Is Coaching Really Just Therapy?


As a coach and psychotherapist practicing in Los Angeles, many people ask me about the differences between the two approaches. Because there tends to be a lot of confusion, clients sometimes end up in the wrong place. Today most people know when to seek therapy, but coaching remains somewhat misunderstood.  Although coaching has borrowed some of its ideas from psychology, there are significant distinctions between them.


Coaching began in the corporate sector back in the 70’s and 80’s when it became clear that executives and corporate leaders could benefit from consultants helping them refine their “people” skills.  And then life coaching took off in the 90’s as elements of executive coaching were adapted to working one-on-one with individuals wanting to move forward with life goals. Today coaching has an international presence as it shows up in the corporate world as well as countless other settings. 


When a client first contacts me, I ask them specific questions to ensure they’re finding the right kind of support. For instance, if a client seeks coaching but instead focuses exclusively on a recent crisis or emotional pain, they’re probably more appropriate for therapy. On the other hand, a coaching client needs to be able to identify specific goals and to be able to collaborate with a coach. 


Due to legal and ethical boundaries, I never work with a client as both a coach and psychotherapist--I wear only one hat per client. For example, if I’m working with a coaching client and I discover they would benefit from therapy, we discuss psychotherapy referrals. And the same applies if I’m working with a psychotherapy client who may benefit from coaching. In Los Angeles we have so many talented clinicians and healers, and I believe that a team approach is always more valuable to a client.


Coaches focus primarily on leveraging one’s strengths. So the attention is given to one’s resourcefulness and resiliency. These qualities may also be processed in psychotherapy, but this is a primary emphasis for coaches. The coach also helps the clients identify values, passions and priorities and holds these intentions for the client. So the focus of coaching begins with the vision and then holds the client accountable toward their vision.


In conclusion, coaching and psychotherapy both serve a distinct and vital purpose as they complement the work with our clients.  As one of the most diverse communities in the world, Los Angeles has a multi-dimensional professional community. Through successful collaboration, we will be more effective with our clients as they receive the benefits of a more cohesive, team approach.



Andrew Susskind, MSW, ACC (September 2006).