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Dr. Leanh Nguyen on the Key Differences Between Therapy and Coaching

As professional coaching has become more popular in recent years, a lot of patients started seeing it as yet another form of therapy. Many of those who have not had a chance to test this service went as far as labeling it “therapy in disguise” or “mild synonym” for therapy. However, these two alternatives are about as different as night and day. The reason why is that they both have their own purposes, goals, targeted users, and underlying conditions of focus. The only similarity is that both are a specialist trained to provide professional help.

Primary Focus
According to Dr. Leanh Nguyen, who has spent 20 years pursuing the study and practice of psychology, mindfulness, life coaching, and psychoanalysis, there are four distinct differences between traditional therapy and coaching. The first one is related to the primary focus of each discipline. Therapy focuses on matters such as dysfunction and conflicts that may have an adverse effect on the patient’s productivity, relationships, or happiness. Coaching, however, is tasked with analyzing the mental blocks that are preventing the patient from reaching their full potential, goals, and envisioned purposes in life. Therefore, even though both disciplines are trying to pin-point problems from within, the specialists are looking for those problems to resolve completely different matters. 

Time Horizons
The next discrepancy between therapy and coaching is probably the most obvious one. Dr. Nguyen describes it as the contradicting time frames that surround the two practices. Therapy is all about identifying prior experiences and the way in which the patient processes past life events. Doing so shows the therapist potential areas of concern that can be worked on during subsequent sessions. Coaching is more concerned with the past patterns of one’s choices simply to determine how they impact future events. So, if someone is relying on a life coach to gain motivation to achieve their goals, the coach might investigate their history and help them overcome repetitive problems that may be preventing future successes. 

The Relationship of Parties Involved
Since both alternatives here have a central figure that is specialized to resolve a certain set of problems, people tend to use them interchangeably. This is not exactly accurate as the relationships that therapists and coaches have with their patients are nowhere near the same. Therapists assume the role of an authority figure over a party that is explicitly recognized as “impaired.” Coaches do not exactly have authority over the patient as they are serving in the capacity of a sherpa-like leader. Their primary purpose is to provide experience and fact-based guidance that can help the non-impaired patient enjoy a smooth life journey. 

Ultimate Objectives
Finally, Dr. Leanh Nguyen says that the ultimate difference between the two relates to the objectives. Since the specialists’ focuses, time horizons, and patient relationships are different, it is obvious that the outcomes will dissent as well. In therapy, the underlying goal is to help restore the patient’s mental function by helping them overcome past-event-induced issues that gave rise to impairment. Coaching, however, simply aims to tap into someone’s potential and help them fully leverage it when pursuing goals. 

Who Relies on Therapy and Coaching
Another easy way to separate therapy and coaching is to glance over the common characteristics of people who use them. Of course, this does not mean that they are mutually exclusive as someone could be utilizing both services simultaneously. The most common types of patients who are in therapy are those who underwent a traumatic experience or suffer from mental problems that directly limit their cognitive function. Individuals who use coaching seldom have mental issues and simply suffer from issues with laziness, procrastination, and inability to realize goals or stick to agendas. 

Most Suitable Issues for the Two Alternatives
From Dr. Leanh Nguyen’s experience, which is supported by common opinions across the industry, therapy is ordinarily used with patients suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and PTSD. After all, the U.S. alone is home to more than 46 million people who are suffering from some form of mental illness. Such a high figure also means that there are many other conditions that therapists see on a regular basis. The four are simply amongst the most prevalent ones in the world.

When it comes to coaching, there are usually no diagnosable problems as those would move the patient to the therapy group. Instead, issues witnessed here include a chronic lack of motivation, short attention spans that are not aggressive enough to qualify for ADHD, and forgetfulness that does not quite meet the thresholds of dementia. Still, problems that can arise from issues such as these are quite worrisome. Hence why coaching is growing at unprecedented rates.