Coach or Therapist?

by | Jan 19, 2021 | Teenagers | 0 comments

As a parent, you recognize that it’s natural for your teenage daughter to pull away and you want to provide her with a safe outlet, beyond the family circle, where she can receive encouragement, insight, and if needed, advice. However, while you realize a teen life coach may be the answer to helping her through her challenges, she may not. You mention the idea of coaching and she responds with “I don’t need a therapist, mom!”

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That’s good news! Coaching is quite different from therapy.  

A session with a coach or therapist, a talk with a friend, or even time spent with a favorite pet can all be therapeutic. But there are obvious differences. Friends don’t always have the life experience or ability to offer sound advice. Pets can’t offer much in the ways of information or insight. A good coach or therapist will provide support and guidance, but there are a few fundamental differences:

Power & Function

  • Therapists set the agenda and can offer their clients diagnoses. They help their clients identify the cause of their present difficulties and how to change thinking or behavior.
  • Coaches work with their clients to set goals that guide their coaching sessions. They help their clients recognize and develop their strengths and build confidence.

Process & Purpose 

  • Therapists help clients explore the cause(s) of their problems. This often means digging into past traumas, hurts, or habits.  They help their clients understand how they got to where they are and how to break unhealthy patterns.  
  • Coaches focus on their clients’ future. They help their clients identify actions that will move them forward, and learn strategies for solving problems and overcoming challenges. Coaches help their clients build the bridge from where they are to where they want to be. 


  • Therapists work with their clients to let go of old patterns and heal past trauma or hurts. Clients will typically explore their motivations and investigate the question, Why do I…??  
  • Coaches typically ask questions that support their clients in finding their own solutions to problems or challenges. Clients learn new skills and develop new mindsets; they discover how to use these tools to overcome obstacles and move forward.  

No matter what, the connection is key.

The foundation for any meaningful support is connection. If the connection between teen and therapist or teen and coach is weak, the support they receive will be similar. Your teen should feel that the therapist or coach is someone with whom they can relate and trust, someone who speaks their language and is easy to talk with, and most importantly someone who will work with them in achieving their desired outcomes. 

Sources: Hayden and Whitworth (1995), The Relationship Coaching Institute, Sharon House


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