Life coaching vs. traditional therapy: What is the difference and what is right for you?

Comparative analysis of ICF Coaching and traditional therapy (including CBT and psychodynamic therapy) to navigate through life's challenges and achieve goals. Discover differences in approach, suitability for different needs and how they can complement each other for comprehensive personal development.

Picture of Av: Amie Jow | Dipl. Coach (ICF)
By: Amie Jow | Dipl. Coach (ICF)

We are all at different stages of our life journeys and it is normal to need support along the way. When it comes to dealing with life's challenges and achieving our goals, there are different approaches to consider. The approaches we compare here are ICF Coaching and traditional therapies, such as psychodynamic therapy and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). Let's explore the differences between these approaches and how they can suit different needs.

ICF Coaching: Forward-looking and Purposeful

ICF Coaching is a forward-looking approach that focuses on helping the client identify and achieve their personal and professional goals. By creating a safe and supportive environment, the ICF coach helps the client to explore their visions and dreams for the future. By using different tools and techniques, the coach supports the client throughout the process to overcome obstacles and achieve success.

Coaching can also be very effective in helping clients unravel patterns and feelings in a way that promotes personal development. By using different coaching tools and techniques, such as powerful questions, reflection and feedback, a coach can help the client increase their awareness of their behavioral patterns, thoughts and feelings. 

Working with a coach allows the client to explore their patterns in a supportive and non-judgmental way, which can make it easier to identify and understand the root of certain behaviors or thoughts. By raising awareness in this way, the client can also gain insights that can help them shape their life in the way they want and need. 

Traditional therapy: Exploring the past to understand the present

On the other side of the spectrum, traditional therapies, such as psychodynamic therapy and CBT, focus on exploring the client's past experiences and how they influence their current thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Psychodynamic therapy focuses on exploring and processing unconscious feelings and conflicts from childhood, while CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors.

Practical Differences in approach

One of the main differences between Coaching and traditional therapy is their approach and focus. Coaching is more geared towards achieving future goals and focuses less on exploring the past. On the other hand, traditional therapy involves digging deeper into the client's past to understand their current situation and help solve emotional or behavioral problems.

When should I Choose Traditional Therapy Over Coaching?

There are some situations where traditional therapy may be more appropriate than coaching. If an individual is struggling with deep-seated psychological problems, such as severe depression, anxiety disorders, or trauma, traditional therapy is more appropriate. Therapy can offer a more structured and in-depth approach to these problems with the support of a trained therapist.

If a person suspects they are suffering from a mental illness and need a formal diagnosis as well as medical treatment, it is more beneficial to seek traditional therapy. Therapists are trained to identify symptoms and work with clients to get the right diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

In acute crises, such as suicidal thoughts, serious drug abuse, or other acute traumas, there is a need for immediate and specialized support that traditional therapy can offer. Therapists are trained to deal with acute situations and can offer quick and effective support in these situations.

Combining Coaching and Therapy for Comprehensive Support

Coaching and therapy can complement each other in several ways and coexist to provide the client with more comprehensive and effective support. By integrating both approaches, the client can be supported both to achieve their goals and to address any mental or emotional barriers along the way. This creates a richer and more rewarding experience for the client and promotes deeper and more lasting personal development. 

With all this said, it is important to emphasize that coaching is never a "instead of" option for any investigation/diagnosis and therapy if that need exists, talk to your potential coach and healthcare provider if you are unsure what the best option is for you. 

In summary, both Coaching and traditional therapy offer unique benefits and can be powerful tools for personal and professional development. It is important for each individual to carefully consider their needs and goals in order to choose the approach that best suits them on their journey towards wellbeing and success.

Coaching or therapy? The choice is yours

Ultimately, only you can decide which methods are right for you in your quest for a more balanced and happy life. If you want to read more about traditional therapy and ICF coaching, you can access the information at International Coach Federation (ICF), For information on ICF Coaching, its basic principles and approach, and Psychotherapy Networker, This is a resource providing comprehensive information on traditional therapy, including psychodynamic therapy and CBT. 

I hope this article has helped you think about what might be a good path for you to take! 

If you are curious about coaching and want to learn more about whether it could help you take the next step in life, you can read more here.



About the author

Picture of Amie Jow
Amie Jow

Dipl. Coach (ICF) and life coach to help you understand yourself better, strengthen your self-image and achieve a more fulfilling life. Amie offers customized coaching services to help you find your inner strength and clarity in your choices.

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