Five Differences  Between Coaching and Therapy

Many people are unclear about the difference  between coaching and therapy or counseling.

First,  coaching is mainly proactive and counseling is generally reactive.  In other words, therapy is  more concerned with a client’s past whereas coaching is usually more concerned with the present and future, setting  goals and finding ways to reach them.

Second, in therapy, there is an assumption that the individual has an emotional or mental problem that requires fixing.This is similar to a doctor diagnosing an illness and prescribing a treatment. The counselor identifies the issues that cause the problem and using a variety of techniques helps the client return to a more normal life. It is not time limited and may continue for  years, depending on the recovery of the client.

Third, coaching helps a different set of people. It starts with the assumption that clients are reasonably healthy but need help identifying and achieving their goals. It is not trying to diagnose or treat illness.

Comparison of various approaches1

• Coaching: focused conversation dealing with specific issues, conflicts or dilemmas

• Psychiatry: medical intervention dealing with mental illness: medication 

• Psychology: psychological intervention dealing with mental health problems: tests 

• Psychotherapy: talking treatment to heal deeply rooted emotional problems 

• Counseling: talking through current emotional and personal issues for greater understanding 

Fourth, coaching is often time limited, in other words it usually lasts for a fixed set of session, usually 8-12, although if the client wishes it can continue longer.

Fifth, counseling and therapy usually require a face-to-face session. Although many coaches like to work in this way it is also common for coaching to take place over the internet or telephone and long distance. Coaching can be done almost anywhere but is most common on the telephone or in the convenience of your office or home (additional charges may apply). Sometimes, when the weather is good, a walk and coaching in a park works well. 

At the end of the day you can think of a therapist as someone you bring your luggage to and they help you open it up and decipher the contents; a  coach is someone you bring your luggage to and, without opening it, helps you carry it across the street. There are many other differences but  be aware that if you decide to see me, I will not attempt medical or therapeutic treatment and if it seems necessary, will refer you for this type of care.

I work as an existential coach which means that  my focus is on understanding the human predicament of my clients in a practical and philosophical way. Existential coaching draws on the work of existential and phenomenological thinkers and in some ways is related to philosophical consulting1.


1. Van Deurzen, E., & Hanaway, M. (2012). Existential perspectives on coaching. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York : Palgrave Macmillan.


Coaching for Physicians

The Leader in Specialized Coaching for Healthcare Organizations and Physicians

Patrick A. Hudson MD, FACS, MA, MS, MALA, BCC,Board Certified Coach,
2900 Louisiana Blvd. NE Ste E-1, Albuquerque, NM 87110, USA    Telephone: 505-280-4284  

                        EverythingDiSCŪ Authorized Partner and EverythingDiSCŪ Certified Trainer                        
Listed as a resource for physician remedial education by the Federation of State Medical Boards.  
Dr. Hudson does not practice psychotherapy, counseling or psychiatry and works only as a coach.

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