top of page
  • Writer's pictureIngela Onstad

Do I need a coach or a therapist?

This is a question I get from a lot of clients, and I can understand why they ask this question, as coaching is a newer industry and seems very similar to therapy. As I am both a licensed counselor as well as a board-certified coach (more on that later), I feel very confident in my explanation of the differences, but keep in mind that much of this is my personal take on the two fields, and is based on current laws and standards in the United States. Other countries may have different laws and standards.


Therapy is the more well-known service which many clients are familiar with, in fact, a majority of my Courageous Artistry clients have already had experience with therapy. Therapy is also referred to as psychotherapy or counseling, and is a service based in the medical model of mental health.

Therapy is provided by a licensed provider in the medical mental health field. Most commonly this is a professional counselor, clinical social worker, or clinical psychologist, however, in some rare cases psychiatrists also provide talk therapy . A psychiatrist is a physician who is most commonly responsible for prescribing psychiatric medications and the care of more acute mental health disorders.

All of the above professions require at least a Master’s degree and involve hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of supervised experience in order to become licensed. As well, each professional therapist must complete dozens of hours of continuing education in their fields each year.

Therapy is based in a medical model of deficiency, which means that a client is functioning below their baseline functioning. While in treatment, the therapist’s goal is to help the client return to better functioning in their lives. Therapy is often covered by a client’s insurance (both Medicaid/Medicare as well as private insurance) and most commonly requires a diagnosis to be made in order for insurance to cover the treatment.

While different with every therapist, therapy often works to examine how a client’s past experiences have influenced their present state. This process is referred to as “insight or awareness building” and can be an important part of healing and progress. Optimally, a therapist works together with their client to set goals for treatment in order to create measurable progress.

Therapy is often more reflective or contemplative in nature, meaning that the therapist provides a space for clients to process their emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Therapy asks the question “why?”, as in “why do I feel the way I do?” There are many different therapeutic modalities and techniques, which means that finding the right fit for you as a client is very important. Therapy can be brief in nature, or extended for long periods.

So how does coaching differ from therapy?

Coaching is a newer profession and does not involve licensing or formal education. There are “certifications” in coaching, but as coaching is not a regulated profession, these certifications are wildly varying. I am a board-certified coach and this designation was granted by the National Board for Certified Counselors, which is the regulating body that oversees accreditation in counseling. I chose to become a board-certified coach in order to demonstrate that I have received education and training in the differences between coaching and therapy.

This is an important part of my Courageous Artistry coaching practice: not to do therapy with clients!

Coaching is a private, unregulated service, meaning that it is not covered by insurance and does not involve diagnosis. Although many coaches complete certification or training programs, there are no requirements to become a coach, literally anyone can call themselves a coach and start a business.

The way I see things, coaching is based in a sufficiency model, which means that I view each coaching client as already possessing all the necessary ingredients for success. Part of my job as a coach is to help each client identify their personal strengths and help them create a plan to feel successful in their specific goals.

With me, the coaching process focuses on answering the “how?”, as in, “how can I move forward from where I currently stand?” It is not that exploring the “why” is unimportant, but my coaching clients who can get out of the “why” and into the “how” tend to be most successful.

A coaching session may have certain similarities with a therapy session: as a coach, I work to create a safe, supportive space for my clients to explore their thoughts, feelings, and goals. One of the main differences in a coaching session, however, is that we are very focused on GOALS and ACTION.

If a Courageous Artistry coaching client brings a specific goal or topic into session, then we use the session time to explore and design action steps to move the client forward. We don’t stay too long in the “why do I feel the way I do” phase, rather, we address how you feel and then create a plan of action.

If a client does not have specific goals or topics that they want to explore, I draw from my experience and introduce them to tools and skills that they do not yet possess.

Your friendly neighborhood Courageous Artistry coach

My coaching clients who are most successful are ready to take responsibility for themselves and take action towards their goals even if it is sometimes scary. In fact, I often tell clients that I want their goals and actions to feel like the right combination of scary and doable.

I give clients homework after every session, and we collaborate on action steps that are specific, clear, and realistic for their lives. When we meet next, I ask the client about their personal victories from the past week or weeks, and then we discuss how their homework went. Sometimes the homework was successful, which is great, but if the homework wasn’t successful, we then use that information to create a better strategy for the client.

My goal as a coach is to help my clients achieve their goals, and reach that elusive final 5-10% in their lives that they feel is missing. And while I adore all of the clients I work with, my hope is for my clients to gain so much from the coaching program that they no longer need coaching on a regular basis.

So which one is a better fit for me, Ingela?

Here’s a good rule of thumb in order to figure out which one is right for you:

If you are experiencing difficult or overwhelming emotions such as sadness or anxiety that are affecting multiple areas of functioning in your life (social, occupational, relationships, etc.), then therapy is likely where you need to begin. Your emotions may be so overwhelming that you are currently functioning below your own personal “baseline”, and it may be that friends or loved ones have noticed that you are suffering.

If you are experiencing difficult emotions, thoughts, or experiences that affect your artistry specifically, then coaching may be a better fit. My coaching clients tend to report feeling career- or craft-specific anxieties and fears, impostor syndrome, and mindset issues. They often report feeling “stuck” or not knowing which steps to take to move forward.

My coaching clients have often done their own therapy, but have commented that they need more specific help with their performing. A very frequent comment I receive is “I’ve done therapy and it’s been helpful, but my therapist doesn’t really get my performing career and goals.”

Can you do both therapy and coaching together? Yes! Some of my clients have therapists as well as me as their coach. I always encourage clients to communicate with their therapist and let them know they are doing coaching, and I’m happy to communicate with my client’s therapists in order to be a collaborative team.

Are you curious to explore if coaching is right for you? Contact me HERE to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation call in order to see if we are the right fit for one another.

327 views0 comments


bottom of page