The difference between therapy and coaching (Episode 37)

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, listen to this episode to learn the difference between therapy and coaching. Kay Coughlin talks about when the difference matters, and when you should ask for help.

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Transcript: The difference between therapy and coaching (Episode 37)

Hi there. I’m your host Kay Coughlin, and you’re listening to From One Caregiver to Another. This is episode 37. Before I get started today, I just want to tell you that if you would like to find out more about human giver syndrome, which can play a major role in causing exhaustion and burnout for family caregivers, and that includes parents, listen to episode 31 of this podcast or go to my website, that’s, to find links to my next webinar or presentation. And there you’ll also find a free guide I wrote on how to heal from the costly habits of human giver syndrome.

In the United States, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. So in honor of that and because I am really, really passionate about helping people understand how incredibly important mental health is to our well-being, I’m going to talk a little bit today about the difference between therapy and coaching and when you might need them. I think of them both as truly, probably the most important investments you could ever make in yourself.

So we’ll start with a little bit about therapy. Therapy can also be known as counseling or psychotherapy or psychiatry. And in a nutshell, therapists are required to attend many years of formal schooling and they adhere to rigorous certification standards. And this is because therapists are trained to work with what we can generally think of as the whole person, so that includes the past where a lot of difficult things can be, and also treating mental conditions that can be named and diagnosed, and those are things like depression, anxiety, and bulimia, or anorexia. So therapists really are trained to handle all kinds of things, including severe things like trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal thoughts. If you are having trouble functioning in any way, or if you think the issue that’s coming up for you and causing you pain is something that happened in your past, those are things generally you would want to seek therapy for. You’re going to find therapists of all disciplines, really, working in clinical settings too, like hospitals, and some types of therapists can even write you a prescription for drugs.

Before I tell you what a coach does, I want you to know that I personally believe in therapy. I am a coach and I have had a coach for years, but I’ve also been to many different therapists throughout my life. As a coach, I am always watching my clients for signs that they aren’t able to function well in their daily lives. And if I do see that I will recommend that they get help from a therapist. One important thing to know is according to the standards of the International Coach Federation, which is my professional association, I am morally and ethically obligated to refer clients to therapy when I think it’s needed and I’m very, very conscientious about doing that.

So what does a coach do then? Well, coaches tend to focus on your future and helping you see and reach your potential. The International Coach Federation actually defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. While there are lots of reputable and quality training programs for coaches, as of the time I recorded this, there is no governing or licensing board to formally endorse coach training programs. There are a lot of different kinds of coaching credentials and there are a handful of highly regarded professional associations for coaches as well. That’s really important to know I think because you may find that you want to ask a coach where they got their training and what their credentials actually mean. Since there is no international standard for coaches, you may also want to ask how long they have been coaching and what their specialties are, just so that you get the information that you need.

In fact, I’d like to recommend to you that whether you are seeking therapy or coaching, please do whatever level of research you need to do so that you feel comfortable. And you can always request to have a conversation with someone before you hire them. Every coach I know offers a chance to talk with them for free before you sign a contract and you can certainly request that of a therapist as well.

The next question most people have at this point is they want to know how do you know which type of help do you need, therapy or coaching? And I really think the best answer here is that you don’t need to worry too much about knowing the answer for yourself. Either a therapist or a coach should actually be able to help you answer the question, so you don’t need to feel like you’re alone in making that choice. In fact, many people work with both a therapist and a coach at the same time and they get great results.

Basically, if you already know that you have a diagnosed mental condition, or if you feel like you are having trouble getting beyond something from your past, or maybe you are feeling completely overwhelmed by your emotions, I would steer you toward therapy first. It’s really hard to work on your future or change a mindset or achieve your potential, which is what you do in coaching, until your mind is at least somewhat freed from some of your suffering. When you are feeling ready for a change though, or even almost ready, when you believe that you can see that in your future, and I’m talking about a change of any size, and you do want to work with a partner, a real partner who can help you figure out what you really want from your life or career or business and help you make a plan, well, then you’re a good candidate for coaching.

Coaches tend to be very good at helping you hold yourself accountable to what it is that you want out of life and we will help you figure out what’s going on if and when you get stuck. Now, lots of emotions will probably come up for you while you are working with a coach and that’s a really wonderful thing. A good coach will guide you to help you look at your emotions in a way that helps you keep moving forward. Whether you want to work with a therapist or a coach, please know that you can work one-on-one or in a group. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, of course. When you work individually, you can build a strong and very trusting relationship with your therapist or coach and you may be able to work on things that you would rather not say to a group of people, so you may be more comfortable working one-on-one with someone.

When you work in a group then, it does tend to be a little more affordable and you probably will also feel a sense of community out of that. And if those things are important to you, definitely take a look at group coaching. I personally love group coaching, but for a very different reason. It’s because I’ve had a lot of breakthroughs when I’m part of a group coaching setting and many of those breakthroughs actually happened while I was listening to someone else get coached. And I think that’s an amazing part of being in a group. Still to this day, I am blown away when someone in a group asks to get coached on something that I didn’t realize I needed for myself. There’s a big variety of formats that group programs are offered. I find that therapists tend to call it group therapy or support groups and coaches usually use the term group coaching. That’s not a hundred percent of the time the way it works, but that’s what I’ve found.

I do have one important piece of advice for you with both group therapy and group coaching when you’re looking at that and that is, I recommend you ask about how the group will ensure the level of emotional safety that you are looking for. Emotional safety is something that’s incredibly important to me, both as a coach and when I get coached, so it’s something that I always pay close attention to. And I will ask very clearly, “Tell me how this works in your group setting.” I think the most important thing of everything I’ve said today though, is just to start getting help right now with whatever it is that you need. Make this investment in yourself sooner rather than later. Please do that for yourself. If the fees for therapy or coaching are an issue for you, contact your local board of mental health or even do a search online to see what you can find. Get into the habit of saying to yourself, “I could use some help with this,” and then go out and get the help you need.

I’ve put a link to my professional coaching association, I know I’ve mentioned that a couple of times, it’s the International Coach Federation. I’ve put a link to that in the show notes below if you’re interested in learning more about what it looks like for a coach to belong to a really highly recognized professional association. So I’ll leave you with this, don’t worry too much at first about finding the right methodology or the right approach. I know from experience that that’s going to sort itself out over time when you start to ask for help in either therapy or coaching. And I know that I keep saying this is an investment in yourself, and I really do believe that with all of my heart. When you choose to spend your time or your money or your both to work on your own mental health, your life really can open up in ways you could never have seen would be possible before.

Thank you so much for listening. You can learn more about me and about all of this work at That’s And there, you can also sign up for notifications about new podcast episodes and you’ll find that in my newsletter, which is also called From One Caregiver to Another. If you want almost daily doses of straight talk for family caregivers who want to learn how to improve their own lives, please follow me on Instagram. And there’s a link for that in the show notes. If you liked this episode, please leave a review, which will help other caregivers find their way here too, and to definitely consider telling a friend who also happens to be a caregiver. I can’t wait to be here with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO and Chief Facilitator of Facilitator on Fire, has a dream to create a world that is generously inclusive of all adult generations. The best place to connect with Kay is on Instagram.

Caregiver Coaching” is for family caregivers who are ready to improve their own life. Facilitator on Fire’s “Building Trust Across Generations” seminar helps leaders and managers build amazing teams that are attractive to people of all ages. Kay’s keynote address, “Top Myths of Leading Generations,” helps businesses see the hard costs of miscommunication between generations.