Life coaching vs. Therapy – Daniel W. Vose

Life coaching vs. Therapy

The Party Line: Psychotherapy is about the Past and Coaching about the Future. 

The standard distinction between life coaching and psychotherapy is that life coaching is future oriented, focussed on obtaining goals, as where psychotherapy is more about exploration of the past, and corresponding insight into the development of one’s personality style.

Pathology. Psychotherapists Diagnosis, Coaches Do not.

On further exploration of the differences between life coaching and psychotherapy one finds more significant distinctions. Psychotherapy is defined as the treatment of mental disorders.  As such, psychotherapy has an inherent orientation of pathology, there is something wrong that needs treatment psychological treatment.  Coaching is based in empowerment and do not diagnose. Coaches may have more freedom to see their clients as already whole

Difference in Training and Regulation

Psychotherapists typically have spent years in graduate school. Coaches do not legally require training or certification to practice. Psychotherapists are regulated by state and national boards, coaches are not.

Relational Authenticity, Professionalism, and Power Dynamics. 

Traditionally, psychotherapists reframe from bringing their personality into sessions. The thought is that their personality may distract from the clients process. While that can be true, recent advances in attachment theory and neuroscience offer insight into why relationally unavailable therapy can actually do harm. Entire methods of relational psychotherapies have been birthed to remedy this problem.

Even Relational Psychotherapists can and often do have a veil of prestige and professionalism that while again is sometimes helpful, may actually impede relational healing and contribute to the cultural myth that autonomy or rigid individualism is healthy.  Humans have evolved as a tribal species and    are more able to bring their personality into session

Psychotherapists are often put on a pedestal. The inherent focus on pathology in psychotherapy lays the foundation for an almost inescapable power dynamics.  In the psychotherapist-client dynamic the psychotherapist is often more empowered holding the answers that the client needs.  The implicit assumption is that the psychotherapist is more healthy and has insight that the client is not as readily privy to.

Coaches can more easily avoid hierarchical power dynamics and offer a perhaps more genuine relationship. Essentially coaches are free to show up as they are without exerting effort to maintain or cultivate prestige. If a healing is genuine and true it should not be predicated in a false sense of self or a professional identify that is not congruent with a personal identity.

Why be Therapized instead of Coaching? 

  1. Psychotherapy can offer diagnosis which can mean insurance coverage
  2. Psychotherapists typically have more training
  3. Psychotherapy treats and is better at working with Mental Disorders and serious mental health problems.

Why be Coached instead of Therapized? 

  1. Coaching is more empowering and less pathologizing.
  2. Coaches can be more relationally available.
  3. Coaches are more goal oriented.

This author relinquished the title of psychotherapist as a way to more effectively help people to meet their goals be it career, personal, or healing.


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