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Understanding the differences between Coaching, Therapy, and Consulting

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

There is quite a bit of confusion around what coaching is. And that is partly because coaching remains an unregulated field. As a result, many untrained coaches provide services that have very little to do with coaching. This has led to misconceptions surrounding what coaching is and is not.

What coaching is, impossible versus possible

The highest professional body of coaching, the ICF (International Coach Federation), defines coaching as:

"partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity, and leadership."

Coaching has a diverse number of influences. It draws from Adult Learning Theory, Self-Determination Theory, Management, Psychology, Consulting, Spirituality, Philosophy, and many more.

One of the main underlying assumptions of coaching is that we are fundamentally resourceful beings with significant potential. However, because of some of the limiting ways we perceive ourselves and make sense of the world around us, most of us are disconnected and not using the entirety of our natural abilities to grow, thrive and transform.

Through coaching, clients reconnect with this potential, which allows them to move quite rapidly from where they are to where they want to be, reaching their desired personal and professional goals.

In other words, coaching is about helping you regain control of your life and take an active role in shaping it.

How is coaching different than psychotherapy?

A wide range therapies exist and are practiced today, each stemming from a specific school of thought. Therefore, based on the particular kind of therapy one takes as a reference point, the differences and similarities to coaching will inevitably differ.

For example, coaching shares some similarities with and draws from Positive Psychology (focused on what makes individuals thrive) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (focused on modifying self-defeating thoughts and behavioral patterns).

In contrast, therapies such as psychodynamic interventions are about accessing the unconscious mind to heal one’s emotional wounds. It usually involves delving into past experiences that have shaped the client become the person they are today in order to let go of those experiences. Through this awareness comes more control and an ability to break the cycle of self-defeating behaviors and difficult feelings.

Compared to those types of psychotherapies, coaching is much more forward and goal-oriented. It is about helping you achieve your future goals and does not involve going back to your past.

How is coaching different than consulting?

A client hires a consultant for their particular expertise, their knowledge on the topic the client is dealing with. Within this framework, a consultant acts as an advice-giver.

Coaching versus Consulting

On the other hand, one can think of a coach as more of a facilitator. Contrary to what many believe, pure coaching involves no advice-giving. Instead, coaches help clients achieve their goals by using techniques that shift the client’s perspective from a limiting to an empowering so that they can unlock their potential and make their desired changes.

Technically speaking, if a coach is offering pure coaching services, whether or not the coach holds any expertise in the topic you are struggling with (relationships, career, etc.) is irrelevant.

Rather, the coach should be an expert in facilitating the process of helping you move past your barriers and take charge of your life.mple, coaching shares some similarities with and draws from Positive Psychology (focused on what makes individuals thrive) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (focused on modifying self-defeating thoughts and behavioral patterns).

In practice, most coaches offer what is called Blended Coaching, which is when coaching and other specialties are combined. When that is the case, consulting, therapy as well as other practices such as mentoring, yoga, meditation can be integrated together to varying degrees, obscuring the strict differences I have highlighted between some of those services when provided in a pure form.

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