Myths about coaching vs therapy abound. It’s not surprising that so many of us feel confused about what coaches do, compared to what therapists do. And when we’ve decided our problem is too knotty to solve on our own, it can be hard to figure out whether we should be looking for a coach or a therapist.
In another post, I’ll explore some of the differences between coaching and therapy, and how to decide which one could be best for your particular situation and needs. But for now, let’s just take a look at some of the top myths about coaching vs therapy.
Please note that just because I use ‘vs’ (versus) in this blog post, I don’t mean that these two professions are ‘against’ one another. I’m simply using ‘vs’ as a shorthand way to say ‘as distinct from’.
7 Myths About Coaching vs Therapy
Coaching vs Therapy, Myth 1: Active Listening
Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation around about the difference between coaching and therapy. One much-circulated infographic that I saw recently actually claimed that whilst coaches engage in active listening, ‘therapists do not’. I’d just like to clarify here: both therapists and coaches use active listening skills as a fundamental basis for all of their work!
Coaching vs Therapy, Myth 2: Therapy is Only About the Past
Another incorrect idea is that ‘therapists always just want to drag people back to their past’.
If you’re struggling with a problem in your present life, it might seem (or it actually may be) unnecessary to focus on your past. Coaches work with a focus on the present and the future; they don’t work with clients on their past events and experiences. So it’s understandable that you might decide that coaching is the better choice.
But in fact therapists, too, are specifically trained to work with a person’s life now, and how the person wants to grow. The difference is that therapists have an additional – and very powerful – tool. Therapists can also include, where appropriate, working with how your past experiences live on and affect your present life. This dual focus on ‘then’ and ‘now’ can make all the difference to your ability to grow and change.
Whilst it’s true that our past informs our present, a good therapist won’t let you get stuck in wallowing in past sorrows. Skilful therapists will help you make meaningful connections between past experiences and relationships, and how you experience life in the present day (including using how you are in the moment, in the therapy room).
Coaching vs Therapy, Myth 3: Therapy is For Neurotic, ‘Disturbed’ or Crazy People
Some people think – wrongly – that therapy is only for people who have ‘something wrong with them’. In fact, many successful, happy, and ‘well-adjusted’ people regularly use therapy to help them process feelings and experiences, so that they can continue to live wholeheartedly and fully, and get the most out of their relationships.
I’ve written about my own experience of therapy, and what it’s done for me, in my blog post ‘Therapy Works – Here’s How I Know’
There are so many benefits of therapy, besides healing trauma and distress; you can read about some of them here.
Coaching vs Therapy, Myth 4: Coaches Make Things Happen, But Therapists Just Go ‘Mmmm’
Coaches ask questions designed to help you re-think what’s going on, and help you challenge yourself to see things from a more ‘can-do’ perspective. But guess what: many therapists do this too! Sometimes it’s done in a more subtle, gentle way, but it’s there.
Also: a therapist’s ‘mmmm’ can convey a lot of things, and is far from being just a sound intended to placate you.
(However, if it seems that your therapist is just there to passively nod and sympathise and repeat back what you just said, whilst you’re wanting more input and activity from them, please call them on it! Therapy should be about challenge and exploration, as much as support.)
Coaching vs Therapy, Myth 5: Emotions are Irrelevant
It can be tempting to think that emotions aren’t important, or even that they’re a distraction.
Coaching (or CBT therapy, which can be similar to coaching), is generally solution-focused and involves action steps and goals. It can seem to be the answer to your problems, guiding you out of emotion and ‘correcting’ your thinking and behaviours.
But here’s the thing. We can’t really disconnect our emotions. We can sort of bury them, but they’ll always surface in one way or another, usually in the disguise of unwanted symptoms. And we can’t disable our emotions without huge cost.
Emotions are our internal sat-nav. Emotions show us what to approach, and what to avoid. Who to trust, and where our joy lies. Emotions give our life meaning and purpose. The trouble is, there are different types of emotions. ‘Core emotions’ when felt and processed well, are the ones that can really help us feel and act better. The emotions we have trouble with are those used as defences or as ‘signal emotions’. These can include feelings like anxiety, shame, misdirected anger, depression etc, which do not serve you well and may actually trip you up a lot of the time.
Good therapists are trained in helping you connect to your emotions in productive ways that serve you, so you don’t get in your own way as much. (You can read more about emotions in another post, titled ‘Emotions: 17 Things You need to Know About Your Feelings’)
Coaching vs Therapy, Myth 6: Untapped Potential
It’s sometimes claimed that ‘coaches look for people’s untapped potential, whilst therapists do not’. Coaches do. And in fact, it is also very common for therapists, too, to keep alert to spotting signs of growth and potential positive change.
Dr Diana Fosha, founder of psychotherapy modality AEDP, emphasises the need for therapists to be ‘transformance detectives’. In other words, to be alert to notice and build on the client’s existing strengths and their innate strivings towards wholeness and positive change. Besides AEDP, other therapy modalities that specifically look for untapped potential, and actively help clients move in this direction, include Gestalt therapy, Jungian Analysis, and Psychosynthesis (and actually, I consider that almost all therapy modalities do this to some degree).
Coaching vs Therapy, Myth 7: Therapists are Distant, Coaches aren’t
In the past, therapists generally had a reputation for being coldly boundaried and emotionally distant. Coaches, by contrast, could be seen as far more friendly and approachable. But in more recent times, therapy has changed a great deal in this regard. The importance of relational warmth is now strongly emphasised in therapy trainings. I’m happy to say that the stereotypical stern-looking therapist, sitting with a notepad beside the therapy couch, is now a rarity (at least, outside of film and TV!)
Nowadays most psychotherapists and counsellors – and most coaches too – tend to be warm, friendly and kind, finding ways to help you feel at ease and able to express yourself.
What’s Your Experience Been?
Have you had coaching or therapy, or maybe you’ve experienced both? What did you notice? And are there any other myths about coaching vs therapy that we should be aware of? Let me know in the comments below.
What I Offer
I am an Integrative Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, and Clinical Supervisor, working with thoughtful, sensitive and creative people near Colchester, Essex, and online. I also offer creativity coaching online to creative people (mainly artists and writers). My fee is £65 per 50-minute session. Contact me today by emailing espcameron[at]pm.me to request a free 15-minute phone consultation in which we can discuss whether I might be able to be of help to you, whether in creativity coaching or in therapy.