What's the difference between psychotherapy, therapy, counselling, and coaching?

By: Nat Roman Mar 30, 2013

What is the difference between psychotherapy, therapy, counselling, and coaching?

The differences within each category can be as great as the differences between them.

Psychotherapy, therapy, counselling, and coaching can all refer to very similar and sometimes identical approaches to supporting clients in developing insight, solving problems, and making progress on goals. The differences within each category can be as great as the differences between them. For example, two psychotherapists may use widely different therapeutic models, and a psychotherapist and a coach may use similar approaches when addressing a particular problem or goal. With that in mind, there are some generalizations that can be made.

First off, "therapy" is simply an abbreviation for psychotherapy. They both refer to the same thing. There are many other types of therapy that are not psychotherapy, such as massage therapy, respiratory therapy, and physiotherapy but, these are rarely abbreviated as "therapy."

Psychotherapy is sometimes distinguished from counselling and life-coaching as a process that explores an individual's psychology in more depth. This depth may allow for the development of insight into foundational aspects of the self (e.g. issues of identity, sexuality, self-in-relationship, mental health concerns, and existential issues).

Counselling often refers to a process of support and guidance for particular life problems or in more specific circumstances (e.g. school counselling, career counselling, pastoral counselling etc.) but may involve some of the same approaches that would be used in psychotherapy.

Coaching can be more achievement and future oriented than some forms of counselling and psychotherapy and is not generally designed to treat mental health concerns or relationship issues. It usually involves helping clients clarify goals and access motivation to pursue goals, often in relation to career and livelihood.

As a psychotherapist/counsellor, I find myself interested in supporting clients in all the ways described above, and this is not unusual. My approach in terms of depth, goal orientation, focus on past, present, or future, and with regard to helping client’s access motivation for change, depends on what is most helpful for a particular client.

A more important difference between counsellors, coaches and therapists, may be the scope and amount of education and training that each have. Typically life-coaches are not trained psychotherapists or counsellors, and under the new psychotherapy regulations in Ontario, they will no longer be able to call themselves psychotherapists or offer anything that resembles psychotherapy unless they have the appropriate training and experience.

Nat Roman has a Master of Science in Couple and Family Therapy and BA Hons. in Psychology. In addition to Nat’s background in Psychology and Couple and Family Therapy, Nat has extensive training in Nonviolent Communication (NVC) processes, community based restorative conflict circles, and over 15 years experience studying, practicing and teaching mindfulness meditation practices. In an earlier stage of life Nat worked as a professional musician and strongly believes that creativity is an essential part of life, whether one is engaged in a formal creative discipline, problem solving, or attempting to get kids off to school in the morning. http://www.coupletherapytoronto.com/