The differences between therapy, counseling, and coaching (and when you need each).

When you’re feeling stuck, you have quite a few choices of where to seek help, and what types of help to use. If you’re feeling stuck one way or another, your feet may start to feel even heavier if you’re not even sure what kind of help you need. The differences between coaching, therapy and counseling are subtle but can be important in making sure you receive effect help.

Here we break down the differences so you know the most effective support for what you’re facing. The quick chart here shows overall, high-level differences, but for a thorough understanding, be sure to read the whole article!

Therapy

Marriage and family therapists typically provide what we call “therapy,” though MFTs typically work with individuals as much if not more than they do with families or couples. MFTs train from a relational background, and they approach therapy by evaluating social relationships. They evaluate most everything through the health of relationships, emotional support, influence of relationships, and so on.

Additionally, we often associate therapy with the idea of healing or processing challenging emotions. The root of the word “therapy” comes from the Latin word “therapia,” which means curing or healing. The primary results of therapy can be invisible and largely internal. The secondary results may be more obvious and tangible.

Counseling

Depending on your counselor’s background, counseling can be very similar to therapy. For example, I am a counselor but my background and training are in marriage and family therapy. I have additional classes as part of my degree that qualify me for a counseling license. Thus, my approach is still largely based in relational theories and techniques.

However, counseling traditionally can be more guidance or advice-driven than therapy. From middle English, the root word “counsel” would be counsel or consult.

There are many blurry lines between therapy and counseling. One chief difference is frequently that counselors don’t typically work with families or couples. Counselors typically focus more on individuals even if they have some training in family systems or relational counseling.

While counseling, like therapy, can also have a healing focus, it’s often more focused on tangible skills, specific action and change, and visible results. There may also be more structured approaches. For example, think of career counseling.

Don’t stress about whether you’re working with a counselor or therapist on your mental health journey – either produce similar results. The most important action is to be clear about what your goals are.

Coaching

Coaching is different than therapy and counseling.

First of all, the training, certification, regulations, and licensure for coaches is entirely different and separate from that for therapy and counseling.

Some coaches are not formally trained, but excel in goal-setting and motivation. State or nationally recognized governing bodies don’t typically regulate coaches. You’ll need to get familiar with your coach’s certification if they have one. Coaches don’t have mental health training unless they specifically seek it.

Coaching is not relationship-based, as therapy is, and doesn’t tend to focused on healing, restoring mental health, or treating anxiety or depression. Coaching motivates you and zeroes in on goals, specific actions, and potential courses of action. Think of it as you would a sports coach. They have ideas for plays, can map out potential outcomes ahead of time, have drills for practice, and so on.

Coaching may be the best option for you if you are already clear on your goals but are unsure of how to accomplish them on your own.

Still not sure? We’re here to help – just give us a shout.

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