What is the Difference between Counseling & Coaching? Part I

Counseling-vs-coaching-blog-photo-720x380What is the Difference Between Therapy & Coaching?

Well, as much as most writers emphasize how radically different they are, they often are not. There can be a lot of similarities.

Perhaps these metaphors will help us in this conversation.

Metaphor #1: Two Cars on a Country Road

Two people are driving down a country road in a storm. They come around a bend, and find there is a tree down in the middle of the road. The first car swerves and misses the tree, but gets stuck in the mud off the side of the road. The second car hits the tree and bangs up the bumper and quarter panel.

The first car just needs a tow to get pulled out of the mud, and then maybe some help cleaning things up and getting going better than ever. The second car has to go in the shop for a bit, and get some work done, after which it too will be fine, and ready to go. It will take a little longer, and require a different kind of work.

Metaphor #2: Up the Ladder

“In therapy, clients are trying to go from -2 to +5, and in Coaching, the clients want to get from +5 to +9.”

In short, historically, people seek Psychotherapy/Counseling when there are problems in their lives, and they want to get and feel better. In Coaching, clients’ lives are already pretty good, maybe really good, and they want them to be even better.


Man on Tracks   Therapy tends to start with some variation of “What’s wrong?” To use your health insurance, you HAVE to have a DSM/ICD “diagnosis.” There are milder ones, and more severe-sounding ones, but the very mildest are NOT reimbursed by insurance companies.

My observation has been that this need to identify a diagnosable condition leads too many therapists to get caught in “What’s Wrong?” because what’s wrong is what gets them paid. In order to access your health benefits, I, too, have to assign a diagnosis, but I do not want to get caught in “What’s wrong?” forever, or even for very long. I want to focus on your strengths, your possibilities, your support systems, and so on. I do not want to drag you through the old stuff session after session, having you re-live and re-energize the vibration of negative experiencing. It just doesn’t really help, though a lot of people think that is what you have to do in therapy. I do not happen to agree.

Life Coaching

Jimmy MemeIn my experience, Coaching tends to go faster, and be more intense, than therapy. There are not any significant issues of banged up fenders to work with—we just take off like hell. Surprisingly, I find that Life Coaching takes, not exactly more skill, but more…life experience. Holding space in therapy is not quite the same as actively co-creating a strategic plan for your life and jump starting it down the road. They are kind of different.

In my mind, a younger person can learn the skills of a therapist and be reasonably effective with some populations and presenting concerns. I don’t think I would personally want to go to a 35 year old for Life Coaching, though I might for therapy.  Too much of Life Coaching involves not only being aware of life stages and changes, but having negotiated them.

If I wanted to learn to play baseball, and had the choice between the smartest young man in the world who had read all the theory of hitting and published research on the topic, but hadn’t actually played all that much, and an older, grizzled guy who had actually played ball all of his life, and watched thousands of guys hit, I would most certainly choose the latter.

You get what I mean.

Financial Realities

Your health insurance usually pays at least part of your therapy or counseling. You can check that out with them.

Life Coaching services will not be reimbursed by insurance, so those fees will be your responsibility.

On the other hand, some of you don’t like having your personal insurance information flying around the world, and may choose not to use it anyway. That’s up to you.

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