Coaching vs. Therapy?


Coaches and therapists argue endlessly about the differences between coaching and therapy.

Lots of words like “right/wrong” and “licensed/unlicensed” and “ethical/unethical” are thrown around. It’s a serious topic. Livelihood, reputation, and prestige are on the line.

It’s even been called a “turf war”. Yikes.

My wife is a therapist. Whenever we talk about this topic, we never get to an answer. And the conversation usually ends with a very unsatisfying shrug.

Very, very smart people have been discussing this for years, and there is still no conclusion.

Yet somehow there are lots of coaches and therapists all making a living and making a difference in their own unique ways.

I think the difference is much clearer to our clients than to us.

Personally, I’m less interested in what’s right. I’m more interested in what’s real.

What’s real is that human beings can help other human beings grow and heal.

What’s real is that before we labeled these activities as “therapy” and “coaching”, they were already happening in big and small ways in human communities across the world.

The wise woman, the teacher, the healer, the sage, the warrior, the mother, the father, the mentor, the trickster, the lover, the friend...

Lots of relationships are therapeutic and healing. Lots of relationships help us become our best selves. Lots of relationships help us discover our purpose and calling.

Not just “coaches” and “therapists”.

So what’s the deal with us then? How can we charge for what we do? Why even call these “professions” at all?

Because whatever any of us choose to focus on learning about and devote time to practicing a lot is what we become more skilled at.

And those whom we call coaches and therapists choose to focus on learning about the human mind, heart and soul. And we devote time to practice translating and applying that knowledge to help others heal and grow in their unique situations.

Like, we spend 40+ hours a week focused on this stuff.

You don’t have time for all that.

You have your own profession to focus on and devote practice to. The world needs you to bring your expertise to solve problems for others with different focuses from yours.

If you need a website designed, it’s faster to hire a professional web designer than to learn how to design websites on your own. The website will likely also function more smoothly and efficiently than anything you could create.

If you want to learn how play the guitar, it’s faster to hire a professional guitar teacher than to learn how to play it on your own. You’ll also avoid forming bad habits that cause injury or prevent you from reaching mastery.

You are willing to pay that person because they are helping you get or do something faster and better than you could yourself.

So should you hire a coach or a therapist? I dunno.

Your belief in whether they can help you matters a lot.
Your expectations in what they can do for you matters a lot.
Your motivation to do the work matters a lot.

If you don’t believe someone can help you, you don’t expect they can do anything for you, and you aren’t motivated to do any work with them, it doesn’t matter how many degrees or licenses or credentials they have. Paying even a dollar won’t seem worth it to you.

If you believe someone can help you, you expect that they can teach/show/provide you something meaningful, and you’re motivated to do the work with them, the degrees and licenses and credentials are secondary to the results. It’s priceless.

But that’s only part of the picture. We coaches and therapists need to actually be good at what we do.

It’s our responsibility is to constantly deepen our knowledge, practice our craft, accurately communicate our abilities, and show what our clients can expect from us.

No matter what we call ourselves, we need to do the work to make us worth hiring.

So let's stop arguing and just focus on that. K? ❤️

Eddie Shieh, PCC, MFA