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The Differences Between Counseling & Personal Life Coaching

While types of therapy vary widely, and some are more successful than others, some of the fundamental distinctions between coaching and the most popular types of counseling are as follows:

Traditional Therapy or Counseling
Primary Life Focus

A personís past, which usually includes some form of trauma. Deals with healing emotional pain or conflict within an individual or in a relationship between two people. BUT: some forms of therapy, or individual therapists, do focus on the future.

A personís present, in order to help them design and act toward the future. While positive feelings may be a natural outgrowth, the primary focus is on creating actionable strategies for achieving specific goals in one's work or personal life. The emphasis in a coaching relationship is on action, accountability and follow through. BUT: a responsible coach knows when itís useful to look at the past, precisely because the past informs the present, as well as in order to help extinguish limiting belief systems.

Subject Focus


Action and outcomes


Medical or clinical, relying on diagnosis of pathology or relationship conflicts

Learning/developmental, focusing on attainable goals and possibilities

Nature of Issue

Identifiable dysfunction

A generally functional client desiring a better situation

Treatment of the Past

Understand and resolve the past

Understanding the past as the context in which future goals are set

Questions Asked


HOW? WHAT? Asking WHY, a form of seeking insight, is emphasized less than action

Client Goals

Help patients resolve old pain and improve emotional states

Helps clients learn new skills and tools to build a more satisfying successful future; focuses on goals

Accountability for Goals

The goals of therapy are often necessarily vague or intangible, or not easily measured. It can be difficult (even undesirable) to identify success with much particularity

Coaching goals, like business goals, usually have to do with oneís external world and behavior, and therefore can be measured.


Doctor-patient relationship (The therapist is the expert)

Co-creative equal partnership (The coach offers perspectives and helps the clients discover their own answers)


The Therapist diagnoses, then provides professional expertise and guidelines to provide a path to healing

The Coach stands with the clients and helps him or her identify the challenges, then partners to turn challenges into victories, holding client accountable to reach desired goals

Training or Educational Background

Therapists require extensive expertise in the subject matter of the therapy: marital counseling, childhood abuse, etc. A therapist can try to coach.

Coaches, who deal in process, do not require subject matter expertise. But coaches cannot try to be therapists.


Patient, nurturing, evocative, indirect, parenting, cathartic

The same, excepting parenting, but also catalytic, challenging, direct, straight talk, accountability

Rate of Change

Progress is often slow and painful because the issues are often subconscious and fundamental

Growth and progress are rapid and usually enjoyable

Responsibility for Outcomes

The therapist is responsible for both the process and the outcome

The coach is responsible for the process; the client for the results


Limited, if any, personal disclosure by the therapist

Personal disclosure by the coach used when relevant as an aid to communicating (a similarity with mentoring)


Often covered in some part by insurance; almost never by any other third-party

Not covered by insurance; however, employers may pay for coaching of individuals

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