Is Care Coaching the Same as Therapy?

Is Care Coaching the Same as Therapy?

Life is full of challenges. At times, all of us could use some extra support and guidance. A trained professional can be a powerful ally to help us overcome obstacles and make needed changes. 

The overall coaching profession has witnessed enormous growth as research and client testimonials have demonstrated its efficacy in a wide range of domains including career, executive, life coaching, peak performance, and health & wellness, to name a few. With the explosion of coaching, a question that sometimes comes up is whether coaching is the same as therapy? After all, both therapists and coaches help people make significant changes.

Coaching is definitely a distinct discipline from therapy. So what exactly differentiates coaching from therapy?

A Coach is Not a Mental Health Practitioner 

Coaches are not trained or licensed to diagnose or treat mental health issues. If someone is suffering from severe depression, anxiety, trauma, substance abuse, or a range of other psychiatric disorders such as an eating disorder, personality disorder, or psychotic disorder (e.g., schizophrenia), it is outside a coach’s scope of practice to work with them on these issues.

That is not to say that someone with mental health concerns could never work with a coach. While a coach cannot treat an individual for mental health issues, if someone is stable, a coach could work with them within their scope of practice. People can work with both a coach and a therapist at the same time (with proper boundaries) because the focus is different. Coaches generally focus on helping generally psychologically healthy individuals achieve their goals, whether those are personal or professional. 

Types of Mental Health Professionals


Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors who, in addition to medical school, completed a four year residency in psychiatry and passed a licensing exam. They are trained to evaluate and treat mental illness through medication, psychotherapy, hospitalization and other procedures.

Clinical Psychologist

Licensed clinical psychologists evaluate a person’s mental health through clinical interviews, evaluations, and standardized tests. Broadly, they diagnose and treat mental disorders, primarily through psychotherapy.  A clinical psychologist has a doctorate (either a PhD or a PsyD). In addition, in order to be licensed to practice they must complete a one-year internship as part of their doctoral study and pass a professional practice exam.

Two of the numerous specialties in clinical psychology are neuropsychology and health psychology. Neuropsychologists evaluate how brain injuries and illnesses impact patients’ functioning. Clinical health psychologists assess and treat psychological issues relating to physical illness. In most states, psychologists can not prescribe medication.

Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors have earned a master’s degree from an accredited program, completed pre and post degree clinical hours and passed an exam. Mental health counselors evaluate and provide support to people experiencing mental or emotional distress and difficulties with functioning through counseling and therapy.  While trained to make diagnoses, it depends on the state where they are practicing, whether or not they can legally diagnose mental illness. 

What is Psychotherapy?

There are many different types of psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy. In general, psychotherapy is a way to treat mental health issues by talking with a trained mental health professional. While the techniques differ depending on the type of therapy, your therapist can help you become more self aware, identify and change maladaptive thoughts and behaviors, cope with difficult emotions and situations, help heal issues from your past, and move forward more productively and with less distress. 

What is a Coach?

There are no legal or regulatory requirements to become a coach. Anyone can state that they are a coach. There is a broad range of professionalism and proficiency among coaches, as in any profession. Therefore, it is important to understand how to differentiate a highly trained, experienced, and effective coach. 

With the proliferation of positive results in both research and people’s lives, coaching has started to come into its own as a profession. This has led to further professionalization of coaching as a discipline. There are several professional organizations that certify coaches. Certification through one of these organizations ensures that a coach has the requisite education, knowledge, and skills to provide a high standard of coaching. Credentials provide credibility. While not necessary to become a coach, there are also now several graduate programs for general coaching and health and wellness coaching.

Certification through the International Coaching Federation (ICF) has become the gold standard for general coaching. This rigorous credentialing process includes completing an education program, mentoring, and passing a performance evaluation and exam. There are three different certification levels depending on educational hours and coaching experience. To achieve the Master Certified Coach (MCC) level a coach must have completed 200 hours of coach specific education and 2,500 hours of client coaching experience.

For health and wellness coaching, the gold standard is national board certification through the National Board of Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC). To become a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) one must complete a NBHWC approved training program, conduct at least 50 health and wellness coaching sessions, and pass an exam. (Neura Health's care coaches are NBC-HWC certified.)

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a growth process through which a professional (coach) supports an individual to achieve goals that are meaningful to them. The coaching process is non-judgmental and non-directive. This means that coaches do not set goals for their clients. Coaches can help clients to discover and define their goals, help them develop a plan of action, execute and sustain the actions necessary to achieve those goals and help overcome obstacles by providing support, accountability and encouragement. 

Coaches do not diagnose or treat people. Rather, coaches meet clients wherever they are and form a working partnership with them to help them achieve whatever goals are personally relevant and meaningful to them. Whereas a medical model often focuses on diagnosing and treating disorder or dysfunction to help a person regain normal functioning, the coaching model focuses on what works and is working. Coaching can help people discover and tap into their personal strengths to empower them to achieve their goals.

