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  • Writer's pictureShannon Wiggins

Therapy Vs. Coaching

Updated: Nov 17, 2019

What’s the difference between therapy and coaching? I get this question often, and I can totally see how someone may feel a bit confused on the two. I’ll admit, therapy and coaching do have similar aspects in common, and honestly, I've used some of the same techniques in both. For instance, goal planning is a huge concept I use with clients whether in the therapeutic setting or a coaching setting. Goal planning is always relevant to both. Another huge one that I've used in both settings is coping skills. Whether a client comes in needing to work on depression and anxiety (therapy) or stress management (coaching), helping them develop coping skills for various situations is imperative. I even use some of the same worksheets for homework for my clients to work on between sessions. However, there are some very major differences between therapy and coaching that are quite noteworthy.


One difference is the payment method. Some insurance companies cover therapy as a mental health service, and your therapist may choose to accept your insurance for payment. Coaching, on the other hand, is considered an alternative treatment by insurance companies, so they won’t cover the cost. I know, bummer. Or is it? The thing that is most often left out about insurance covering therapy is in order for your insurance to pay, they want a diagnosis. Yep, that’s right. If you use insurance to cover the cost of your therapy treatment, your therapist is REQUIRED to diagnosis you with something. And that diagnosis may follow you for the foreseeable future. Add in the insurance company having control over what type of treatment you can receive and how many sessions you’re allowed to have, and paying for services through insurance may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. Of course, you can avoid this by paying for services out-of-pocket, or maybe you don’t mind the fine print when it comes to insurance. If not, great! Because sometimes you actually need therapy, not coaching.

Much of therapy is focused on the past, coming to terms with it, and learning to move on. Coaching on the other hand is about the here and now and how to move forward. Therapy also is the place to tackle some hard hitting mental health issues. Having problems managing acute stress is one thing, but when we start talking anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder to name a few, you need someone that is qualified to diagnosis and treat those conditions. You need a therapist.

One last piece worth mentioning when talking differences between therapy and coaching is qualifications. Many therapist are also life coaches, however, life coaches are just that. Life coaches.

Some therapist do life coaching as well for a variety of reasons, but life coaches can’t just decide on a whim that they’ll start practicing therapy that day. While many life coaches are certified, it’s not a requirement. In fact, there’s no educational background requirement at all. That’s why it’s so important to choose wisely and find someone that has made the investment of formal education in themselves. A therapist, on the other hand, has to be licensed in each state they wish to practice in. And before you can even think about getting licensed, you have to complete a minimum of a master’s degree. So there’s a heck of a lot more education that goes into therapy. That’s not to say one is better than another. Like I said, I’ve practiced both. I’m a therapist licensed in NC, and I continue to practice both.

This post by no means touches on all the similarities and differences between therapy and coaching, but I hope it’s at least enough to give a better understanding to those of you that may have been wondering. So, what do you think? Do you have a preference? Let me know!


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