There is great interest in both coaching and therapy. Unfortunately, there is also a great deal of confusion around what a coach or a therapist is, or does. This confusion is understandable since some therapists present themselves, and act, as coaches, and some coaches act as therapists. But there are very important and even crucial differences between coaching and therapy. Crucial. A coach that engages in psychotherapy is putting a person in need of therapy in danger, and a therapist relying on coaching techniques is also putting a person in need of therapy in danger, by not giving them the treatment that they need. So, below I have listed the most significant differences between coaching and therapy, and an illustration, based on scientific evidence about the effects that each of them has on the human mind.
It’s important to say that the description of therapy offered is a description of scientific-based, depth psychology therapy. Other forms of therapy have shown to affect only the conscious part of the mind.
What Coaches Do
Coaches come up with plans based on their areas of expertise: Fitness, Nutrition, Business, Fashion, Speech, etc. in order to help people to change some unwanted feature of themselves. They are the authority. They prescribe the plan and its elements in order to change into a state of well-being that usually follows popular wisdom and opinion.
Coaches give instructions on how to execute the plans designed by them. They teach verbally and visually, lecture, explain, use written, audio, and visual materials to instruct people in what and how to follow the instructions determined by their plans.
Coaches clearly and firmly point the way to actions that they consider are needed in order to fulfill objectives and goals outlined by their expertise and their plan.
Coaches evaluate and correct actions according to how successful they are in reaching the objectives and goals desired.
What Therapists Do
Therapists lead and facilitate exploration. They create an environment and attitude conducive to encouraging a person to explore their history, desires, motivations, etc. in order to uncover and learn the contents of their unconscious, and what drives their emotions, thinking, and actions.
Therapists reflect what a person tells them, and inquire about pieces of information that appear to be important in the person’s story and functioning in order to lead the person to identify them and explore them further. Increasing the identification of specific feelings, thoughts, intentions, and memories, lead to clarity.
Therapists reflect what a person shares with them in the same way that a mirror reflects their image. Through seeing themselves and their stories reflected, a person can see them clearly, without the distortions of false beliefs, other people’s opinions, their own fears, etc. This clarity makes the person see solutions and the ways of changing if they choose to.
Therapists support people in their efforts to change. But don’t decide if they should change. Only human beings can choose to change themselves. No one can choose to change another person. If a person wants to change, therapists can offer continued encouragement, reflection of efforts and results, unconditional care and support in both successes and failures, and encouragement to not abandon the work of actualizing their potential, and not give up to defeat.
What Coaching Does to the Human Mind
Coaching can have an effect on the conscious part of our mind. The part of the mind that we use to make plans, make conscious decisions, set goals. The part of the mind that we are aware of. This conscious part of our mind is like the screen, touchpad, and keyboard of our computer. We can type or click what we want, and see it on the screen. We can also delete, edit, and change the screen, but we can’t change the code of the underlying program running the functions.
In the same way, coaching can help us make corrections on ways of doing things differently: how to stand and hold a bat, how to set a table, the correct etiquette of using utensils, how to dress elegantly, how to present ourselves in an interview, etc.
But, it can’t create change in the programs that rule our deep-rooted, and automatic, responses, emotions, thoughts, and actions.
What Therapy Does to the Human Mind
Therapy has an effect on the unconscious part of the mind. The part of the mind that we are not aware of. The part of the mind that controls hunger, thirst, sexual impulse. This part of the mind is like the hard drive of our computer. This part of the mind contains patterns that we have created during our entire lives. You can think of these patterns as computer programs that live in our unconscious minds. These programs were written by us in the process of living. We wrote them according to our experiences. Early in life, we wrote programs to relate to mom, to dad, to our teachers. Later we wrote programs to guide us in friendships, in school, dating, in work. And, we always wrote, and are writing, programs that tell us how we see, and feel, about ourselves.
These programs in our unconscious minds are triggered and activated by exposure to people, things, situations, and environments. And, when they get activated they make us feel, think, and act in the way that they are designed, and move us to complete the objectives and goals for which they were created.
In the process of therapy, people uncover these programs that make us feel, think, and act, without really understanding the reasons why. By discovering, understanding, and accepting them, we can reclaim them, and even rewrite their programming so they can lead us to the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that contribute to our success, and tranquility, instead of our ruin.
Coaching and Therapy are best when they supplement each other, not substitute each other.
As you can see Coaching and Therapy are two different activities. They have different goals, they affect different parts of our minds, and their methodology is different. Also, they demand different skill sets from the person delivering them.
It is very important that Coaches be very mindful, ethical, and responsible to not step into the area of Therapy unless they are Therapists well versed in the workings of the unconscious. To do so would be dangerous. Mental Health is a very serious and complex matter. Mental and emotional problems can lead to extreme losses, suffering, and death. People in need of psychotherapy should not be treated by anyone except very skillful psychotherapists.
Because we have 2 different systems in the mind, both Coaching and Therapy can be helpful, if they are used strategically by skilled practitioners. Coaching is extremely useful in gaining skills that improve many areas of life. A good Coach can bring great value to someone’s life.
To be excellent in their craft both the Coach and the Therapist need to be well versed, well educated, and well trained in their practice. They need to have a deep understanding of the human mind, understanding that they can work together for a common purpose, but they are different. Coaches and Therapists that understand that, and focus on their area of expertise provide excellence.