While coaches have expertise in initiating and sustaining behavior change, a coaching relationship is completely client-centered and coaches have great respect for the experience and expertise of the client. Coaches care deeply about their clients’ feelings and are great at listening and providing support, so their focus is on helping people set actionable goals and achieve measurable results.

While people can learn a great deal about themselves from working with a coach, coaching does not delve deep into psychological exploration. The focus of coaching remains helping people define, refine and achieve their personal goals. Coaching focuses more on the present and future than the past. If coaching does touch on the past it is to help clients recognize what worked for them previously in reaching similar goals or overcoming similar obstacles to what they are presently working on and to learn from previous attempts. In coaching there is never failure, only feedback that can help us learn and grow.

Coaches do provide support and encouragement. Like a good therapist, they ask a lot of open-ended questions and engage in active listening to better understand the person they are working with. Coaches can and do work with people on stress management techniques. Good coaches use a range of evidence based tools and techniques based in behavioral science to help people get unstuck and reach their particular goals. Coaches will help people to gain self-awareness and reframe thoughts that are not serving them in reaching their goals.

However, if someone is experience stress and anxiety to a point where it is interfering with their daily functioning, they are severely depressed and/or suicidal, having a mental health crisis, are experiencing extreme thought distortions, delusions, or hallucinations or other psychiatric concerns, a mental health professional would be the right type of provider to help them with these issues.

If someone wants to work with a caring professional with expertise in positive and proactive behavior change to become empowered to reach their goals in any life domain a coach can help. Health and wellness coaches specialize in helping individuals to improve their health and wellbeing. Care coaches, such as Neura Health care coaches, are health and wellness coaches that work within a medical practice, partnering with physicians and other medical professionals to provide comprehensive team-based care.

Working With a Neura Health Care Coach

Living with a neurological condition is a difficult and often lonely journey. Neura Health care coaches are there to provide support. Patients often see their doctor several times a year, yet they are living with their condition every day. Care coaches are an additional support between medical appointments. While care coaches are not medical providers, they can be an extra set of eyes and ears between medical appointments and can therefore act as an extension of your doctor’s care. Your coach can help facilitate communication with your doctor. They know what and when to escalate concerns to your doctor so they are aware of what is going on sooner and can make any adjustments to your care plan before things get worse and possibly more difficult to treat.

Care coaches provide a listening ear, can act as a sounding board and help brainstorm solutions. Care coaches have expertise in helping patients implement lifestyle practices that can further reduce symptoms and improve health and wellbeing. At your first appointment with a Neura Health care coach, your coach will take the time to get to know you, your health goals and any obstacles you are facing. You and your coach will decide on what health goals to work on together.

This is a highly individualized process and what each person works on with their coach will differ based on individual needs and context. Some of the things that people work on with their care coach are better understanding their triggers and making any adjustments the individual wants to make to help mitigate their symptoms. In addition, people often want to implement lifestyle changes such as eating healthier, moving more, or better sleep hygiene and don’t know where to start or how to sustain these changes. Additionally, care coaches can also help people practice practical techniques to better manage stress. Once you determine what health goal(s) you would like to work on with your coach, your coach can support you to achieve those goals through an evidence based coaching process that puts you in the center and in control. Ultimately, care coaching will empower you to have more control over your own health and wellbeing.

Coaching and therapy can both be very powerful modalities. While some of the skills and tools overlap, they are distinct processes practiced by different types of professionals for different purposes. With the growing popularity of coaching, there is a recent trend for some therapists to also offer coaching and this can allow them to practice across state lines. They cannot practice therapy in a state where they are not licensed. However, sometimes the therapist is not actually trained to provide coaching nor are they a certified coach.

Coaches must also be very careful to stay within their scope of practice. The main point being that these are two separate disciplines and each demands years of training and practice to become proficient in providing. If you are not certain about which would be most helpful for your particular situation, please do speak with a Neura health care coach about this. They would be happy to have a conversation with you to decide if coaching is right for you at this particular time in your journey.

Want to try health coaching to help you on your journey to relief? Join Neura today and twice-monthly one-on-one video coaching sessions are included in your membership fee.

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Cary Sears, Head of Care Coaching
Cary Sears is a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach
About the Author
Cary Sears is a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) with over 10 years of direct care experience across diverse settings including community agencies, medical centers, and digital health. He is currently Head of Care Coaching for Neura Health. Prior to Neura, he was a Senior Health Coach Manager at Noom where he led a group of managers that supported a team of remote health coaches focused on helping mobile app users live healthier lives by pioneering innovative ways to merge behavior change with technology. His previous professional experience includes conducting neuropsychological testing at the Cleveland Clinic. He earned a Master’s degree in Psychology from Cleveland State University and a Master’s degree in User Experience Design from Kent State University. His research experience is in the areas of coping with chronic illness, psychophysiology, and biofeedback. His passion is merging high-tech and high-touch interventions to create positive health behavior change.

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