therapy or coaching?

Scott T. Wilson, Ph.D.


There are many similarities between psychotherapy and coaching, since the methods are similar and the aim of both is to help people achieve greater life satisfaction. The primary distinguishing factors are the focus of the treatment and the type of goals that structure the work.


•Psychotherapy is a process focused specifically on helping you develop more constructive ways to deal with the problems in your life, and is based primarily on an illness model.

•Attempts are made to connect a person's past experiences with their present difficulties, in an effort to identity root causes of the concern.

•Psychotherapy is recommended whenever a person is grappling with a life problem or specific mental health concern that is causing them pain or distress in their lives.

•It calls for an active effort on your part to reflect carefully on the problems you are experiencing, to be mindful of your efforts at solutions and why they do or do not work, and to be ready to attempt some changes in your life that may or may not be easy.

•While psychotherapy can sometimes be difficult, it has been shown to have many benefits.


•Coaching is a process focused more on helping an individual function at their best in a specific domain, such as in work or in relationships, and is based more on what would best be described as wellness model.

•It is generally goal-oriented and solution focused, with the clinician taking a much more active role in the process.

•Coaching is best for an individual who is generally functioning well, but who is struggling to overcome a road block, make an important life decision, or improve their performance in an area of their lives.

•It is about optimization and life changes, with less focus on antecedents and root causes, and more focus on the present and how the individual can improve their functioning in the future.

Whether you are seeking psychotherapy or coaching, the process begins in a similar manner. The first few sessions are about getting to know you and the issues you are facing. There is also discussion of what has been helpful and not so helpful in the past in dealing with the issue, and the formulation goals for the therapy. Regardless of the focus of or type of work, the therapy takes place in a supportive and collaborative environment that encourages people to explore the patterns that play out in their lives. Understanding these patterns and identifying how they contribute to one's distress can lead to real and lasting change.