Which way to go - therapy? Or coaching?

How do you know when it’s time for therapy?
How do you figure out who is ready for life coaching…?

I get asked these questions quite often by friends as much as I do by prospective clients, and it always makes for an interesting conversation.

I thought it was about time to put down a few high level words about the similarities and the differences. My hope is that you get some clarity around the two intersecting fields, and that there might be some perspective as to the stigmas attached to both sides. 

First things first, it’s worth noting that both fields are intended to improve the lived experiences of clients. In coaching we often use the word ‘optimise’ and ‘potential’, which despite sounding pretty opaque and damn ubiquitous, would imply that therapy doesn’t do the same.

Therapy absolutely does optimise/improve the client’s experience in and of life, however the differences are somewhat more nuanced… 


Many of the most commonly adopted types of therapy work by the field of science (psychotherapy, psychiatry, psychology) point toward a dysfunction. This may well focus on problems that a patient is facing, the sources underlying them and the symptoms that follow them. The client may be facing patterns that not only do not serve them, but that strongly imply breakage and dysfunction. 

It is the therapist’s role in the engagement to diagnose emerging disorders or conditions, and work towards healing hurts, reparenting where relevant, and bringing resolution to personal pain. The presupposition in therapy is that the patient is ‘not ok’, as well as the presence of some ill-health. 

It is worth noting here that where historically Western science adopts and supports a ‘cure over prevention’ approach to physical health, it functions much the same in therapy. The approach in the industry has largely been ‘remedial’ i.e. fixing once broken. 


As a profession, life coaching as we know it (working under the assumption that you do already) has only been around for around 50 years, largely traceable to the human potential movement in Esalen, California back in the 1960’s. When compared to the lineage and heritage of names like Freud, Jung and Erikson, it is easy to understand why some people approach ‘human potential’ with a hint of skepticism. 

life coaching is a conversation, however neither a chat, nor teaching, training, mentoring or advice giving. It places the client at the centre of the conversation, and hinges around pivotal questions that will often challenge the client. The facilitation process offers feedback to the answers given by the client, based on expertise around the processes and structures of how we as human beings run our brains. The intent behind the process is to gain more effective outcomes, leaving the client more equipped to leading a more resourceful life based on clearly laid out choices. 

One of the key differentiating factors between therapy and coaching is that life coaching requires a robust ego strength as the work is dynamic and challenging. You might ask what is being challenged, specifically. Un-resourceful patterns and ways of thinking, feeling, speaking and behaving in the world are put in the spotlight, oftentimes cleared in order to make space for a more free and liberated way of being. 


It is pretty common for therapists and coaches to have each other’s details on hand. Assuming that a therapist has experienced high-level coaching, they will make a referral to a coach if they get the sense that the client isn’t in need of remedial work. If a coach is worth their salt, they will refer to a therapist if they get the sense that there is some unresolved trauma during an intake session. 

I have experienced the latter from the position of coach several times now. The thing to hold in mind, not just as human beings in day to day life, but specifically if you happen to find yourself in an intake session with a referral (either to a coach, or a therapist), it doesn’t ‘mean’ anything…

It’s very easy to get into the mindset that there is shame in seeking help, that we are somehow ‘less of a person’ by choosing a visit to a specialist on either side of coaching or therapy. If you ask a coach or a therapist why they are in their field, I would put money on their answer being something like ‘I just want human beings to have the best life they possibly can’. 

If you asked me the same question, I would answer that I’ve experienced the needless suffering that is the human condition, and it SUCKS! I truly want my clients to walk their walk and talk their talk as optimal, powerful human beings, equipped to make choices that align with the life that they seek to create. 

It’s very easy to hear ‘human potential’ and think ‘woo-woo’, but having dedicated a large chunk of my life to this very field, I can tell you that it is real, and very tangible. Just as in science, the results don’t lie. 

So what are you waiting for? Are you optimised?

It might just be time to find a skilful therapist, or an expert life coach:
I have an online form that you may wish to use in order to figure out where you sit.

If you know you are ready for the challenge, you might want to book in for a call to talk about coaching further, and you can do that HERE.

Source: Supported, as always, by the incredible work of Dr Michael Hall via Associate Certified MetaCoach training guide.

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