Coaching vs psychotherapy
What is the difference between psychotherapy and coaching? Why do some therapists look down on coaching? And yet, why do many therapists train as coaches?
The cliché that coaching focuses just on the present and the future while psychotherapy focuses on the past isn't just a cliché but also a myth, as there are forms of therapy that don’t dwell on the past, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and forms of coaching that allow for deeper self-examination.
In a previous article, I described existential coaching as the ultimate grey area between coaching and psychotherapy.
This blurred border seems to make not a few people uneasy, as certain psychotherapists look down on coaching and, at the same time, as is often the case, feel threatened by it. And some coaches, too, like to believe there is a definite boundary between the two professions.
But in fact, there is a definite crossover. Various centres across the world now offer training in therapeutic coaching, which blends the two approaches. And a growing number of therapists and psychologists are choosing to train as coaches.
The main objection psychotherapists have towards coaching seems to be regarding the length of the training. Indeed, in order to qualify, they need to have many more hours of practice than coaches do.
Coaches are very aware of this disparity and, because of it, can sometimes suffer from impostor syndrome, at least at the beginning of their career. But in fact, anyone going through a career change or development will experience some self-doubt. And professional training - in any field – can be very useful, as it provides the basic tools with which to work; but ultimately, you learn on the job.
In essence, life coaching and psychotherapy have more in common than what sets them apart. They both provide a non-judgmental space that promotes introspection. They both require you to be very self-aware and fully present to your client. They both aim to make clients more emotionally resilient and to help them move forward in life by identifying what is holding them back. In short, they both want people to be happier!
The most significant difference between the two professions is that, unlike counsellors and psychotherapists, coaches are not trained to work with mental health issues such as depression, eating disorders or psychosis. Therefore, therapy can involve recovery and help people move from a state of dysfunction to one of being functional. Whereas coaching is much more about helping healthy individuals achieve their full potential.
But, of course, not all therapy clients are ill, as many healthy people seek the services of psychotherapists and psychologists. And at the same time, coaching clients aren’t always completely healthy. As Mark Twain stated: "Let us consider that we are all partially insane. It will explain us to each other; it will unriddle many riddles".
Countless psychotherapists and psychologists choose to train as coaches, often as a result of feeling frustrated with the limitations of traditional psychology and therapy - both of which, for example, tend to overlook the mind-body connection. And also due to the fact that many companies and individuals nowadays are more likely to hire a coach than a therapist - because, when dealing with “healthy” people, coaching is widely perceived as being more effective at generating paradigm shifts and transformation.
While coaching as we know it today will hopefully never replace psychotherapy altogether, it is a much-needed evolutionary step in the helping professions. And in future, like it or not, the boundary between the two areas is likely to become more and more blurred.
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About Nico De Napoli
Nico is a London-based coach specialising in existential and mindfulness coaching, with over a decade of experience in mind-body coaching and stress management.