Coaching Or Therapy

Is there a difference?

I’m aware that this is a question that opens up a whole can of worms and to start with I should declare my position up front as I do both!


It seems safe to assume that we would all concur both coaching and therapy represent special conversations. They are not the sort of dialogue that we have anywhere else in our lives! It should be reasonable to assume that most of us would accept that in both cases relationships count, listening skills are key and silence has its place as we create a space in which people can think, uninterrupted. We’d probably not find many people who would disagree that empathy of another person is vital for both disciplines.

So, where might the contentious elements lie?

I don’t think they are about the tripartite nature of coaching in which there are usually clear public goals that live alongside the private conversations that happen in each coaching session. Therapy can have public goals too; therapy can even be tripartite.

Equally, I doubt that the issue of contracting is contentious either. Contracting is just as important to therapy as it is to coaching. Maybe we could disagree about a solution focus? Maybe we would argue that this is more important in coaching than it is in therapy. All clients want to achieve something, whether it’s a performance target or the experience of more choice and autonomy.

My view is that where we disagree is the focus on past and present. All too often, I hear the comment that coaching is really about the future and that therapy is much more connected with the past. I respect this view and the intentions many people have in stating it. That said, I don’t agree, it feels wrong to say that coaches should not deal with the past. There’s the real question of whether a coach has the training and experience to help a client with issues that have their origin in a client’s history but that’s not to say all that we call coaching should never address thoughts, feelings and beliefs that have their origin a long time ago.

In my work, I see many clients who experience repeating patterns of behaviour and some who clearly have a life script that was formulated as long back as their childhood. To fail to work with this in my opinion is to fail to appreciate the totality of the client.

I’ll leave you to form your own conclusion. For me, what happens in many coaching sessions is therapeutic, even if acknowledging this feels a little strange!

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