• Catharina van de Kreke - Freens

Coaching versus psychotherapy

Change is a constant and speaking with someone on the outside of your life can be extremely helpful. Coaching and psychotherapy are two services that have helped countless people live their best lives, but they are often confused, as there is a great deal of overlap between each of these fields.


Diagram of coaching vs therapy
Therapy VS Coaching

Understanding the difference between coaching and psychotherapy, also referred to as therapy or counseling, is important to best serve the needs of ones client. One can think of mental health like physical health: When a person has physical symptoms, such as a sore throat or persistent cough, that interfere with daily life, they should see a physician to diagnose and treat the problem. Similarly, when a client is experiencing mental health issues (i.e. a condition that prevents an individual’s mind from working normally), one should refer them to the appropriate professional for diagnosis and treatment.


One can start identifying differences between coaching and psychotherapy by looking at definitions set forth by major associations for the professions. Please note, these terms have a range of definitions, and they can mean different things in different cultures.


The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”


The American Psychological Association (APA) defines psychotherapy as “the informed and intentional application of clinical methods and interpersonal stances derived from established psychological principles for the purpose of assisting people to modify their behaviors, cognitions, emotions, and/or other personal characteristics in directions that the participants deem desirable.”


The main distinctions between coaching and psychotherapy are based on focus, purpose, and population. Coaching focuses on visioning, success, the present, and moving into the future. Therapy emphasizes psychopathology, emotions, and the past in order to understand the present. The purpose of coaching is frequently about performance improvement, learning, or development in some area of life while therapy often dives into deep-seated emotional issues to work on personal healing or trauma recovery. Coaching tends to work with well-functioning individuals whereas therapy work tends to be for individuals with some level of dysfunction or disorder. Therapy works more with developing skills for managing emotions or past issues than coaching.


As an analogy, a coach is like an athletic trainer while a therapist is like a medical doctor specializing in sports medicine. Both draw from a shared body of knowledge that includes anatomy, kinesiology, nutrition, and the like. The trainer works from the assumption that the athlete is essentially sound in body and is focused on improving fitness and performance.

The trainer will refer the athlete to the team doctor if there is reason to believe he or she has an injury. Similarly, coaches and therapists work with the same material but with different skill sets and to different ends. A coach may explore the past, family life, or emotions of their client in the service of understanding the client’s origin stories being told about the present and future. What is important is that a coach does not diagnose nor does a coach offer treatment. Through observations, a coach can make a formulation on what the client needs.


Coach Cindy looks forward to teaming up with more individuals, teams, organizations and communities by coaching them towards their goals and vision, so they can transform and become who they aspire to be. Cindy offers team coaching, executive coaching, life coaching, training and workshops and so much more. Book your sample session now!

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