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  • Writer's pictureJenny Dipasupil

What's the difference between therapy and coaching? What do I need right now?

Updated: Jun 8

Ethical coaching is intended to work alongside therapy when a client reaches a stable baseline of mental health. It is NOT a replacement for therapy unless your coach is also a therapist and even then, many of the group coaching programs run by therapists don't dive into issues as deeply when working one-to-one.

Here are 3 distinctions between talk therapy and coaching to help you decide if therapy might be more of a priority for you at this time.


  1. Feel broken and unable to handle everyday life?

You might be fresh off a bad break up and feel incredibly depressed. You might be in the depths of deep grief due to the loss of a loved one. You may be struggling with debilitating anxiety that includes daily panic attacks. Or maybe you simply cannot get out of bed and make it to work.

These symptoms indicate that your ability to function as you normally would in day-to-day life is drastically compromised. Think of mental health on a spectrum. On one end you feel empowered to handle the stresses of the day even if sometimes things feel overwhelming or boring.

On the other end, you're having a really hard time performing well at work, your relationships are suffering because of your struggle to meet your own self-care needs, and you're feeling really burdened by the daily acts of living that once felt easy to you.

If this describes you, please seek out the help of a qualified mental health provider, whether that's a licensed professional counselor, a licensed therapist or social worker, or a licensed psychologist.

A great place to start that search is through your insurance. If you don't have insurance, you may be able to access pro-bono services through your county. If you are in crisis, please seek support from family or friends and know that you can speak to someone anonymously through a crisis hotline like: THIS ONE.

2. Feel incredibly bored with your life and frustrated at work?

This might look like slacking off at work because you're not feeling engaged or interested in your job responsibilities because they no longer challenge you. You might have a tense relationship with your boss and you're not sure how to communicate your needs at your work place. You might be interested in changing careers to pursue a line of work that feels more meaningful for you.

If you're able to discuss your feelings from the perspective of what's happening today and what's possible for the future, AND feel motivated to take action on a plan for change, coaching is a great option for you.

If you find yourself dipping back into the past and feel stuck in a traumatic incident, like being treated unfairly by a boss, therapy might be a more fitting option. If you've noticed that your relationship patterns are deep-seated in emotional wounds from the past that you don't know how to process, a great therapist might be the best choice for you at this time.

3. Just want someone to tell you what to do next?

Neither a therapist nor a coach will be openly directive initially unless you are a danger to yourself or others.

Both relationships turn things back onto you in an effort to have you self-reflect. Both practitioners will ask questions to help you in this process of self-discovery, however, a therapist has an agenda because of their role as a licensed authority on what is considered "normal" mental health based on a psychiatric diagnosis outlined in the DSM (the main assessment resource that determines if you meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness).

Coaching focuses on a partnership as equals between coach and client where the client directs the areas of focus and gets to set the criteria of what progress looks like.

If you're looking for straight up advice, then hire a consultant. That's their job!

Lastly, if you’ve had a bad experience with a therapist or a coach in the past, don't be discouraged from seeking help. It’s possible to find a practitioner that’s a good fit for you.


You might benefit from connecting with a mentor, someone who has experienced what you’re aiming for.

Healing and change might occur (simultaneously and miraculously!) through seeking services from an alternative "healer" like a Reiki practitioner or a massage therapist. I am both, so feel free to see me.

You might choose to work with a personal trainer who not only helps with fitness and nutrition, but also coaches on shifting mindset like THIS ONE.

Black woman in somatic coaching session

In my personal experience, I found the deepest healing and motivation to change my life through a combination of working briefly with therapists, seeking out bodywork regularly, receiving acupuncture once a month, creating a self-practice of energy healing, moving DAILY, and getting coached when needed.

Traditionally, the focus of therapy is about healing and processing the past. Coaching is more present and future-centered, taking you into a new chapter of your life. It can be the thing that really integrates all the work you do in therapy.

Still confused and need help figuring out what you need? Call me at 571-412-2201. I'd be happen to support you in finding the resources that would be most helpful for you at this time!

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