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  • Writer's pictureNathalie Cordell

Coach or Therapist: Picking Your Path to Your Best Self

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

A guide to figuring out the best option for you (by Nathalie Cordell)


There was a time when coaching was reserved for athletes and high-flyers in the corporate world, while therapy was associated with deep-seated psychological struggles. Times have changed. The rise of ‘coaching psychology’ and the adoption of coaching techniques by therapists are blending the lines more than ever before.

You might've noticed coaching and therapy aren't just buzzwords. The pandemic has pushed mental well-being to the forefront. That combined with the unique pressures of 21st-century life have nudged many to seek out extra support. So, this isn't a fleeting trend, it's a response to the complexity of modern life.

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That said, it's worth mentioning that not everyone is keen on seeking professional guidance. I've walked in those shoes. There was a time I approached it with scepticism, thinking, ‘Will this really help, or will it just be a big waste of time and energy?’ I’ve taken both paths over the course of my life and was surprised by the profound ways both approaches positively impacted my life. If you've ever found yourself wondering which path to take, stick around. In this blog, we'll delve into the nuances of coaching and therapy, exploring their unique characteristics, intersections, and how to discern which might be the right fit for you.


More than Semantics: The Core Differences

Whether it's personal or professional development, mental well-being, or relationship advice, you'll often hear about coaching and therapy as potential routes to consider. Both coaching and therapy have evolved to embrace a holistic view of human well-being, thanks in part to the rise of humanistic and positive psychology. But while they may seem similar, each serves a unique purpose.

What is Coaching, Really?

It's like having a personal trainer to help you realize the full potential of your authentic self, with the focus on the future and action-oriented goals.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as 'partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential’. A bit of a mouthful, I know! So just think of it as a dynamic partnership. Imagine teaming

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up with someone who's got their eyes locked on your untapped potential without the baggage of all the ‘shoulds’ and ‘don’ts’ that you will have accumulated over time. Together, you embark on a journey that challenges you to get out of your comfort zone and stride toward your dreams. The goal? To get you unstuck and propel you into action. It's like having a personal trainer to help you realize the full potential of your authentic self, with the focus on the future and action-oriented goals.

In this partnership, you and your coach are equals. You both bring your own insights and resources to the table, exploring solutions to whatever transitions or challenges you're facing. Think of your coach as a masterful facilitator, prodding your imagination and intuition to find solutions that are already within you. How do they do it? By asking powerful, thought-provoking questions, by echoing back what they see or hear, and by offering exercises that catalyse introspection. You're never alone in this journey; you're held accountable to your goals, making the path to success a shared endeavour.

Why choose coaching? Whether it's climbing the career ladder, honing your leadership acumen, or navigating life's twists and turns, coaching offers a structured space to pinpoint and smash through the walls holding you back, ultimately leading to a greater expression of your full potential.


The Ins and Outs of Therapy

Therapy, commonly known as counselling or psychotherapy, offers a deep investigation into the complex tapestry of your emotional and psychological states. Unlike coaching, which primarily focuses on future goals, therapy often takes a journey into your past to confront traumas, recurring emotional challenges, and unsettled psychological issues.

Therapists aren't just good listeners; they're trained professionals using evidence-based techniques to guide you on your healing journey. While there's mutual respect in a therapist-client relationship, it's not quite an ‘equal’ partnership. Therapists often hold a position of authority due to their specialized knowledge and a patient’s inherent vulnerability, making the dynamics different from a coaching relationship.

The goal of therapy can be multi-dimensional. While some people enter therapy to resolve specific issues, the overarching aim is often broader: to foster emotional well-being, elevate self-awareness, and facilitate sustained psychological growth and healing.


The Blurry Boundaries: Where Coaching and Therapy Overlap

  • Personal Growth: A Shared Objective

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Though coaching and therapy serve different core purposes, they share some common ground. Personal growth and self-awareness are the ‘true north’ for both fields. And both can result in improved communication skills, relationships and even performance.

  • Mixing the Toolbox: How Therapists and Coaches Cross-Pollinate Techniques

It's not uncommon for therapists to sprinkle some coaching methods into their sessions to help clients set achievable goals and create action plans. Likewise, coaches sometimes tread on emotional or psychological terrain, especially when those factors are roadblocks to a client's objectives.

  • Know Your Navigator: Importance of Professional Training

While both practitioners may dabble in similar techniques, it's vital to remember the core focus of each approach and the practitioner's training and limitations. A therapist may borrow from coaching to enhance goal setting, but they're still operating within a clinical framework. Similarly, a coach venturing into emotional issues may make sense but should never replace qualified therapeutic guidance.


Decoding the Differences: Coaching vs. Therapy

Each has its own toolkit and navigational aids, designed to guide you on very different types of journeys.
Photo by Christophe Maertens

When it comes to personal growth, coaching and therapy are often mentioned in the same breath, but they’re far from interchangeable. Let’s zoom in on their core differences to help you make an informed decision.

  • Setting the Goals: Clarity vs. Healing

Coaching zeroes in on specific goals, whether personal or professional. It's the go-to for results-oriented folks who need a roadmap to their aspirations. But even if you're sailing in uncertain waters, coaching can be the compass that helps you discover what you're truly seeking. On the flip side, therapy offers a safe harbour for emotional healing, providing relief from psychological stressors and unresolved emotional baggage.

