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Therapy vs. Coaching: The Gardener & The Architect

A few weeks ago, I attended my first ever Unleash Mastermind meeting. It consisted of a small group of career coaches coming together, discussing their experiences, their worthwhile discoveries, and common struggles.

I remember preparing vigorously a couple hours before the meeting. I thought it was going to be something where coaches pool in ideas for curricular plans and agendas. So I prepared myself for that type of environment. I was ready to take a book-length of notes about new ideas and coming changes to the career-coaching system. But, man, was I wrong! Did I mention that this was my first day as an intern?

By the time the Mastermind ended, I remember looking at my notes and seeing all the quotes I had written down from each coach - “Find your niche,” “It’s been rough,” “You are worth it,” “Always find the best in your clients.” I didn’t feel like I was in a coaches’ meeting. After the Mastermind, I reflected on my experience for the next ten minutes. Was this a Mastermind meeting or a therapy session? I contemplated, trying to redefine career-coaching and therapy both in their individual simplicities. Trying to reconstruct them in a way that would make sense to me. Because…WOW…the similarities found between the two…


What makes coaching and therapy reflect each other? What makes them different?

Why call it career-coaching, and not career-therapy? Usually, when I hear the word ‘coach,’ I think of the stereotypical motivator. The aggressive pusher. The wise counselor. It was my middle school football coach or Coach Boone from Remember the Titans.

Coaching and Therapy have been compared for years. Both industries share their fair amount of qualities; they conduct mentoring in multiple schools of thought. Both have their respected tactics and established goals for the guidance for a client's mind-boggling discoveries about themselves; being mindful of oneself.

In some ways, coaching and therapy reflect each other. Throughout the past ten years, some have claimed that career-coaching is a form of psychotherapy. Scientists, doctors, and scholars have written articles about the therapeutic qualities career coaches use in their sessions with clients. In Jesse Seger’s journal Structuring and Coaching the Industry, he mentions that the ERAAwC model classifies coaching as the reflection of psychotherapy’s classified schools in terms of their difference in five components: Emotionality, Rationality, Activity, Awareness, and Context. In all their theories, I can see why .

I had the privilege to speak with Dr. Tess Brigham, fellow therapist and career-coach, and got to learn the similarities and differences between the two.

“Therapy is about looking to the past and who you were; the past events that stuck with you, and how it created the person you are today.” - Dr. Tess Brigham

In Seger’s article, I read that therapists approached their style with clients in multiple ways, such as humanistic, psychodynamic, stress-approach, and personal narratives. Throughout decades, therapists have used this tactic of reflecting on the past, connecting back to past traumas and events in order to find identity and self-healing for their clients. When it comes to dealing with mental-health issues, negative anxiety, and depression, these have been used to track down which reasons have been detrimental to an individual's personal growth. As a result, it nurtures the discovery of the individual self, the core and center of our values, feelings, and sense of morality.

Besides the fact that clients, for a big reason, take coaching to make strides into their career, it is not the stereotypical drop-and-give-me-fifty type of mentality. The ICF (International Coaching Federation) makes sure that there are fruitful relationships between clients and coaches. They make certain of maintained integrity in order for the strong establishment of trust. Like therapists, career coaches help their clients dig deep within themselves and discover who they are and what capabilities they have, advocating for personal growth. However, it’s not focused on past events and traumas.

In career-coaching, it’s all about the NOW and the FUTURE.

“What are you feeling now? What current problems and struggles are you feeling that are giving you the feeling of being stuck? How can we use this knowledge to figure out next steps”

Hear me out on this. Think of it as like a gardener and an architect. In their respective fields, they both have that similarity of building and growing their products; a gardener to a sunflower and the architect to its building.

When a gardener grows their sunflower, they must be aware of any potential events that affect how it grows. If a sunflower becomes a little droopy, the gardener knows that, in the past, it either lacked sunlight or had an overabundance of water. Much like the gardener, the therapist has to delve into what created a particular struggle in their clients life. In order for the clients to find their identity and potential, therapists have to reshape their way of thinking by going back to the time and place that damaged them most.

When an architect crafts and constructs a building, every single plan has to be focused on the current moment. The architect has to make sure that there is a strong base and establishment to build on so that when it comes to the future the building won’t topple and fall. Every mistake and error an architect finds is worked on and fixed before the next stage. Much like the architect, the responsibility of the career-coach is to find that current blockade that is keeping the client from seeing their full potential. The coach provides a strong base for clients to build on, and depending on their preparation, can find discoveries and changes in their character, confidence, and work ethic.

The Verdict:

  • Coaching tends to be more tactical in nature, there's a specific goal in mind: getting a promotion, leading a team better, improving communication skills, figuring out your next step etc.

  • Therapy is more healing focused, it gives you the space to talk about struggles and overcome them. It's more focused on your feelings and how you deal with issues on an emotional level.

Overall, whether it be finding your identity or finding your purpose, both coaching and therapy share the same qualities of finding that theme. And it’s not too overwhelming that two entities share such components. To be honest, I believe that career-coaching is beneficial for not only wanting to make a career change, but also finding true meaning and purpose in one’s life.

This just creates more access and resources for people to grow as professionals…and as humans. Who doesn’t want that?

Brandon Gille, Community & Content Manager


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