Coaching or Therapy: What's the Difference?

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I’m so excited

to be co-writing my column with my good friend Abby Young, who is a licensed therapist!

We’re going to explore together the differences between coaching and therapy, so that you can make the right decisions for yourself.                                       

ABBY: It is interesting how sometimes it is easier to say I am seeing a life coach rather than a therapist. So, the question comes what is the difference and how do I know which one is the right fit for me.

 ABBY: As a licensed mental health professional there are educational and licensing criteria I have to meet. I am governed by HIPAA, which means anyone that comes to see me, or any other therapist, has certain protections for privacy and treatment. The flip side is that we are also legally obligated to report any potentially dangerous situations to the proper authorities even without a client’s consent.

 BECKY: Coaches may or may not be certified, which means that there are no official requirements for someone to use the title “coach.” The International Coach Federation certifies coaches, and requires that its coaches uphold a Code of Ethics, but not everyone who calls themselves a coach has this certification.  What does this mean for you? Do your homework.  Make sure your life coach has some training. (I’m certified at the ACC level through ICF, so yes, I’ve had extensive training.)

 Now back to deciding which one is the right fit for you. Below are some points to consider when you know you need some help, but you’re not for sure which way to go.

 1.)    What’s the goal? BECKY: Coaches help you set goals and achieve them. Your coach is going to work with you from the perspective that you are creative, resourceful, and whole, and that with some coaching, you can overcome obstacles and move forward. Coaches help you set tangible goals like “I want a more fulfilling job” and work with you to get from here to there.

This is Abby. She has such a beautiful soul!

This is Abby. She has such a beautiful soul!

ABBY: However, if you find you keep setting goals and not achieving them, then you might want to explore seeing a Therapist. Sometimes when we struggle with moving forward it can be in response to negative beliefs of self that don’t go away with positive thinking. Therapists also helps you set goals based on the life you want to be living. A common one is, “I want to be happier.” I help clients define what this means and work through processes to aid in moving towards the definition of “happier.”

 2.)    How am I feeling? Becky: In the majority of instances, Coaching sessions should leave you feeling energized and empowered.  Because of the positive, problem- solving nature of coaching, most sessions end with something being resolved, new options to explore, and a stronger sense of direction.

ABBY:  If you leave coaching sessions and find that you are emotionally overwhelmed or constantly frustrated, then schedule a consult with a therapist. If you notice your emotions heightened to the point you are reactionary then you might have been exposed to a trigger—an event or an encounter that is somehow similar to a past experience that still needs resolved.  This work is best left to a Therapist.

 3.)    What are the signs? ABBY: You find it difficult to get through the day and it takes what energy you have to just complete the bare minimum. You notice moments of over-the-top anger, or are easily agitated. You notice you are either sleeping too much, or hardly at all. You have no appetite, or you are eating all the time. Your emotions feel like too much, or you don’t feel any emotions. These are just a few signs that you might benefit from seeing a Therapist.

Becky:  At the end of the work day, you feel dissatisfied with what you’ve done. You’ve got a meeting coming up with a friend or colleague and you want to make sure that you show up as your best self. People at work don’t seem to take you seriously as a potential leader. You know it’s time to start exercising and eating better, but you aren’t sure where to start.  All of these are issues you can bring to a Coach.

 4.)    What are your needs? ABBY: What are your goals for seeking help? Try to differentiate what you are looking for. Do you need help with discovering what is your next career path? Are you confused why you can’t commit to just one career and stay focused? Notice the difference in the questions:  One is looking towards the future, and the other is diving deep into the present. Coach or Therapist.

And I’m Becky. But most of you know that!

And I’m Becky. But most of you know that!

Becky:  And remember, you can always work with both a coach and a therapist.  Several of my clients have had both, for different components of their life.  For example, they might be working with a therapist on anxiety, and with me to finish their doctoral program.  Both issues are important, but handled in different ways.

 It’s up to you. The essence is for you to: know what you want, know your boundaries, and educate yourself on what person you need to help you along your journey. Make sure that you’re getting help from the trained professional that is the best fit for you, so that you can move forward.

 Abby Young LSCSW, ACHT owns Tillery Time Counseling and practices in Lawrence, KS.  Learn more at

 Becky Eason PhD, ACC owns WeQuestforWellness Coaching and also practices in Lawrence, KS (and electronically).  Learn more at

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