Coaching and Therapy: What’s the difference?

Coaching and therapy often use many of the same techniques to help people gain insight – but differ in important ways.

The key focus of coaching is supporting professional and person development. This is achieved through pursuing specific action-based outcomes that are client initiated (ICF, 2016). In contrast the core competencies of psychotherapy are deemed the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders (Jordan & Livingstone, 2013)

The fundamental goal of coaching is helping clients to clarify and reach their goals. Conversely, the purpose of therapy is addressing dysfunction, pain and conflict. Present emotional and psychological functioning is attended to by focusing on past difficulties, in contrast to coaching which focuses on the future, and action therein (ICF, 2016). For example, the aim of counseling psychotherapy is to alleviate difficulties. Dealing with issues such as anxiety, loss, addiction, and relationship issues are examples of why an individual might attend therapy (IACP, 2014)
The difference between coaching and therapy is their focus.  The focus of coaching is helping clients identify, clarify and attain future orientated goals, while the focus of therapy is the alleviation of emotional distress often arising from the past (ICF, 2016).

IACP. (2014). A guide to Counseling and Psychotherapy. IACP. Retrieved from
ICF. (2016). Coaching FAQs – Need Coaching – ICF. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from
Jordan, M., & Livingstone, J. B. (2013). Coaching vs Psychotherapy in health and Wellness: Overlap, Dissimilarities, and the Potential for Collaboration. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 2(4), 20–27.

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