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From Therapy to Coaching

From Therapy to Coaching

I am a massive advocate of coaching and therapy. When I meet humans who are trained in both, like my coach supervisor who is an MCC coach and a relationship psychotherapist, I am always a little in awe. I can imagine the benefits of being in a space where both are readily available.

Reflecting on what I received from therapy and coaching, both have made a huge impact on my life. Therapy improved my relationship with my parents. I was able to develop a level of empathy and understanding via the therapeutic environment and my therapist’s insightful probing questions. Coaching has helped me move my business into a successful, enjoyable place where I am living my purpose with integrity and holistic alignment. Because of coaching, my work/life balance is at its best, and my wellbeing practices are at the top of their game.

Both therapy and coaching helped me move through heartbreak and enter into a space feeling ready to love again. How? Therapy helped me heal past relationships, understand my patterns, and develop self-compassion. Coaching helped me make healthy relationship choices, not slip back into damaging behaviour patterns, and start to feel excited and ready to find love.

For more clarity, here are some of the differences:

Therapy Coaching
Focuses on the past with a view to understanding and healing, in order to move forwards Focuses on gaining clarity on the present, visioning a future, and planning the next steps that will take you there
Looks at mental health topics such as depression and anxiety, and may adopt a medical model that suggests the client needs fixing Does not address mental health topics and believes the client is whole and complete, and exactly where they need to be
Can diagnose and treat mental health conditions Cannot diagnose or treat mental health conditions
Uses terms client, patient, service user Uses the term client
Open-ended sessions with no prescribed end date Happens over an agreed timeframe with the focus on achieving outcomes during that time
An emphasis is on building a powerful therapist/client relationship that provides a healthy model for future relationships, and acts as a buffer for damaged past relationships The coach helps the client help themselves in finding ways of moving forwards with ease and bringing in hope for exciting possibilities
The therapist is seen as an expert in their area and the power dynamic is such that they are in charge The coach is partnering with the client. When coaches promote themselves as leaders or guides the client should proceed with caution as this may hint at a cult-like approach
Focus on self and personal growth Focus on self and the wider context of community, society, and an expansive sense of belonging
Unconditional positive regard – I accept where you are at and that you have the tools to heal yourself Unconditional positive regard – I accept where you are at and that you have the tools to live purposefully
Therapists require a licence to practice via a number of available boards Coaches do not currently require a licence. But licencing is coming, and it will be via various organisations including via the International Coaching Federation (ICF) which is why Radiant Coaches Academy is an accredited training establishment with ICF so that when the law changes we will already be licenced
Both: impartial, non-judgmental witness to thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviours, and patterns

Take these differences with a pinch of salt as there are therapists and coaches who blend and borrow from each side. For example, some therapeutic models utilise coaching methods, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Positive Psychology, and Person-Centred Therapy.

Coaches may be in a situation where your client moves themselves into a therapeutic space, so here are some things that can help.

Helping your client move from the past into the present/future

Imagine a situation where your client spends time talking in depth about a childhood experience that they believe is impacting how they are currently operating in the world. Or talks about a highly stressful work situation that has been ongoing for months and months.

It is our job to acknowledge this experience and bring them gently into the:

  1. Present, to help gain more clarity on how it is showing up for them currently
  2. Future, to bring in belief that there is hope for new ways of doing things

We cannot change the past; we can plant seeds now that will impact the future.


Here are some suggested sentences to use:

  • What do you think about this now?
  • What would you like to think about this situation?
  • How can we use this information today?
  • How would you like to feel about this?
  • How will future you use this experience to move you into your purpose?

Helping your client seek therapeutic support

Imagine a situation where your client has spent much of the session talking about challenging past experiences that you know belong in the therapy space.

Follow this format:

  1. Acknowledge how difficult things have been
  2. Clarify we are in a coaching space
  3. Identify the area would be best served by a therapist
  4. Find out what can be done in the coaching space

Example: I really hear how challenging this situation has been. As you know we are in the coaching space, and we are focusing on the present and the future. This conversation would work well in a therapeutic space. How can we use our coaching space?

When you client needs more urgent support

Imagine a situation where your client is visibly distressed. You may have tried calming and grounding techniques and things keep escalating.

Bring in these questions:

  • How can I show up for you right now?
  • What do you need us to do right now?
  • What level of support do you need?
  • What can help you be at peace?
  • Who can support you right now?

I also suggest you have the telephone numbers of helplines, and therapy services to hand. You may want to stay with them as they access the services.


Questions to avoid that could take your client into the past


We cannot avoid our clients deciding to share their past with us. We can avoid leading the client into a therapeutic space, by keeping our questions grounded in the present or planted in the future.

Avoid these:

  • Tell me more about that situation*
  • What has happened to lead to this?
  • Where do you think that is coming from?
  • Where did you learn the messages from, around this topic?

*This is a question new trainees use a lot; in fact, I remember using it when I was training! There are several reasons why we ask this. Perhaps we are genuinely curious. Or we want to bide time while we think of a great question. Or we think we need more data to help formulate a great question. But look at the question again: “Tell me more…” You are asking the client to tell you more about something they already know! Therefore, this is a question that feels useful for you (“It will help me form a question!”), and it is a waste of a question for them (“I know this stuff already”). The client may find it therapeutic to share more of their story, but they are not here for therapy! Coaching works best when we ask questions that the client doesn’t know the answer to, yet. You can find other ways to generate a question, instead of gathering more data. Such as, feeding back on their body language or changes in their tone of voice, repeating back words or phrases, summarising what they have just said, picking up on a particular word or theme you are noticing.

As ICF coaches it is paramount we inform our clients on the differences between coaching, and other modalities, such as therapy, mentoring, and education. You have the opportunity to do this in several ways, remember people take in information in different ways to use different methods:

  1. In your initial Discovery Call ask them what they know about coaching. This will give you valuable information about their expectations, and allows you to describe coaching from their own baseline knowledge
  2. In your Client Agreement Contract with your Terms & Conditions
  3. At your first paid session, and during your sessions if they need a reminder

You can outline to your clients the differences between coaching, therapy, mentoring and education:

  • Mentoring: sharing advice, guidance, and experience with someone who is looking to grow into that area. Coaches do not share their stories or experience; they partner with the client by asking powerful intuitive questions that help the client help themselves.
  • Education: Sharing tools with a view to filling a knowledge gap.

As your business develops, you may re-contract with your clients and bring in elements of mentoring and education. In each case you will need to ensure the client is clear on the differences and has agreed to the blend.

And finally, have you ever wondered what the difference is between therapists, counsellors, and psychologists? Wonder no more!

  1. Counselling: short-term process that targets a specific mental health condition or situation. It involves giving counsel and advice and solving immediate concerns.
  2. Psychotherapy: a longer-term treatment that gains more insight into someone’s mental health issues. It requires more skillsets than counselling. It works by bringing the unconscious and past unmet needs to the conscious. It is conducted by professionals trained to practice psychotherapy, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker .
  3. Psychologists: psychology is the scientific study of human behaviour and mental processes. Psychologists use scientific methods to understand, explain, and predict human behaviour. They work in a variety of settings, including research, education, and clinical practice
  4. Psychiatry: a branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialise in mental health. They can prescribe medication, provide psychotherapy, and offer other treatments for mental health issues.

If you have any questions about this topic then post below or email me on alihendrycoaching@gmail.com. I look forward to finding out how you get on with these tips and tools!

Resources List

Ali Hendry is course lead on the Relationship Coach Certification and co-lead on the DEIJB Coach Certification.

Ali Hendry, Education Director (UK + Scandinavia)
Radiant Coaches Academy



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