The Difference between Coaching and Therapy

What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Counseling?

What’s the difference between coaching and counseling or therapy?

In this article, you’ll learn eight distinguishing features that differentiate coaching and counseling.

The Difference between Coaching and Therapy

Coaching vs. Counseling

Many people wonder whether they would benefit from coaching or from psychotherapy or counseling.  If you’re confused about the difference between coaching and therapy, you’re not alone! Coaching and therapy serve two distinct purposes but there is a fair amount of overlap, so it can be confusing.

Coaching and Counseling or Therapy

Coaching and therapy both create a positive, healing relationship between the coach or therapist and client that is the medium for change. Coaches and therapists are trained in understanding human behavior and motivation. Both help clients set and achieve their goals.

Counseling / Therapy

  • Focuses on both the past and the present

  • Therapy can help heal wounds from the past

  • Treats a mental health or substance use problem (which includes everything from severe issues such as PTSD  to minor, short-term issues such as adjustment disorders)

  • Because therapy treats mental health or substance abuse problems, it’s generally covered by insurance and health savings accounts 

  • Providers are licensed and regulated by the state, which helps insure proper training and ethical and legal standards are followed

  • Unfortunately, there is a stigma for many individuals, cultures, and families in seeking psychotherapy or counseling

  • Confidentiality (with certain limitations) is protected by law


  • Focuses on setting and achieving goals in the present and future (doesn’t deal with the past)

  • Coaching does not involve a mental health diagnosis

  • Coaching helps mentally well people function at a higher level

  • Is NOT covered by insurance or health savings accounts

  • There is no licensing or particular training or credential required to work as a coach

  • Coaches often work online as they aren’t limited to working within a state-issued license like a therapist

  • Generally more acceptance of coaching, less stigma

  • Confidentiality is not protected by law

So, which would best meet your needs? If you know that you have a diagnosed mental health problem such as depression or anxiety, therapy is probably the better choice, at least initially. On the other hand, if you’re looking for focused help in reaching specific goals in the present, then a coach would be a great choice.

Coaching is also an appropriate choice if you’ve previously worked with a therapist and your depression or anxiety (or other mental health) symptoms are well managed. For some, it will be important to first work with a therapist and resolve some core issues and then work with a coach later for help achieving particular goals.

It is important that you consider your own needs and goals, the professional’s training and experience, and whether there is a good “fit” with the professional’s personality, approach, and values.


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Sharon Martin, DSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and author specializing in codependency recovery. For the past 25 years, she’s been helping people-pleasers, perfectionists, and adult children overcome self-doubt and shame, embrace their imperfections, and set boundaries. Dr. Martin writes the popular blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

1 thought on “What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Counseling?”

  1. Another important difference is that someone that is trained in counseling and psychotherapy can perform the task of a coach, the opposite does not hold true .

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