Therapy vs Counseling vs Coaching: What’s the difference?

Therapy vs Counseling vs Coaching: What’s the difference?

For many of us, therapy is something that we will have experienced or will need in our life at some point. However, there is a stigma attached, causing people to be embarrassed to talk about it or even consider the idea, but why is this? Talking therapies can be one of the most useful things to help with your struggles, whatever they may be.

You don’t have to have a psychology background to be a counsellor or coach. Psychologists and psychiatrists are the ones who need that. Having said that, the work of each might have elements taken from psychological therapy techniques but the people themselves are not always psychologists (- some counsellors are, but not all). Each are different in their own way and each very helpful to different people for different reasons. One person might just use one service and stick with it. Another person might try 2 or even all 3, and find one that helps more than the others, OR that a mix of 2 have a better effect for them. For example, I have at different times in my life tried all 3. I had counselling at Uni for helping with the grief process. Kinda helped, kinda didn’t, but also kinda should have done it for longer (but at the time I didn’t want to.) Last year I had group CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, through Steps 2 Wellbeing) for social anxiety from April to June 2020, and in January of this year I started working with a mindset coach (Emma Upton of There Is More Than This) who helps women that experience a lot of anxiety to change their mindset for the better, in order to help ease their anxiety and better their life.

So anyway, what’s the actual difference between them?


The term ‘counsellor’ technically means ‘advisor’. Counselling is usually for problems that tend to need short term/brief treatment. It focuses on specific issues like grief, addiction, and stress management, looking at treatment of behaviour and advising on ways to deal with it. Counsellors offer guidance and support as individuals figure out ways to better manage life and adjust to change. Some places have access to free services (e.g. NHS services in England) where you can speak to a counsellor for free, but otherwise this is a paid service.


Psychotherapy is for more chronic, and recurrent problems. Treatment tends to be more long term, looking at the bigger picture. As with counsellors, some places have organisations have access to free services where you can speak to a therapist for free, but otherwise this is a paid service.


There are all sorts of coaches, ranging from life coaches to success coaches, business coaches to mindset coaches, and all are there to help you better yourself in one way or another. In this circumstance I will be discussing the details of a mindset coach. As it states in the name, they help you with everything to do with bettering your mindset. If you struggle with negative thoughts, low self-esteem/self-belief and destructive thought patterns, they’re there to help you. They don’t have the psychological background, but they do have a whole lot of empathy and knowledge on how to help you appreciate yourself more. Working with a coach is a paid service.

So, to summarise as a more easy to read format, easily stating the comparisons and similarities:

CounsellingPsychotherapyCoaching (Mindset)
Generally short term – from a few weeks to 6 months. Long term work, from months to even years. 
Can be short term or long term, depending on what you are seeing the coach for and how long you want to keep seeing them/what they offer. 
Looks at the present. 
Looks at the bigger picture rather than just the here and now. 
Focuses on our existing beliefs and patterns of thinking. 
Focuses on specific issues such as dealing with grief, addiction, and stress management. 
For more chronic and recurrent problems, such as bipolar disorder, and severe depression and anxiety issues, but also for those with chronic medical conditions (e.g autoimmune disease, cancer etc) that are affecting your emotional wellbeing. 
Helps you re-train your mindset for the better. Can take techniques used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. 
Counsellors offer guidance and support as individuals figure out ways to better manage life and adjust to change or adversity. Experience focused.Coaches don’t generally have a psychology background. They do generally have experience in their specialisation. 
Similar to a coach. For those who have seen a counsellor and issues aren’t improving despite actively working on solutions. 
Sort of like a mate that REALLY wants to help you and isn’t scared of asking you lots of potentially scary questions (in a kind and gentle, and sometimes quite upfront way).

Access to free services in some places, but otherwise comes with a fee. Can be expensive.
Access to free services in some places, but otherwise comes with a fee. Can be very expensive. A paid service. Can be very expensive. 
Need to want to help yourself.Need to want to help yourself.
Need to want to help yourself and be open minded. 

Have you tried any of these talking therapies? Let me know in the comments if you feel comfortable with it and tell me how you found them! It may help someone else make a decision.


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