What is the difference between coaching, consultation, and psychotherapy?

Coaching, consultation, and psychotherapy are similar in that they all help people address problems. Historically, psychotherapy has involved revisiting early childhood trauma, and treating diagnosable psychiatric disorders. A therapist listens to a patient’s story, empathizes with the client’s condition, and offers suggestions on how the client can proceed in the treatment of his/her pathology. Consultation has historically involved hiring an expert to come into a company, analyze the company’s system, and deliver a report on what changes the company should make.  Rarely is the consultant involved in the process of implementing these changes.  Coaching, on the other hand, does not categorize people by diagnoses, nor does it deliver detached advice on what should be done.  A coach helps a client better understand his/her dilemma, empowers the client to decide how he/she would like to address the dilemma, and is there by the client’s side during the implementation of change.

Grodzki and Allen (2006) offer an excellent analogy.  The authors ask you to imagine you are trying to learn to ride a bicycle, and have hired a therapist, a consultant, and a coach to help you.

“A therapist would be standing off to the side, closely observing your attempt to stay upright. She would be understanding and compassionate when you fell, make wise interpretations about why, ask some difficult and insightful questions to help you understand the origins of your lack of balance, and perhaps direct you as to how to get back on and do better, with this new set of insights. A therapist would want you to develop your own prowess about riding the bike over time, for you to notice how you keep getting your feet crossed, or turn the wheel wrong, and to understand what your history taught you to make you try to ride that way.”

A consultant might be on the bike next to you, riding circles around you as a biking expert. He would note your current slow ability at riding, tell you exactly how and where you are going wrong, give you a detailed, step-by-step plan for doing it right, and then submit a report with all of the findings and suggestions, including suggestions for purchasing a state-of-the-art bike, and then ride off, to leave you to implement the suggestions on your own, in your own time frame.

A coach would climb on to the seat right behind you and ask, “Where do you want to go today?” (Grodzki & Allen, 2006, pg 41).