What are the Differences Between Coaching and Psychotherapy?

When you are looking for help and support, you might choose to see a psychotherapist or perhaps work with a life, health, or career coach. These professions are each effective, yet there are some differences that are helpful to know in order to make an informed decision.


People go to therapy in order to be heard, and to find healing, insight, and understanding. They are seeking resolution to emotional pain, suffering, conflicts, and troubled relationships with others and themselves. Psychotherapists treat depression, anxiety, self-destructive behaviors and more. The therapist works to help the patient understand and alter negative thoughts and behaviors in order to feel better and lead a more productive life.

One particularly effective approach is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It is based on the idea that changing maladaptive thought habits allows feelings to change and then improved behavior patterns follow. As this change occurs, the person is more in control of their inner experience, even when the external situation may not have shifted.


Coaching is a results-oriented, collaborative partnership designed to help people realize personal and professional goals. This is achieved through an array of skillful listening, questioning, and problem-solving techniques in a framework of on-going accountability. Coach and client explore the client’s vision of the future, as well as what they most value and then use this compelling future picture and the strong values as drivers of the effort for the client to achieve what they want.

The focus is on expanding possibilities and discovering new options. The coach supports the client in deepening their self-knowledge, building momentum, and taking action. The work is to help the client tap inner strengths as well as external resources to achieve goals.

The Differences

Sometimes there isn’t a black and white distinction between psychotherapy and coaching. Resolution and working through self-defeating behavior can occur in coaching, and external achievement can result from good psychotherapy.

Perhaps the biggest difference between these two professions is the emphasis. Psychotherapy tends to focus more on the resolution of pain and conflict, often reaching into the past to explore how it may be impacting now, whereas coaching tends to focus more on the present and how clients can achieve personal growth and achievement now and in the future.

For a fuller description of the distinctions between coaching and psychotherapy, please visit my website www.andreashawcoaching.com.

Andrea Shaw, PhD, MCC
Transforming Challenge into Opportunity, PLLC
ICF Master Certified Life Coach
Duke Certified Integrative Health Coach, & Instructor
Mentor Coach

Cognitive Psychiatry of Chapel Hill

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