  • Time Orientation: Future-Forward vs. Reflective Healing

While coaching sets its GPS for the future, it's not ignorant of the past. It reviews history only to identify what could be holding you back today. Therapy, meanwhile, ventures deeper into the past to excavate emotional artefacts that need healing. This reflective journey can help you unburden yourself, making it easier to move forward.

  • Your Role: Accountability vs. Emotional Support

In the coaching arena, you're expected to be an active participant. The focus is squarely on you to take initiative and actionable steps toward your goals. Think of it like being in the driver’s seat with a skilled navigator by your side. In therapy, while self-responsibility is encouraged, the primary aim is to offer a scaffold of emotional support where you can safely explore and heal your emotional wounds.

  • Scope of Practice: Targeted vs. General

Coaching tends to have a narrower focus, targeting specific areas such as career, relationships, leadership or personal development. Whereas therapy caters to wider needs, addressing a broader range of emotional and psychological issues, such as anxiety, depression, or trauma.

Although there can be overlaps here too. What starts as a leadership development issue may soon lead to exploring feelings of anxiety and self-doubt, and the need to develop better mechanisms to maintain good mental and emotional health. Not every coach is equipped to deal with psychological health. So, it’s important to know who you are working with, which brings me onto the next difference.

  • Background: Professional Qualifications

Coaches often come with expertise in their niche, sometimes fortified by real-world experience in the area they're coaching. And most coaches do seek a specific coaching qualification. There is indeed an increasing global desire to regulate this profession through key associations, some of which offer specific accreditations.

Therapists, on the other hand, usually have an academic background in psychology or counselling, supported by supervised clinical experience. And like for coaching, there are several organisations and associations that aim to self-regulate the profession. So, there you have it – coaching and therapy, demystified. Each has its own toolkit and navigational aids, designed to guide you on very different types of journeys.


Choosing the Right Approach

It’s important to note that there is an increasing number of coaches who are trained to work at psychological depth, as well as therapists who are trained as coaches.

If you are considering coaching or therapy, let me start by applauding you, because it takes a lot of courage and strength to seek help. Selecting the appropriate approach depends on your individual needs, goals, and circumstances. It's crucial to reflect on the nature of your challenge, the presence or

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severity of mental health concerns, your desired outcomes, and personal preferences. Do your research and seek recommendations. And engage in consultations with both coaches and therapists, as it’s important to find the right fit for you.

It’s important to note that there is an increasing number of coaches who are trained to work at psychological depth, as well as therapists who are trained as coaches. So, if you are clear that you want to make a change but know that you may have to address some deeper wounds in the process, then you might want to look for someone who can handle both. That’s a perfect lead into a discussion of an approach called ‘psychosynthesis’.


Bridging Therapy and Coaching with Psychosynthesis

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Speaking from the heart, let me share why ‘Psychosynthesis’ holds a special place in my practice and could very well be the holistic solution many are searching for:

  • Psychosynthesis: A well-rounded approach

I intentionally chose Psychosynthesis as my training ground because it epitomizes the best of both worlds—addressing the inner complexities of therapy while leveraging the goal-directed focus of coaching. Roberto Assagioli, the brain behind this framework, calls it the work of 'personal synthesis', which I interpret as cultivating your inner leadership skills. Imagine harnessing both the wisdom of your past experiences and your future aspirations to become your best self.

  • Depth Without the Clinical Tag

I devoted three years to training in Psychosynthesis, not because I wanted to wear a clinical coat, but because I was passionate about working at a transformational level. This depth allows me to hold a wider space for my clients — one that accommodates both their struggles and their dreams — serving as a powerful conduit for enduring change.

  • Challenging the 'Brokenness' Myth

Here's the kicker – many steer clear of therapy because they don't think they're ‘broken enough.’ Maybe they're doing just fine, juggling work and family, not clinically depressed or addicted. Others wear their self-sufficiency like a badge of honour, opting for stoicism and refusing external help. But let's be clear: you don't have to be 'broken' to improve. 'Fine' is not the finish line, and there’s a galaxy

of potential beyond mere survival.

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Psychosynthesis acknowledges this reality. Whether you've had previous therapy or have achieved a level of self-awareness, this approach opens doors to levels of growth you didn't think were possible — unlocking what's possible as you make the leap towards a better, fuller, more authentic life.

So, if you're somewhere between ‘I've got this’ and ‘I need help’, consider Psychosynthesis as your middle ground – a space where you can both heal and excel.

For more information on Psychosynthesis, click here.


Congratulations, you've navigated the nuanced worlds of coaching and therapy — two transformative realms that each offers their own set of valuable tools for your life's toolkit. While coaching gears you up for actionable goals and peak performance, therapy offers you a safe harbour for emotional healing and deep psychological insights. And Psychosynthesis offers an option that bridges both disciplines. The question isn't which is better, but which is better for you at this phase in your life’s journey.

Connect to Unlock More

Intrigued to explore further? Dive into the details by clicking here, or better yet, let's turn this digital connection into a personal one — find me on LinkedIn or Facebook. Your next chapter starts with a single click.

For more information on Cordell Coaching and the services I offer, click here.

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