time, for individuals who are not yet in need of therapy, coaching acts as a preventative mental health solution, aiming to reduce the incidence, prevalence, and recurrence of mental health disorders and their associated disability. Preventive interventions are based on modifying risk exposure and strengthening the coping mechanisms of the individual; it's proactive care versus reactionary.


 



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