Coaching vs. Therapy: A Clear Guide to Choose the Right Fit for Your Needs

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Therapist in session with her patient
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Highlights: Coaching vs. therapy are often mixed up. Discover how they can distinctively propel clients forward on their journey of self-discovery.
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Coaching and therapy are go-to solutions for people who seek to improve their personal and professional lives.

But what sets one apart from the other? And more importantly, which one is better for you?

Let’s dive into what coaching vs. therapy is and which one may be better suited to your needs.

What Is Coaching?

Coaching is a collaborative relationship between a coach and a client aimed at facilitating the client’s personal and professional growth. It normally focuses on the present and future, offering effective coaching techniques to achieve specific goals.

People who seek coaches, like a life coach, are looking to create progress in their lives, according to the co-founder of Mindvalley Coach, Ajit Nawalkha

This can be in areas like career development, personal growth, leadership development, relationship management, business performance improvement, and sports performance, just to name a few.

And the benefits of hiring a coach can range from improved performance to better work-life balance and enhanced clarity of one’s life vision.

What Is Therapy?

Therapy is a treatment for psychological issues and mental health disorders. It’s conducted by licensed therapists and goes into a person’s past experiences and emotional traumas to understand and resolve current issues.

It can be done through different approaches:

  • Talk therapy, which is the most common form. It involves conversation and exploring thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
  • Other techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, family therapy, mindfulness, and art therapy.

The main aim? To help improve your mental health, emotional well-being, and overall functioning.

Therapy is often long-term and can address a variety of issues, including depression, anxiety, and relationship issues, among others. And, if need be, a licensed therapist can also prescribe you medication when they see the need.

What Are the Main Differences Between Coaching and Therapy?

When it comes to therapy vs. coaching, there are undoubtedly some key differences. 

Coaching, in general, is all about getting clients to their goals, inspiring and motivating them to release limiting beliefs that block them from getting what they want in life. 

According to a study by the International Coaching Federation, 80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence, and over 70% benefit from improved work performance and better communication skills.

[A coach is] not a therapist where they’re trying to fix the client’s past to create a new future,” Ajit explains, “but they are trying to understand their present to create a new future.”

Therapy, on the other hand, is more about understanding and resolving past experiences, as well as improving mental health and emotional well-being. 

A meta-analysis published in the Psychological Bulletin found that the average person who received therapy was better off by 0.85 standard deviations than those who didn’t receive any treatment. This is a substantial effect size, indicating the effectiveness of therapy for mental health issues.

Here’s a closer look at the two side by side:

CoachingTherapy
FocusGoals and growthHealing and well-being
StyleEmpowering and collaborativeGuiding and supportive
QualificationsVariedLicensed professional
LengthShorter; goal-basedVaries; needs-based
Best for:Achieving goals; personal developmentMental health concerns; emotional healing

3 Coaching Niches Compared With Therapy

Like how therapy has different approaches for diverse mental health concerns, coaching has different niches to address specific areas of your life. So, let’s explore three popular ones and see how they compare to therapy. 

This will help you identify if a specific coaching niche might be a good fit for your unique needs and goals. 

Life coaching vs. therapy

Life coaching and therapy serve different but sometimes overlapping needs. 

The former focuses on goal-setting and future planning. Those learning how to be a life coach know it’s not designed to treat mental illnesses but rather to help you navigate life’s challenges. 

On the other hand, therapy is more directive and diagnostic. Therapists provide guidance, tools, and techniques to help you understand your issues and develop coping mechanisms. Because of this, it requires a professional license and extensive training in mental health diagnosis and treatment. 

With 40% of U.S. adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression, there’s a substantial market for both life coaches and therapists.

Mental health coaching vs. therapy

Mental health coaching is emerging as a viable alternative to therapy for depression, especially given the shortage of licensed therapists

Recent studies show that 58% of people who started care with symptoms of depression experienced clinical recovery after at least one session with a certified coach.

While therapy remains the gold standard for treating severe mental health conditions, coaching offers a promising avenue for those with moderate mental health needs.

Wellness coaching vs. therapy

Wellness coaching focuses on holistic well-being, including physical health, stress management, and lifestyle choices. 

Unlike therapy, which is often sought for specific mental health conditions affecting 44.7 million adults in the U.S., wellness coaching aims to prevent health issues before they escalate. 

Although therapy has robust evidence supporting its effectiveness, wellness coaching is gaining empirical support. A meta-analysis found that life coaching effectively improves well-being, mental health, and life satisfaction. 

As the industry continues to grow, wellness coaching will likely become an increasingly popular complement to traditional therapy.

Wellness coach with his client.

Is it Better to See a Coach or a Therapist?

The short answer is: it depends on your needs. Here are a few factors to help you decide between a therapist vs. a life coach:

  • Goal orientation: If you’re looking to achieve specific life or career goals, coaching is your go-to. Coaches are trained to help you identify your objectives and create actionable plans. On the other hand, therapy is more suitable for those dealing with emotional or psychological issues.
  • Duration: Therapy often requires a long-term commitment when it comes to complex mental health conditions. Coaching can be more short-term when it’s focused on immediate goals.
  • Evidence of effectiveness: Therapy has a long history of research backing its efficacy. However, recent studies show that coaching can also be effective, especially for moderate mental health needs.
  • Financial Considerations: If your insurance covers therapy, you may get financial support to receive care. Coaching normally isn’t covered by insurance.

What does Ajit say about all this? Here’s his advice:

Individuals that approach a life coach are people who are already ambitious; they’re future-focused. They are not necessarily suffering from a trauma or an experience that holds them back so much that they need to heal their past to create a future.”

Make Coaching Your Calling

If you have a passion for helping others, you might be considering a career in coaching yourself. 

Getting certified can give you an avenue to escape the 9-5 and create true freedom through building your own coaching business.

Find out how you can thrive in this purposeful profession in the free Become a Mindvalley Certified Life Coach masterclass.

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Gain the skills, mindset and support you need to build a highly rewarding and secure career as you lead others to uplevel and fulfill their true potentialReserve My Free Spot Now

Annamaria Nagy

Annamaria Nagy

Annamaria is a freelance writer for Health + Wellness and Transformational Education brands. Formerly, she was the writers lead and the head of SEO at Mindvalley. She works with coaches and mission-driven brands to amplify their impact with strategic, value-driven copywriting.
Written by

Annamaria Nagy

Annamaria is a freelance writer for Health + Wellness and Transformational Education brands. Formerly, she was the writers lead and the head of SEO at Mindvalley. She works with coaches and mission-driven brands to amplify their impact with strategic, value-driven copywriting.
Expertise by

Ajit Nawalkha is the co-founder of Mindvalley Coach (formerly known as Evercoach by Mindvalley) and a world-leading business coach. Ajit’s passion is to make the world a better place and empower entrepreneurs to be the change the world needs.

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Mindvalley is committed to providing reliable and trustworthy content. We rely heavily on evidence-based sources, including peer-reviewed studies and insights from recognized experts in various personal growth fields. Our goal is to keep the information we share both current and factual. To learn more about our dedication to reliable reporting, you can read our detailed editorial standards.

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Fact-Checking: Our Process

Mindvalley is committed to providing reliable and trustworthy content. 

We rely heavily on evidence-based sources, including peer-reviewed studies and insights from recognized experts in various personal growth fields. Our goal is to keep the information we share both current and factual. 

The Mindvalley fact-checking guidelines are based on:

To learn more about our dedication to reliable reporting, you can read our detailed editorial standards.