Divorce Coaching vs. Therapy. What’s the Difference?
By Tara Eisenhard
As a divorce coach, I often find myself reminding people that I’m not a mental health professional. It’s a common assumption that coaching and therapy are the same thing, and I understand the confusion. Both involve telling someone your problems and asking that person to help you find a solution. Plus, it’s not uncommon for therapy sessions to include a little bit of coaching.
It’s natural to confuse coaching with therapy, but it’s important to understand why they are not the same. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to lump therapists, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists together under the category of “therapy.” There are differences between these categories, however they are similar in the ways they differ from coaching. Allow me to explain…
The Suitcase Analogy
The easiest way to understand the difference between coaching and therapy is to imagine you’re carrying a suitcase. If you take that suitcase to a therapist, the therapist will help you to open the suitcase. Together, you’ll examine what’s inside. The therapist can help you understand how you could pack more efficiently or more appropriately. Perhaps there are things you’d like to remove from the suitcase, and the therapist can assist in that process as well.
On the other hand, if you take your suitcase to a coach, the coach’s job is to say something such as, “I see your bags are packed. Where would you like to travel?” After telling the coach your intended destination, the coach will then work with you to explore road maps, train schedules, plane routes, and bus schedules to help you determine the most appropriate way to get there.
To put it bluntly: therapy goes deep and coaching is directional.
For those who are processing a divorce, both types of professionals can be a valuable asset along the journey. When I notice that a client is struggling with their “suitcase,” I suggest that a therapist’s office might be a good stop before continuing with their travel plans.
Differences In Training
As you might guess, a lot more skill and schooling are required to effectively manage the contents of a suitcase. Therapists spend years studying and practicing their craft before obtaining their licensure. And those degrees and licenses can vary. Some letters you might see after a professionals’ name include PsyD (Doctor of Psychology), LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), and LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), to name a few.
By contrast, coaching is a newer field with less official structure and standards. Coaches are not required to hold academic degrees, but rather will obtain certificates from various training outlets that are targeted for different specialties. In addition to the well-known title of “life coach,” there are health coaches, professional/sales coaches, wealth coaches, relationship coaches, and, of course, divorce coaches.
Areas of Focus
As we’ve learned, therapists receive extensive training in matters related to mental health and wellness. That’s a pretty broad field, so you can find therapists to help with unique struggles ranging from anxiety and depression to addiction to stress management to family matters. Parents in a contentious custody battle might seek out a professional who performs custody evaluations. Individuals who are struggling to deal with life after divorce might opt for the office of someone who can help with the management of emotions.
Divorce coaches come from diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise. Some coaches have a legal background and can help their clients negotiate a settlement or review a proposal. Other coaches, myself included, assist with the more “human” aspects of divorce. This can include issues related to general next steps, communication struggles, parenting or coparenting, self-care, and getting the right support.
Choosing Your Team
I always say that self-awareness is the root of your personal power. This means it’s a good idea to check in with yourself in order to know if a coach or therapist is more appropriate for you, and to ensure you’re working with the right individual. Don’t blindly take the advice of your well-meaning friends or family members because their needs and personal journey might be different than yours. Determine your needs, your values, and your goals. Ask yourself what kind of assistance you’re looking for from the professional you work with. Is there a certain personality style or therapeutic approach you feel most comfortable with?
After you know yourself, you’re in a better position to begin your research in finding the appropriate professional support. Check the web site and social media channels of various therapists or coaches, and read the online reviews. Once you’ve narrowed your search, schedule a consultation so you can ask more questions and see which options would be the best fit for you.
There’s no doubt about it: divorce is a stressful and confusing event. The good news is that our culture is getting better at accepting divorce as a reality for many families. And there’s a lot more help available now than even a decade ago. When you know yourself and you understand the specialties of the professionals available to you, you can create a process that is productive and supportive.
Tara Eisenhard is a divorce coach, family mediator, educator, and author of the book The D-Word: Divorce Through a Child’s Eyes. For more information, visit TaraEisenhard.com.