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What is the Difference Between a Therapist and a Coach?

Updated: Feb 4, 2022

I get this question a lot.

Or some version of it.

“So you’re basically a therapist?” “How is what you do different from therapy?” “So a coach is just an unregulated therapist?”

I love therapists. I have worked on my own issues with several, have seen friends benefit from therapy, and have some incredible friends who are therapists. Therapists help people heal from their past, put things in perspective, and provide valuable tools for achieving more optimal mental health. They go through an incredible amount of schooling, training, and testing to become accredited and then help people.

In some ways, coaching is the Wild West of mental health services, especially as it relates to the highly regulated and rigorously credentialed field of therapy. The barrier to entry for the coaching field is about as low as it gets. You really don’t have to do much to call yourself a coach.

But to me this is one of the greatest assets of the coaching industry. By having no barriers to entry, it allows anyone and everyone to give it a whirl, making it more inclusive and accessible. And you can pick out the good coaches from the bad coaches (and there are plenty of bad coaches) based on one criterion, and one criterion only. Not how many letters the coach has after their name. Not the years of experience, or hours or features they include in their coaching package. Not on how many tests they’ve taken, or how many hours they’ve logged. The only criterion that matters is results.

This is a quote from a client I coached that really highlighted for me how coaching is different from therapy -

“Having been in therapy for years, I have to say I found health coaching more focused and more productive than therapy. Physical health is both a broad goal and a more focused goal than mental health, and for me, focusing on physical health served almost like a shortcut to mental health I didn't know existed.”

In coaching, your credentials are your results. Coaching is holistic, inclusive, future-oriented, action-focused, and obsessed with growth. The premise of coaching is co-creating change. No one can fix your problems or achieve your dreams but you. But imagine how much easier it could be if you had someone cheering you on, helping you identify barriers, pushing you to dream big, and helping you access your deepest, truest self.


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