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  • Joyce Gayles

Core Distinctions You Should Know About Psychotherapy and Coaching

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

If you are interested in changing your life for the better, speaking with a helping professional can be extremely helpful.

Psychotherapy and coaching are two modalities that have helped people to live their best lives, but therapy and coaching are often confused.

Let’s examine several basic differences between coaching and psychotherapy to help you decide who might be most suited to help on your journey of healing and growth

Mental Health Issues and Goals-Orientation

One of the most important distinctions between psychotherapists and coaches is that therapists are trained to help people who are dealing with mental health issues and coaches are not.

Mental health problems are quite common, impacting about one in five American adults at some points in their lives, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (2019). So, if you are seeking help for a common mental health problem, such as clinical depression, anxiety, relationship issues, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychotherapy is the way to go.

Generally, coaching is more focused on helping people achieve their future-oriented goals, whether professional or personal, while psychotherapy tends to be about healing past trauma and dealing with current stressors. Psychotherapy plums the depths of a problem, recurring issue, or block to explore and resolve it at its root.

However, many coaches can help clients understand how the past contributes to their present and future and many therapists can help clients achieve future goals.

Insurance Coverage and Self-Pay

Because psychotherapy is about treating mental health problems, it is usually covered by health insurance. Coaching is typically not covered by insurance because the focus of coaching is not a mental health issue. Also, not all therapists accept insurance.

Training and Practice Standards

To legally provide psychotherapy, therapists are required to have an advanced degree (Masters, PhD, PsyD) and a state license to practice. To obtain a license to practice psychotherapy, they need to meet certain criteria including an exam and supervised hours of practice prior to licensure.

While there are many certification programs for coaching, there are no governing boards for executive, life, or success coaches. However, there are coaching associations that set training, practice, and ethical standards and guidelines for coaches. Some coaches originally practiced as psychotherapists and some practicing psychotherapists provide coaching as part of their services.

How Services Happen

Psychotherapists face more restrictions than coaches in terms of where and how they can offer services. For example, they must be licensed in the state(s) where they practice, while coaches can work throughout the U.S. and internationally. Psychotherapists have traditionally offered only face to face services in an office or mental health facility, while coaching most frequently happens via phone or video. However, in 2020 and 2021, due to Covid 19, psychotherapy is increasing being provided virtually by phone or video..

If you are unclear about whether and how to choose a therapist or coach:

  • ask friends or co-workers who have had successful therapeutic or coaching experiences to recommend a therapist or coach.

  • speak with a few from each profession and ask them about their approaches and whether they have dealt with the problems/concerns you are having.

  • do your research to make sure their backgrounds are legitimate in their field and choose the one that feels right for you.


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