When a personal crisis hits, a choice between psychotherapy and coaching might not be straightforward. The lines are blurred, and conflicting information can cause confusion.

I’ve summarized a few key differences based on my personal experience with life coaching (as someone who coaches and is being coached), and my personal experience with psychotherapy (as a patient, I am familiar with Gestalt and Coherence therapy approaches).

Here is my take:

1. Therapists work (for the most part) with past trauma and suppressed emotions. Life coaches work with painful thoughts that cause suffering in the present moment

Thinking negative thoughts is something we do on the autopilot, just like we brush our teeth. If we don’t pay attention to our thinking patterns (and usually we don’t), they take full control over the way we feel, behave and ultimately have a major impact on the quality of our lives. 

By learning to detach ourselves from our thoughts and developing a habit of opposition thinking (catching painful thoughts, and redirecting them), we literally rewire our brain and create new neural pathways – which helps us overcome those artificial obstacles we create in our heads.

2. The main reason people go into therapy is to be able to transition from an emotionally dysfunctional state to a functional state. Depending on the type of therapy, it can be a process of healing the old wounds by reliving the past trauma and meeting with our inner-child. The latter helps recognize our own defense mechanisms. With coaching, people are looking to transition from a functional state, to an optimal state – a state where we fulfill our potential by learning to control our present moment thinking, and not letting our thinking control us.

Coaching provides tools that help create alternative empowering beliefs and find evidence of how they can be just as true or even truer than those that are limiting us. And when this A-h!a moment hits, we finally have the capacity to start DOING things that we thought we were not capable of.

3. While therapists don’t always go through the same childhood trauma as their patients, most coaches help their clients with what they were able to overcome themselves.

In my case, these are confidence, self-esteem and perfectionism issues. I had so many beliefs about the way I need to be (or don’t need to be), that it literally paralyzed me for years.In addition to negative self-talk and my inner critic constantly comparing me to others, I also was very critical and controlling towards everyone surrounding me, expecting them to always meet my expectations. This caused me a lot of grief, anger and disappointment along the way. One of my new alternative beliefs: The less rules I have for people around me, the happier I am.

And while some patterns are not gone completely, it is now so much easier for me to catch and instantly re-frame limiting beliefs that are surfacing using the opposition thinking tools from coaching. It is the most liberating feeling.

Bringing it all together:

Therapists and coaches for the most part use different tools and approaches. Depending on your emotional needs and where you currently are in your journey, you might want to choose one or the other based on key differences described above.

In my opinion, going through therapy and coaching at the same time (this is what I did) or subsequently is even better. This way you are able to heal your past while completely transforming your current identity. This is a similar magical process to the one when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly..? 

Aren’t we all meant to fly?