What is the Difference Between a Coach and a Therapist?

Therapeutic Coaching is a unique and innovative method of helping individuals recover from a variety of issues including mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders; substance addictions such as to alcohol, opiates, Adderall or other drugs as well as to food; behavioral addictions such as to gambling, sex, or video games and other forms of technology; and other life and emotional issues including insomnia and family conflicts such as relationship issues, divorce, or co-parenting issues.  Therapeutic Coaching is a blend of psychotherapeutic approaches commonly used by many therapists including cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and family systems theory, among other therapeutic approaches in addition to coaching.


First let’s explore coaching and therapy to discuss their differences and similarities, and then explore how they can converge in order to help bring maximum benefit to a client.  The primary difference between a therapist and a coach is that, generally speaking, therapists tend to focus more on the past or present while coaches tend to focus more on the present and the future.  Therapists are often more focused on cognitions while coaches are often more focused on behaviors.  Of course, cognitions and behaviors are extremely intertwined, and as such therapists and coaches are often converging in their respective practices.


Therapists are licensed professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, or mental health counselors, and are trained in a wide array of modalities.  The common goal of all therapists is to relieve suffering (mental health symptoms) and achieve a healthy state of being and functioning.  Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy or counseling, helps individuals to gain insight into difficulties they are facing and helps individuals recognize cognitive distortions, irrational thought patterns, unconscious processes, and other such cognitive areas that typically result in emotional distress and mental health problems. 


Coaches, on the other hand, may hold certifications in their respective fields, but there are no current state or national laws that require a license to practice as a coach in most cases.  There are a wide array of coaches who focus on general or specific life areas including a general life coach, executive coach, business coach, career coach, relationship coach, divorce coach, nutrition coach, fitness coach, life skills coach, recovery coach, sober coach, basketball coach, you name it, the list is endless.  Each respective coach may have their own unique philosophy or approach, however, most coaches tend to be very goal and action oriented, and as such they help their clients set goals, create action plans to achieve those goals, and support and guide them along the way while also providing accountability and motivation.  A coaching approach is generally very hands on, and as such coaching sessions often take place in various settings such as the client’s home, gym, or office.


Whereas therapists have to follow appropriate ethical guidelines set by their respective licensing boards, coaches do not.  This can be beneficial for coaches because it allows them more flexibility in working with their clients.  This is why, for example, a coach can travel with their client while most therapists would not be able to do so due to breaches in confidentiality.  A Therapeutic Coach can offer the best of both worlds.  This is an individual who utilizes a coaching approach but has a background in mental health counseling.  As such, this allows the professional to implement a coaching modality with their client while also offering therapeutic support when needed.  Regardless of the specific goal of the client, cognitions always play an important factor.  As such, a Therapeutic Coach has the education, knowledge and experience to more effectively help their client attain their goals than a coach who is not knowledgeable in mental health.


In New York City there are a plethora of therapists and coaches that specialize in various areas.  There are also many wellness and treatment programs and other options available to help individuals attain their respective goals.  A simple Google search for what you are looking for in your respective living area, be it in Brooklyn or Manhattan, is a good starting point.  It may also be beneficial to search for a specialist in your specific area such as searching for a “mental health therapist in Brooklyn Heights” or a “therapist who specializes in depression in Upper East Side, NY.”  It is always encouraged to do thorough research and explore options before initiating services with any professional.  Review their website paying close attention to their specialty areas, experience, and backgrounds and read reviews from their former patients.  If their services sound appealing, schedule a free phone consultation and be sure to ask lots of questions, such as how they can help you with your specific problems.  If a particular method of treatment is not helpful for you, try something else.  There is always help available for everyone, never give up.


For more information or to inquire about our private concierge services please contact our undisclosed office location in the Upper East Side of New York City today at (929) 220-2912.

Lin Sternlicht & Aaron Sternlicht

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