I get this question often in my practice. What’s the difference? Night and day. Think of a psychotherapist as a healer, someone who takes aspects of your life as it is that may have resulted in suffering, e.g. anxiety, depression, addiction or other mental disorder and who offers a plan of treatment in an attempt to restore healthy emotional functioning to as normal a range as is practically possible.
A coach is a helping professional who supports a client in achieving personal or professional goals by providing training, advice and guidance. One word of advice may be to recommend that their client seek a psychotherapist. Coaching describes a professional relationship between two people, of whom one has more experience and expertise than the other and who offers advice and guidance as the client learns to progress and develop toward achieving life goals & objectives.
While psychotherapists use psychological principles and theory to diagnose and treat mental disorder, with roots extending back to Europe in the late 1800’s, coaching began in America in the 1940s. As the world of work and organizations changed through the 70’s and 80’s, so did the needs of the individuals. Society witnessed considerable changes, with aspects of life being more unpredictable, unsettled, and fragile. Coaching evolved to fill a need for growth, though some overlap exists between the two fields. Both are based in similar theoretical constructs and on an ongoing, confidential, one-to-one relationship between the practitioner and client. Both assume significant change will occur over time.
So, the main difference between the two may be that a psychotherapist is more engaged in a process of healing and treating mental disorder and emotional distress: alleviating suffering. We look at your past, your history, your relationships, losses and your current experience of your problems and difficulties. Coaching, in contrast, can be viewed as more of a forward looking, positive process to transport people from where they are to where they want to be. Since the mid-1990s, coaching has developed into an independent discipline and professional associations have also helped develop a set of training standards with an international focus.
In psychotherapy, there are various areas of expertise, for example, some therapists work exclusively with children, some are highly expert in treating trauma, and others have extensive training in addiction or severe mental disorders. Coaching can be viewed as a “meta-profession” that can apply to supporting clients in any human endeavor, ranging from concerns in health, personal, relationship, professional, financial or spiritual dimensions. Psychotherapy, in essence, views where you have been, what happened and how you got to where you are. Coaching takes you where you are to where you would like to be.
Of course, there are more complex differences. There are whole schools of thought, theory and approaches in both traditions. Some psychotherapists work to analyze the connection and relationship between thought, feeling and behavior. Others look to the more subtle aspects of your emotional and relational past that appear in the present through recurring and often maladaptive behavior patterns. Coaching arose concurrent with academic and research developments in the 1980’s that gave way to the “positive” psychology and human potential movement. Both professional fields have, at the bottom, an aim to help a person achieve higher and more satisfying levels of experience in their lives.
I hope this was helpful. Feel free to contact me at my email if you would like to learn more about this or other related topics: firstname.lastname@example.org.