Why to Consider Coaching Instead of Therapy

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

When you think of mental health, what comes to mind?

Do you think of depression and anxiety? Mental illness? Maybe balance or happiness? Often our perception of ‘mental’ is relating to the brain rather than the mind. But mental health is intangible. We cannot pinpoint a physical location for the mind yet it creates our thoughts, actions and reality.

men·tal health


1.a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being:

The focus on mental health is a relatively new phenomenon. More has been learned about our mental health in the past hundred years than in all of history. We are collectively experiencing an opportunity to pursue overall wellness like never before. But what is the best way to do that?

Therapy has been the preferred choice for mental health care. Yet, therapy and counseling, along with psychiatry and psychology, were often stigmatized. The general public had a wariness of ‘shrinks’ and considered seeking therapy to be a sign of weakness and failure. We’ve come a long way. Negativity around mental health has been steadily diminishing and mental well-being is becoming widely recognized as an important aspect of overall health - something to be protected, cared for and improved. We are almost to the point where it is held in similar view to physical fitness and well-being. To better understand the development of therapy and coaching, let’s look at the history of physical health and the role of exercise.

Physical exercise has been a part of life since the dawn of man, but it was a daily part of survival – a way of life. At a minimum, this involved hunting, gathering, cooking, childcare and when time allowed play and dance. From nomads to farmers, physical exercise was involved from sunup to sundown.

In Greco-Roman times and again during the Renaissance, interest in and celebration of the body and health were heightened but regular exercise for the sake of physical fitness alone was not a focus until quite recently, including in the United States. The exception to this throughout modern history has been the encouragement of men staying strong and healthy in preparation for potential war.

As early as the 1800s, physical education was available in some schools, typically in the form of calisthenics, gymnastics or tumbling. Physical fitness classes advanced during World War I and again during World War II with the requirements for military service and jobs requiring physical labor.

In my lifetime, physical fitness has gone from an oddity, to a novelty, to a trend, to a best practice for well-being. According to the IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association), about 20% of American adults have a fitness club membership and the $30 billion health and fitness industry in the United States has been growing by at least 3% annually for the past decade. This is only expected to continue and increase.

Mental fitness is steadily being recognized as a priority now and resources are becoming more readily available to the general population just a physical fitness resources have. For years, people have turned to therapy and counseling to support their mental well-being and there is no doubt that therapy can be beneficial and provide much needed help. But coaching has emerged as an excellent option over the past few decades as well.

"I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process to draw out the skills or talent that was previously hidden within an individual, and which invariably finds a way to solve a problem previously thought unsolvable." John Russell

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines psychotherapy (also known as ‘talk therapy’ or ‘therapy’) as “the informed and intentional application of clinical methods and interpersonal stances derived from established psychological principles for the purpose of assisting people to modify their behaviors, cognitions, emotions, and/or other personal characteristics in directions that the participants deem desirable.”

According to the International Coaching Community “The essence of coaching is:

· To help a person change in the way they wish and helping them go in the direction they want to go.

· Coaching supports a person at every level in becoming who they want to be.

· Coaching builds awareness, empowers choice and leads to change.

Coaching unlocks a person’s potential to maximize their performance. Coaching helps them to learn rather than teaching them.”

Some typical differences between therapy and coaching are:


Focused on past

Therapist is an authority figure

Client is in need of healing or assistance


Focused on future

Coach is an equal or co-creator

Client is viewed as whole

A simple perspective from an 8 year old that’s not far from the mark, “Coaching helps people organize their lives while therapy can help peoples injuries get stronger.” – Amber Mosher

Some Eastern teachings tell us that our mind is like a monkey. We are given the gift and opportunity in our lifetime to tame it and train it. If we were given a mind that is peaceful by nature, we wouldn’t have the satisfaction and benefit of the journey. Just like the basketball player, who dribbles and shoots the ball thousands of times to master the sport or the weight lifter who incrementally lifts heavier and heavier weights, we can work with our minds over time to experience the fulfillment offered to us. The basketball player, weight lifter and mind trainer all receive significant advantage from a coach.

The desire for and pursuit of mental wellness in our culture has been indicated by many factors including providing guidance counselors in schools, mental health benefits in the work place and individuals seeking self-help resources such as meditation, yoga, breathwork and coaching.

The International Coach Federation (ICF) just this month updated their Core Coaching Competencies for the first time in 25 years! This is a clear signpost to the growth, maturity and continued sophistication and refinement of the coaching profession. The Board Certified Coach (BCC) provides credentialing for counselors who also choose to provide coaching services. There is clear and recognized value.

In today’s fast paced, modern life, mental fitness along with physical fitness can and should be a priority. It’s become quite popular for young professionals to have both a personal trainer and a coach. They understand the benefits.

Some reasons you may want to consider working with a coach:

Accountability – Holding you accountable to goals and

commitments to empower inner responsibility.

Support – Increasing good habits, prioritizing, staying motivated.

Guidance – creating and reassessing goals. Gaining and maintaining perspective.

Collaboration – Growing together as teammates toward your goals.

Ownership – Providing encouragement and deepening independence.

"Probably my best quality as a coach is that I ask a lot of challenging questions and let the person come up with the answer." Phil Dixon

Your ICF or EMCC Certified Coach may recommend counseling instead of, or in tandem with, coaching if you agree that it could be beneficial. For example, Sheila has spent time working on past traumas with her therapist related to an abusive ex-husband. During therapy sessions, they determine together when