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Border Line: Understanding the Relationship Between Therapy and Coaching

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Published in, and reproduced with permission from, choice, the magazine  of professional coaching


As the profession of life coaching evolves,  it  becomes more uniquely defined and described. Over the past decade, many coaches and psychologists have clarified its definition and role (Ellis, 2005; Williams and Davis, 2000; Stober and Grant, 2006; Williams and Menendez, 2007), and these distinctions continue to emerge. Increasingly, life coaching seems to be revealing itself as an evolutionary step beyond traditional therapy. Traditional therapy will not become extinct, but rather it will increasingly serve only those clients who need clinical services.

As the helping professions continue to evolve, more clarity will emerge regarding which helping professional is the best fit for a client’s current concern. The distinctions between traditional therapy and coaching can be considered in four broad categories.
1. Past vs. future: Perspectives on the process. Therapy frequently focuses on the past and generally assumes the client has a problem that needs solving; coaching focuses on the future and assumes the client is whole and has the innate wisdom and tools to have a wonderful life.
2. Fix vs. create: Why clients come to see you. Clients generally seek a therapist as a resource to fix or eliminate their problem; clients seek a coach to assist them in getting more out of their lives or creating new possibilities in their lives.
3. Professional vs. collegial: Characteristics of the helper-client relationship. Therapy clients generally see the therapist as an expert who holds the answers and techniques to fix their problems; coaching clients see the coach as a partner to support their growth and efforts to create an even better life than they have now.

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