One of the questions I often receive as an Executive Coach is, “What exactly is the difference between coaching and therapy?”

The short answer to distinguish a coach from a therapist is to think of an executive coach in the same category as an athletic coach. It’s about improving your abilities, staying on top of your game, and having a personal cheerleader to help you achieve your goals. But, with this dedicated article to the question, let’s dig even deeper.

Coaching at its core is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their performance. It is a process that aims to improve performance and focuses on the present rather than on the distant past or future — however, through focusing on the present, we are modeling a successful and fulfilling future! To maximize performance, coaching helps clients learn and improve their skills. A good and effective coach needs to be positive, enthusiastic, supportive, trusting, goal-oriented, knowledgeable, respectful, patient, and a great communicator.

I use Vision Coaching with most of my clients — “Where are you now in your career, and where would you like to be at a point in the future? What’s holding you back from achieving?”First, I help my clients articulate their professional vision and values. Then, we formulate goals or a path to achieve their vision.

For example, I’ll share a coaching experience that may sound somewhat similar to where you are in your career and/or where you want to be.

Sarah is one of my clients. She is 36 years old, intelligent, creative, and motivated. While currently a director of marketing at her company, Sarah wants to achieve an executive role in her industry within the next several years. She is a good candidate for executive coaching, as she is committed to her professional development and knows the type of roles and level she is seeking. However, Sarah needs help refining her vision and mapping out the steps to achieve it, aka she wants to do some healthy career pathing. That’s where I come in! We’re currently in the midst of taking stock of her career, mapping out her objectives, and creating an actionable plan towards her goals.

Therapy, or counseling, is the process of meeting with a therapist to resolve problematic behaviors, beliefs, feelings, and/or relationship issues. According to Psychology Today, therapy is a form of treatment to relieve emotional distress and mental health problems. Therapy is valuable, and I encourage anyone interested in pursuing therapy to do so, but it is very different from coaching. Therapists are trained to work with mental illness and clients with entrenched issues.

For example:

Jenny approached me about coaching her. She is a brilliant tech entrepreneur; unfortunately, she has relationship issues with everyone she works with. Jenny is an Alpha personality and has relied on her intellect and perseverance to achieve her success thus far in her career. However, she expressed that she is unable to form strong emotional connections. Due to her challenging relationships with everyone in her workplace, Jenny is a better candidate for therapy than coaching right now. But, there’s no reason she couldn’t pursue executive coaching after finding an effective therapist and addressing those core barriers in her relationships.

I hope that you found the distinction between coaching and therapy helpful. If you enjoy reading my KimMartinTheCoach blogs, follow me on LinkedIn, Medium, Instagram, or subscribe to my newsletter at!

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Kim Martin