Coaching vs Therapy: What's the difference?

At Well Family, we believe you are the expert in you. We are healthcare professionals guiding you towards your healthiest life and highest potential. You are not broken. You are not your diagnosis. You are whole and resilient, no matter your circumstances. 

So should you go to therapy or hire a coach?  What’s the difference, anyway? Both coaching and therapy can be immensely helpful, depending on the individual and their circumstances. Both can be therapeutic and healing. Yet, there are some key distinctions between the two, so let’s take a look.

Coaching is a growing field that encompasses a very broad scope and is largely unregulated. Anyone can call themselves a Coach. There are executive coaches, life coaches, health coaches, spiritual coaches, and now an emerging role in nursing practice - Nurse Coaches.

Nurse Coaches are unique in the coaching realm in that we have a Board Certification and adhere to our ethical standards and nursing scope of practice as defined by the state in which we are licensed. We use our clinical training and experience to inform our decision-making and critical thinking process when working with clients in a coaching relationship, just as we do in any other nursing role. We take a holistic approach to wellness that encompasses the physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, and environmental aspects of life. And we make referrals for our clients’ safety and wellbeing when appropriate.

Coaching is focused on empowering clients in, “goal-setting, actualizing potential, taking action, enhancing quality of life, and functioning at their highest capacity”(1). Coaches often guide clients in discovering a compelling vision for their future in order to move from inaction to action. Past issues may come up in discussions; however, the past is not the focus in coaching.

Therapy is usually focused on a specific issue or diagnosis that is interfering with a client’s level of functioning. The focus is often retrospective, addressing past events, trauma, and pain. Treatment is based on relieving symptoms of the dysfunction and addressing problems using, “therapeutic interpretations of how present thoughts and behaviors may be a result of historical events” (1).

Another key distinction between coaching and therapy is that coaching is a collaborative model in which the coach and the client are partners co-creating a professional relationship for the client’s highest good. The coach is an expert in the coaching process only and does not necessarily provide answers, give advice, or suggest solutions. When appropriate and when requested by the client, Nurse Coaches can provide health-related guidance, education, and evidence-based information when it serves the client’s goals. The focus and/or goals in coaching are client-driven, and coaching sessions are usually direct, with defined goals and action plans.

Therapy often uses an expert model in which the therapist, counselor, or psychologist is the expert providing analysis and interventions that include giving advice and making suggestions for overcoming problems. Clients commonly expect the therapist knows more about the client’s issue or diagnosis than the client does.

In Nurse Coaching, there is usually a defined period of time you will work together- ranging from 6 weeks to 6 months- depending on your goals. During that time, the Nurse Coach and Client make powerful agreements that set the tone for professionalism, mutual respect, and a willingness to move beyond your comfort zone for the purpose of growth and transformation. In Nurse Coaching, we create a safe coaching container, in which you have access to ask questions, check in on progress made towards goals, and troubleshoot inevitable obstacles and challenges in between coaching sessions.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when exploring a new relationship with a therapist or coach (or any other healing professional for that matter):

  • Is it a good fit? 

  • Are they fully present and listening?

  • Do they take a holistic approach to your wellbeing?

  • Do you have a clear sense of the goals/objectives in your work together?

  • Do you leave your sessions feeling empowered and supported?

  • Is there a defined plan or period of time you will be working together?  

I recently worked with a Licensed Professional Counselor for several months to heal a past trauma and it was immensely helpful and insightful. I was able to integrate that experience in a way I had not before.

Depending on your reasons for seeking support and guidance, it is not uncommon to work with both a Coach and a Therapist, in addition to any other member of your healthcare team. There is a place for all of us in the dynamic evolution of healthcare away from disease and symptom management and towards a more integrative model focused on health promotion and holistic wellbeing.


  1. The Nurse Coach Collective

  2. Dossey, Barbara Montgomery, et al. Nurse Coaching: Integrative Approaches for Health and Wellbeing. International Nurse Coach Association, Miami, 2015.

Interested in learning more about working with a Certified Nurse Coach? Let’s Connect!


Brandie Mitchell, RN, LMT

Brandie is a Registered Nurse, Certified Nurse Coach and Licensed Massage Therapist in Texas.