One of the most common questions I hear is: “What’s the difference between life coaching and therapy?”
The two fields obviously share some similarities, but I’ve come to see therapy and coaching as two highly distinct practices - with very unique perspectives, methods, and goals.
When these distinctions aren’t well understood, life coaching is sometimes judged as being less than therapy.. and life coaches as being merely amateur therapists. This misunderstanding does a disservice to both coaches and therapists & the role both can play at different stages of our personal growth.
A book that recently shed a great deal of light on this subject for me personally was “Depth Coaching” by Dr. Patricia R. Adson.
Dr. Adson worked professionally as both a therapist and a coach throughout her career and wrote this about the differences between the two practices: “Coaching as a discipline is a client-centered way of working with individuals to help them achieve their goals, balance their lives, and attain fulfillment. Coaching focuses on clients’ lifelong development rather than the remediation of past wounds. The coaching client is considered ‘naturally whole and resourceful’ rather than dysfunctional or disordered. Coaching differs from psychotherapy, where the focus is on the treatment of personality problems, maladjustments, and mental disorders. The territory of the coach is that of adult development, whereas the territory of the psychotherapist is more likely to involve the uncompleted tasks of child development. Coaching is a process of enrichment rather than repair.”
There are times in life when we need repair, when wounds must be healed, when long-standing traumas from childhood must be analyzed. There are mental illnesses and addictions that need professional medical attention. These are, in my judgment, the proper domains of the clinical therapist.
And then the time comes when we are ready to move beyond our wounds, to move on from the past. Instead, we feel the pull towards the future, the call towards the life we chose to create for ourselves. We have visions to develop, goals to reach, purposes to fulfill. This inner work, just as deep and profound, is the proper role of the coaching relationship.
My own experience is a testament to this process. About three years ago, I was not in a good place mentally. I was feeling very depressed and was fixated on the past traumas of a divorce & the ending of a close friendship. I began working with a therapist and our work together was life-changing. Typical of therapy, the process was very focused on healing my past.. because that was precisely what I needed at that moment.
Six months later, as I continued work with my therapist, I also began meeting with a life coach. Instead of talking about my past, we discussed my future. It was during those conversations that I got clear about my desire to move to Asheville and to pursue my own career as a life coach. The life I’ve now created for myself in the Blue Ridge Mountains really began in those coaching conversations.
My own life has benefited immensely by both therapy and coaching, but they were two very distinct practices which served very different needs.
I am immensely proud to be a life coach. I am honored to serve as a guide for my clients as they move beyond the wounds of their past and step forward into the adventurous life that is waiting for them.
That is what coaching is all about.
If you think having a coach by your side could be the right fit for your current life journey, I invite you to set up a free introductory Pathfinding Session to learn more about the process. Click the "Book Online" button on the top of the screen to set up your Pathfinding Session today.
- Matthew Foley