Does Coaching Work as Therapy?

A coach can provide you with really valuable tools for change. However, what about in the clinical setting? For example, would coaching allow you to address depression or anxiety?
Does Coaching Work as Therapy?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 02 May, 2023

Does coaching work as therapy? Without a doubt, many people consider it at times when they’re feeling stuck, suffering emotionally, or are unable to clarify their purposes and achieve self-realization and happiness. Indeed, this method is a good resource for promoting personal growth.

Undoubtedly, coaching has a positive effect in various areas of skill development and performance. However, the fields of clinical and health science don’t endorse the method. This is because when it comes to emotional problems, we often experience discouragement, crises, and pain. Therefore, psychology is the appropriate field for their treatment.

One of the greatest attractions of coaching is that it’s a short-term model, with advice based on support and the search for solutions.

figures to symbolize if coaching works as therapy
Coaching is an excellent resource in the workplace and for personal development.

Does coaching work as therapy?

The term coaching gained special relevance between the 1990s and 2000s. It arose in the business field as a strategy for the development of employee skills and leadership training. As such, it was a complete success. Indeed, from that moment onward, the method was extended to different scenarios. It later appeared in processes such as life coaching.

Today, at a time when mental health problems are a significant social issue, it’s easier for alternative resources to be sought and exploited instead of the traditional kinds. The main attraction of coaching is mainly due to the fact that it’s linked to management consultancy issues. But, does coaching work as therapy?

1. It isn’t a therapeutic or clinical model, but a training model

Coaching is an unregulated and undefined industry. Although there are international organizations that train and theorize, many unresolved doubts remain concerning the process of coaching. Elias Aboujaoude, from Stanford University (USA), addressed this question in 2020. He made the following observations.

Coaching is a good path to follow for activating changes and guiding the individual toward objectives. However, it’s not appropriate for conducting interventions in those with clinical disorders. Aboujaoude also claims that we require more equivocal research to demonstrate its effectiveness and regulate the role of the coach.

Although psychologists and coaches seek to improve people’s lives, only the former are empowered to intervene in aspects related to mental health.

2. It complements psychological therapy but doesn’t replace it

Duke University (USA) conducted a study that states that in certain therapeutic contexts coaching could be useful since it acts as a facilitator for obtaining reinforcement.

In fact, integrative coaching, aimed at collaboration in the health area, is an area under study that has certain benefits. Its effectiveness lies in driving the individual to achieve goals.

Although coaching isn’t a medical model, it supports and encourages behavior change, which is positive. And, when added to psychological therapy and other different clinical models supported by scientific evidence, it can benefit the patient. But, on its own, it isn’t an appropriate resource for those with mental disorders.

3. Coaches have no specific training in mental health

Some people use coaching to address depressive and/or anxious symptoms. Of course, they may experience an improvement, even if it’s simply a product of the placebo effect, which is extremely powerful. After all, we’re all unique and some of us will be more in tune with specific approaches than others. Therefore, it’s possible that coaching may help.

That said, relapses can be frequent. This is because unaddressed comorbidities, habits, behaviors, and undetected systemic factors often lie behind depression and anxiety. And a coach isn’t trained in mental health. They lack specialization, extensive experience in this area, as well as qualifications.

4. Coaching works for goal-oriented healthy people

To know if coaching works as therapy, we must first clarify what therapy really is. It’s a process whose purpose is healing or the relief of a series of conditions, symptoms, or diseases. On the contrary, coaching isn’t intended to heal psychological conditions, but to guide the person toward change and the achievement of goals.

Psychologists are empowered to work on emotional suffering, dysfunctional behaviors, and all the symptoms associated with different psychological problems. But, we can also go to psychological therapy without suffering from clinical disorders in order to promote self-awareness.

Therefore, it’s important to bear in mind that, while psychology is a discipline, coaching is a method with a limited and specific field of application. It can’t be used to treat phobias, traumas, or emotional discomfort.

Coaches helps individuals identify, pursue, and achieve their goals. Coaching is goal and results oriented. However, in psychological therapy, the objectives aren’t clear. They’re addressed as the process progresses. It involves detecting the underlying clinical problems and authentic needs of the patient.

5. Coaching is extremely effective in the workplace, not in therapeutic settings

Coaching is a really useful, interesting, and multifaceted work model in the workplace. Indeed, skills and competencies coaches help us improve professionally and support our potential worth. Moreover, they help increase our self-confidence and motivation to develop better problem-solving and creativity tools. They also foster optimism.

However, life and skills coaches can’t carry out work in therapeutic settings. They also don’t have the training to develop planned interventions and address mental health issues.

Therapist explains if coaching works as therapy
The coach is a really useful figure in allowing us to clarify our objectives in moments of doubt or when we lack motivation.

How do you know if you need a coach or a psychologist?

When it comes to offering a better quality of life to us, as human beings, new approaches and specialized professionals are always welcome. As you now know, coaching isn’t therapy. It doesn’t have competencies in the field of mental health, but it serves to promote concrete change.

Coaching can be interesting and beneficial as long as you know what your specific needs are. Based on your personal circumstances, you can choose either a coach or a psychologist.

How can a coach help you?

Coaching is a specific goal-oriented technique. It can be carried out in a group or individually. Coaching will help you:

  • Achieve goals.
  • Attain success.
  • Enhance your strengths.
  • Benefit your leadership skills.
  • Help you make better decisions.
  • Train you in new skills.
  • Help you identify vital obstacles.
  • Improve your motivation and self-confidence.

How can a psychologist help you?

You should go to psychological therapy when you don’t feel well and perceive that your life is limited in some way. A therapist can help you with:

  • Grief.
  • Trauma.
  • Addictions.
  • Fears and phobias.
  • Personal crises.
  • Anxiety and stress.
  • Emotional suffering.
  • Loss of hope.
  • Problems at work.
  • Insecurity and low self-esteem.
  • Behavior changes.
  • Suicidal ideation and self-harm.
  • Nutrition problems.
  • Obsessive thoughts and ideas.
  • Difficulties in your relationships.
  • Difficulties in facing problems.
  • The desire for self-knowledge and clarification of your purposes.

The need for function regulation

Given that coaching has been around for decades and has a large industry behind it, it’s time that this field was regulated for the benefit of all. Indeed, authorization and the implementation of training standards would be ideal.

Finally, psychology doesn’t underestimate the work of this method. In fact, many psychologists seek to also qualify themselves in this approach. We just require adequate legislation to guarantee the best care for everyone.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Aboujaoude E. (2020). Where Life Coaching Ends and Therapy Begins: Toward a Less Confusing Treatment Landscape. Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science15(4), 973–977.
  • Briner, Rob. (2012). Does coaching work and does anyone really care? OP Matters, 16.
  • Hart, V., Blattner, J. y Leipzig, S. (2001). Coaching versus terapia: una perspectiva. Revista de consultoría de psicología: práctica e investigación, 53 (4), 229–237.
  • Wolever, R,Q,, Caldwell, K.L., Wakefield, J.P., Little, K.J., Gresko, J., Shaw, A., Duda, L.V., Kosey, J.M., Gaudet, T. (2011). Integrative health coaching: an organizational case study. Explore, 7(1), 30-6. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2010.10.003. PMID: 21194670.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.