Choosing Services: Psychotherapy vs. Coaching

Many people are still unsure if they should seek psychotherapy versus coaching services for the specific issue(s) they’d like to improve.  It can feel very overwhelming trying to figure out who the best-suited professional is for the job!  Further, differences in educational backgrounds, theoretical orientations, interpersonal styles, and expectations exist among psychologists, psychotherapists, personal coaches and executive coaches.  As a consumer, shopping around for ‘professional help’ can be a slow and daunting process.  Take into consideration what your specific needs, circumstances and preferences are so you can narrow your search accordingly.  I strongly suggest you visit your primary care physician to rule out any medical and/or mental health issues that might be contributing to your current situation.  Be sure to inform them of any personal or family history you have of mental illness, regular use of recreational substances, addiction or suicidality, as well as any medication(s) you’ve been prescribed in the past for chronic health problems.

It’s also important to consider what style of professional support you prefer. Coaching is most effective with people who are solution-focused, and prefer an action-oriented professional relationship for growth and behavioral change.  Some people are primarily seeking a safe place to ‘vent’ and release strong and/or unwanted emotions on a weekly basis, but are not necessarily interested in hearing constructive feedback or ready for behavioral change.  Individual psychotherapy is a better choice if you prefer an open-ended, emotionally supportive style of professional engagement without focusing on concrete goals.  There are some specific circumstances when coaching on it’s own is not adequate or appropriate for treating your specific problems.

While this list is far from comprehensive, it can serve as a basic guide for simplifying your process of determining if professional mental health services or coaching is appropriate for you.

Psychotherapy should be your first course of action if you are experiencing any of the following problems:

  • unmanaged mental illness–  you are experiencing symptoms of serious mental illness, and these symptoms are currently unmanaged and causing detrimental consequences at work, home or school
  • suicidality– you are currently experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors, or engaging in self-injurious behaviors like bodily cutting or trichotillomania 
  • addiction– you do not currently have adequate control of your alcohol or recreational substance use, and/or your current use pattern has led to serious consequences (DUI, disciplinary action at work, friends/family members have become estranged from you because of your alcohol/drug use habits)
  • inability to meet essential self-care tasks: you have recently been evicted from your home, you do not have adequate food or shelter, you cannot complete basic hygiene behavior
  • impulsive violence: either at home or elsewhere is currently a problem for you and/or your domestic partner(s)

Some people may want to begin working with a psychotherapist in order to gain control of any or some of the above issues, but then once those problems are stabilized, may find it useful to work with both types of professionals to address different issues and work in different modalities.  For example someone experiencing long-standing major depressive disorder can benefit from psychotherapy to help them manage their debilitating depressive symptoms, but once those symptoms are stabilized and effectively managed can then engage a coach to help them problem-solve and navigate a career transition.

Professional Coaching (executive or personal) is suitable if you would like to:

  • understand personal roadblocks to success in professional relationships, friendships, or romantic endeavors
  • learn new ways of communicating effectively and strategically to improve various areas of functioning your life
  • build or improve upon health and wellness habits
  • address phase of life issues- gain or increase clarity regarding your next steps in career growth, romantic commitments, living/lifestyle decisions
  • develop and improve upon your emotional intelligence at work and home
  • learn specific tools to increase your organization, attention, and time management
  • expand your ability to build your social circle, and network for personal and/or professional growth
  • reduce and/or eliminate unhealthy lifestyle habits
  •  learn effective stress management tools for improved performance and achievement



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