Before becoming a personal and professional development coach, I was a licensed mental health therapist for 15 years. I worked with clients with issues ranging from past trauma, depression, anxiety, relational issues, and my area of expertise: identity formation around race and culture. It was such meaningful work and I considered it such an honor to be invited and entrusted with “sacred spaces” of my clients’ lives, to support them as they make meaning out of past pain and to take steps towards a new path in the present that will affect the future life they see for themselves.
Now as a coach, I continue that meaningful work by focusing on my client’s present situation (i.e. what goals do they seek to accomplish and what might be the next step towards that specific goal). Through exploration, bringing clarity to what might be getting in the way of living the life they hope for, and implementing measurable goals towards that life.
As a coach, there is one question I get asked constantly. What is the difference between coaching and therapy? Which would be the most beneficial for me? I believe both coaching and therapy have many similarities but each has unique gifts to offer us in our growth and development.
What is similar between therapy and coaching?
Both therapy and coaching provide and create time and space to reflect upon what needs to change and how to move towards your growth and development. Both therapist’s and coach’s ability to provide deep listening, asking meaningful and clarifying questions create a supportive and collaborative conditions for a growth mindset, you are able to test and learn what steps are in alignment with your goals. Therapy and coaching both seek to help you to live fully into your best selves.
What is different about therapy & coaching?
There are many types of therapy and coaching. In general, therapy focuses on clearing away your emotions, or thoughts from your past to make way for new ways of behaving and thinking in the present and change the future. Coaching focuses on your present and look towards what changes need to be made to reach a future goal.
Therapy guides you to gain awareness of how your past consciously or unconsciously affects your emotions, thoughts, and your behaviors. The factors affecting your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors maybe a result of chemical imbalances, past trauma, or as a result of family history. The goal of therapy is healing from your past emotional wounding so that the path gets cleared away and you gain freedom to move into the present and the future with increased awareness and intentionality of the choices you are making.
The credentialing process for therapists varies state by state. In Washington state, to be licensed as mental health counselor, the therapist must complete a master’s or doctoral degree in mental health counseling or behavioral science, have a minimum of 36 months of full-time counseling or 3,000 hours of supervised postgraduate mental health counseling experience: minimum of 1,200 direct counseling hours and at least 100 hours of immediate supervision, therapist must pass a nationally board certified exam, complete 36 hours of continuing education courses every 2 years. It’s a demanding process to become credentialed.
Coaching focuses on change and increasing your awareness by helping you evaluate and identify what is and is not working in your present life. By harnessing your resourcefulness and creativity to explore, creating and experimenting with new possibilities, you are taking measurable steps toward your goal.
There are many credentialing bodies for coaching and I will make mention of three major ones. ICF (International Coaching Federation: coachfederation.org), IAC (International Association of Coaching: certifiedcoach.org), BCC (Board Certified Coach). These organizations exist to regulate coaching and to provide accountability to clients and to coaching professionals that the coaching services adheres to high professional standards and strong code of ethics. The educational training requirements all vary by credentialing organization but generally 60 hours of coach specific training, 30-100 hours of coaching experience, a written examination. Through ICF, there are 3 different levels of certification: ACC (Associate Certified Coach), PCC (Professional Certified Coach) and MCC (Master Certified Coach), each level requiring additional training hours and direct coaching experience. Depending on the specialty of coaching provided, coaches may also seek focused training (i.e. leadership, executive, health/wellness, parenting, etc).
Which would be the most beneficial for me right now, therapy or coaching?
The answer to this question will depend on how you will answer the following questions:
What is the nature of the concerns that I want to address? Does it feel more emotional and behavioral in nature? Are the concerns I’m wanting to address about the past in order to move forward to the present and future? If yes, then therapy might be the better option.
Or are the concerns about moving towards a goal or concrete change and needing support to take measurable steps? Are the concerns about going from the present to the future? Then coaching would better suit you.