All of us have a journey to make in this life. Sometimes we know exactly where we’re headed but unexpected events occur that cause us to lose our focus, be distracted or become completely debilitated. At other times we don’t have a clue which way we need to head. We’ve become lost or our passion is leading us to change course. In both of these scenarios we can greatly benefit from the intervention of professional help. But what kind?

Some of us develop a mental illness that is so severe that it causes us to either not be able to move forward or to veer completely off course. We are disabled by our illness, either temporarily or permanently. Therapists, with their expertise and experience, are best suited for helping us when we are in this stage of our journey. 

Others of us find ourselves in situations where we get stuck in a rut, lose our sense of direction, or become confused at choices in the path before us. We are not disabled by a mental illness, although we may have been in the past or we may have a mental illness but it is not so severe that it prevents us from moving about freely. Coaching through one on one and community interaction is perfect for these individuals. 

Therapists are the trauma surgeons, emergency room personnel and paramedics of the mental health and well being community. Coaches have a fully stocked first aid kit and skills to put it to good use, but they are not physicians. Coaching clients may be what I call “the walking wounded” but they have to be ambulatory in order to be a good fit for the coaching process. 

A coach comes alongside their client to brainstorm, provide information, and examine potential decisions. A therapist can do all of these things, but they often also need to intervene at a deeper level to direct care, prescribe behavior and make choices on behalf of their client. A coach never takes that much control over a client’s life. Guide and encourage, yes. Command direction, never. 

People can, and sometimes need to, move between therapy and coaching. Individuals who have gotten their mental health illnesses under control or in remission can benefit tremendously from individual and group coaching. Individuals who are being coached need to transfer to a therapist if they experience a mental health crisis. A good coach will help a client make this transfer when decompensation occurs, rather than continuing to try to tend to themselves.