Coaching and Therapy – What are the Differences?

Coaching and TherapyProfessional Coaching helps caregivers demystify the complex roles and responsibilities that accompany caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or other memory impairment, and reduces the emotional, physical and psychological stress that are associated with it.

A calm, warm coaching session enables a caregiver to experience mindful, focused attention on his or her personal health and well-being, while exploring the unique caregiving challenges they are currently facing.

The coaching dynamic enhances self-awareness by quieting a caregiver’s emotional frenzy for a short time, turning out distractions, eliciting positive emotions about what is going well, and enabling a curious and engaged inquiry into “what are the caregiving challenges you are facing right now”?

Coaching clients define and decide what they want to work on as they navigate their new or existing role as a full-time caregiver.  Their coach educates, guides, supports and directs the process to assure the caregiver get the results they want and need.

What are the differences between a therapist, consultant, mentor and coach?

The simple answer might be best understood like this: Let’s say you wanted to learn to drive a car.  If you hired a:

Therapist – the therapist would help you find out what might be holding you back from driving the car.  He would delve into your past to discover what kinds of experience you have had with automobiles.

Consultant – the consultant would bring you an owner’s manual and tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the workings of a car.  The consultant would then leave you.  She might return six months later to see how you had managed the actual driving part.

Mentor – the mentor would share her experiences of driving cars and the wisdom and lessons she had learned in her more rich experience with the matter.

Coach – the coach would seat you in the car, place himself in the passenger seat, and teach you key life skills and emotional regulation, encourage and support you, and help you reach your goals and hold you accountable until you felt comfortable enough to go it alone.

A professional coach recognizes the core differences between therapy and coaching and can listen for cues or red flags that might suggest a referral to a psychotherapist, either in addition to coaching or in place of coaching, might be indicated.  A professional coach is equipped to:

  • Recognize when a referral might be indicated for psychotherapy and/or medical assessment.
  • Discern when a client is actually asking for counseling but prefers to call it “coaching.”
  • Understand how the intensity and longevity of blocks, ruts, and fears differ in high functioning coaching clients from blocks, ruts, and fears, in clients who need psychotherapy to move beyond their stuck place.

There are some basic distinctions between traditional psychotherapy and professional coaching that are important to point out.


 Coaching Approach

Therapy Approach

Coaching does not diagnose and does not work with people suffering from clinical dysfunctionalityTreats diagnosable disorders based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV)
Helps the caregiver manage today’s challenges successfully, while maintaining their own physical and emotional well-being.Deals with old issues, emotional pain, or traumas; seeks resolution and healing.
Refers individuals with prolonged depression, severe anxiety, phobias, harmful addictions, and destructive or abusive behavior patterns to a qualified mental health professionalTreats individuals with prolonged depression, severe anxiety, phobias, harmful addictions, and destructive or abusive behavioral patterns as well as other conditions
Primary focus is on the here and now and planning for the futurePrimary focus is on feelings and history
Oriented towards finding solutions to the problems that are occurring todayOriented toward exploring specific, psychic roots of problems
Assists the client in identifying, prioritizing, and implementing good choicesAssists the client in untangling unconscious conflicts which interfere in choice
Helps clients learn new skills and toolsHelps clients resolve old pain and terminate old coping mechanisms
Listens to feelings as clues for how to get the client into action and leads the client to a specific action stepsListens for feelings as symptoms of underlying dysfunction and follows the client on any valid exploration of their feelings.
Typically directs the client to return to actionOften directs the client to go deeper into feelings
Encourages and requests proactive behaviorCounsels on becoming less reactive
Gives advice in area of expertise and with clients permissionUsually does not give advice

Coaching Process

Therapy Process

Focuses on learning and developing effective caregiving methods and coping strategiesFocuses on healing and restoring function
Main tools include educating, guiding, accountability, inquiry, requesting, long-term planningMain tools include listening, reflecting, confrontation and interpretation
Deals mainly with external issues; looks for external solutions to internal blocksDeals mainly with internal issues; looks for internal resolution

Coaching Relationship & Structure

Therapy Relationship & Structure

Alliance designed jointly by Coach and client.Nature of alliance largely designed by therapist
Discourages transference as inappropriateEncourages transference as a way of objectifying issues to be explored
Sessions may be in person, online, via Skype or by telephoneSessions usually conducted face-to-face in therapists office
Usually not considered a medical expense. Does not become part of the client’s permanent medical recordsIs usually considered a medical expense, is billed to insurance and becomes a permanent part of the client’s medical records.

While this list of distinctions does not paint a complete picture of either therapy or Coaching, our aim is to simply clarify the respective roles of the two professions.

To learn more about Coaching for Caregivers or to schedule a consultation, call us at 877-760-9199