Both therapy and coaching clients seek services because they want things to be different.  It is often what needs to change, the nature of the change and what is required to effect change that is often different.  Many people seek coaching because they have specific goals they are trying to achieve: applying to graduate school, starting a business or generating more income. Others seek coaching to feel more effective and satisfied with their work or relationships or to develop new skills to better cope with life’s challenges. 

Often, people simply want something more from their lives: more stability, more balance, more joy or more peace

In general, people seek coaching because they want a better quality of life or a different process for meeting their goals and fulfilling their desires.  Whatever the specific reason, coaching begins with and is based on a motivation from the Client. 

Since the Coach relies on a “the client knows best” attitude, coaching clients need to be moderately to highly functional and managing life well enough. A coaching client needs to be capable of setting goals, following action plans and understanding the coaching conversation without notable interference from emotional or psychological distress. 

The Four Main Differences Between Therapy and Coaching


Therapists are licensed professionals who have completed higher education either at the master’s or doctorate level.  In the United States, therapists have passed state boards that qualify them to diagnose and treat clients.  As such, they are held to strict legal and ethical guidelines in their practice.

Coaches are not licensed and may or may not have formal training and/or certification in coaching techniques.  At this point in time, anyone, regardless of having training or not, can call themselves a coach.  There is no oversight from a state board or formal ethical mandate for the practice of coaching.  Therefore, selecting the right coach is very important. 

The Coach is essentially a facilitator.  A good Therapist is also a facilitator but in addition, will do more educating, informing and guiding in helping a client change.  In the coaching relationship, the Coach believes that the client is the expert on their own life and that they hold the solutions and answers to their own problems. Good Coaches help clients find their own paths toward improvement and motivate clients to take action.

Where (Sessions and Settings): 

Therapists need a controlled, consistent, private setting, like an office, to create a safe space for vulnerable clients to build trust and feel secure in the therapeutic process.  Sessions are most often weekly or bi-weekly and happen on a consistent and predictable schedule.

Coaches can be far more flexible with regard to setting.  Coaching sessions often take place in a hotel lobby, restaurant, park, on the phone, by text or internet.  Coaching sessions can and do often occur in the coach or client’s office but this is actually less common with the coaching relationship.  It is not necessary that Coach and Client ever meet face to face.  Sessions may be frequent, infrequent or packaged to fit the terms of a specific contract.  

What (Practice and Purpose):

Lynn Grodzki offers a good explanation of the differences in her book, Therapy With a Coaching Edge.  She writes, “therapy typically tends to be process-oriented (an unfolding and ongoing form of treatment that acknowledges both conscious and unconscious drives) while coaching tends to be programmatic (based on a short-term schedule with linear markers and an end point in sight.)”

How (Style):

Both therapy and coaching rely on talking, listening, asking questions, making observations, and using written materials and behavioral tools to set and track goals. Additionally, both approaches may include some non-verbal techniques of meditation, relaxation, movement, body awareness and other skills geared toward stress reduction. A true Coaching approach will employ the following four elements:

1. A client-based locus of change
(the client has the answers and is the source of his or her own transformation).
2. Partnership (Coaches aim to be informal, collaborative and authentic).
3. Action (Coaching is always oriented toward helping a client get things done and take steps forward).
4. Possibility
(Coaches are optimistic and do not pathologize problems – they regularly engage clients in conversations about vision, purpose, mission, success, pleasure, joy, passion and effectiveness in order to further action and motivation).