The Difference Between Coaching, Therapy and Consulting

December 5, 2018



In the last article, I promised to define coaching for you. Before we move on to this topic, we need to understand the key difference between coaching and therapy and the role of consulting. The goal of this article is to show you the main differences between coaching, consulting and therapist.


It is easiest to start with consulting. Consulting is always focused on the business and its main goal is to work out a strategy to achieve the desired result. This result is always clearly defined and is expressed in numbers. In the end, a client receives a particular number of actions, and certain development direction. Following this list, a client can achieve the result that was indicated at the beginning. During the process, a client works with a consultant to build business processes and to achieve company goals. The inner state of a client, his dissatisfaction in his business or in other areas of his life are not taken into account under this approach. It may be concluded that if the inner state is stable, then consulting will be an efficient method allowing you to get the desired result.


Let’s move to the most interesting: coaching and therapy. What do they have in common and how do they differ? There are similarities in therapy and coaching. These two activities work with both conscious and unconscious mind, depending on the type of coaching. They focus on the inner state of a client and his behavior. A client should change his inner state and learned behavior to achieve a goal in therapy and coaching.


I will give an example: a person’s life is collapsing. He was fired from his job and is going through a divorce. How can a person recover from all of these? A coach or a therapist can help this man work through both problems, however, not a consultant as he is focused on business and not private issues. To get the best result one need to first get into a positive state of mind and after to work on business strategies. Most of the time people do it the other way around and typically suffer from not getting results.


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A therapist can identify the problem, analyze it and after a certain time find its solution. A coach formulates the task; helps a client to find confidence, self-sufficiency; works to achieve goals within a limited time frame. Therefore, the same problem might be solved through different approaches.


Mentally healthy people can also experience irritation, anxiety and stress. As long as persons’ condition isn’t chronic, he hasn’t experienced a burnout or a crisis and the sooner he asks for the help of a coach, the more likely it is that he won’t need the help of a psychologist or a psychotherapist.



Let’s move to the differences. Below you’ll find, in my opinion, the main ones.


1. The initial state of a client. A psychologist often deals with specific problems: severe forms of depression, mental disorders and pathologies. A coach works with healthy people who need additional help to set goals and to find ways to achieve them. In coaching we are talking about blocks, and in psychotherapy about a disease. A psychotherapist examines subjective experience of a person taking into account his problem. A coach searches for thoughts, emotions and actions that lead to the undesirable result and helps to replace them with more productive or efficient ones. Thus, psychotherapy considers a human as a patient, and coaching as a healthy person.


2. A Focus of work. A psychotherapist works mainly with past and present. The key is to analyze what in the past has led to the current state of a client and how it affects the present moment. Then goes the second stage - elimination of the problem. In other words, at first a psychologist diagnoses, determines a problem, which can be solved through a psychological analysis of the past. A coach works with the past, present and future. Changing current resourceful state (availability of physical and mental strength and energy to solve the upcoming tasks), helps to define goals and true desires, needs for the further actions and achievements. A starting point is based on the fact that a person could not achieve something in the past, since he did not have any important skill in the area. These skills can be developed in the present moment, and by modeling new resourceful states, we get the achievement of the goal.


3. Goal. The main task of a psychologist is to remove client's discomfort. A psychologist works through a psychological state that causes discomfort at the present moment. As for a coach, the main task is to help a client to achieve the desired result: positive inner state, personal or business goal. And this is when coaching and consulting intersect. The difference is that business coaching does not take into account the inner state of a client, his satisfaction, self-confidence as whole. A coach works through negative attitudes, looks for resourceful states of mind; identifies values, needs and goals. In this case, goals may include success, personal relationships, career.


4. Duration of training/therapy. Psychology is usually not limited by time and might last for years, as long as it supports client's condition. It means that there is no predetermined final result. While in the field of coaching, work is limited by the number of sessions during which client’s specific problem will be solved: work through fears, search of resourceful states to realize the goal. A professional coach can always predict how much time will be required for a client to acquire the skill leading to a specific goal.


A person needs a psychologist in a situation of constant emotional or psychological stress that affects daily life. It may be expressed as anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, low self-esteem, obsessions, compulsive rituals, etc.


Coaching is suitable for those who want to improve the quality of life, develop productive inner state, have resource condition, enjoy their life and career, achieve personal or professional growth, learn to set goals and to achieve them.


And finally, I would like to share an anecdote that illustrates the differences between coaching and psychology:


A client says to a coach, ‘I want to buy a horse!’ ‘Fine,’ says the coach. ‘Let's think which horse you should buy, where to put it up and where you can get all the money?’


A client says to a therapist, ‘I want to buy a horse!’ ‘Hmm,’ says the psychologist. ‘Why do you need a horse? What unmet need should it compensate to you? Is it sustainable for you, considering your family situation?’


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In one of the next articles we will discover what types of coaching exist and how these work.


What positive experience did you have in one or another area? Where do you see the benefits and limitations of each method?


Comment below and pleasure to hear your ideas and thoughts.


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