banner image

Understanding the Differences: Psychotherapy, Counselling, and Coaching

Navigating mental health and personal development can be discouraging, especially when trying to understand which professional service is best suited for your needs. It is not uncommon that clients are unsure about the distinctions between psychotherapy, counselling, and coaching. Each approach offers unique benefits and addresses different aspects of wellbeing and personal growth. This blog aims to clarify these differences to help you make your choice.


Psychotherapy is a comprehensive, often long-term approach designed to treat mental health concerns, but it is also a good fit for those who benefit from having one person help them address various personal/relational concerns over extended period of time. This approach usually goes deep by exploring unconscious patterns, past experiences, and deeply rooted emotional issues. Psychotherapy is typically conducted by psychologists, clinical social workers or other mental health professionals trained to diagnose and treat mental health conditions.

Key Elements of Psychotherapy:

  1. Addressing Mental Health Disorders: Psychotherapy is particularly effective for issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more. Therapists use evidence-based techniques, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) or others to help you manage and alleviate symptoms.

  2. Exploring Patterns and Relationships: Therapists help clients uncover and understand patterns in their behavior, thoughts, and relationships. This process fosters self-awareness and insight into how past experiences influence present behaviors and emotional responses/reactions.

  3. Seeking Self-Understanding: A significant part of psychotherapy involves clients gaining a deeper understanding of themselves. This self-awareness is crucial for long-term mental health and wellbeing.

  4. Long-Term Commitment: Psychotherapy often requires a longer commitment, with sessions spanning months or even years. This duration allows for deep exploration and healing over time.


Counselling is generally a shorter-term process that focuses on specific issues or life challenges. It is often solution-focused and goal-oriented, providing support and guidance to help individuals navigate particular problems.

Key Elements of Counselling:

  1. Targeted Support for Specific Issues: Counselling addresses specific life issues such as relationship problems, grief, stress management, or career transitions. It is more focused on immediate issues rather than psychological concerns.

  2. Improving Coping Skills: Counsellors work with clients to develop practical skills for managing their current difficulties. This might include stress reduction techniques, communication strategies, or problem-solving skills among others.

  3. Shorter-Term and Goal-Oriented: Counselling tends to be shorter in duration, often spanning into few weeks to several months. The focus is on achieving specific goals and finding solutions.

  4. Building a Therapeutic Relationship: While the relationship in counselling is as important as in psychotherapy, it can be a bit more goal-directed compared to psychotherapy. The counsellor provides support and guidance based on the client's chosen goal.


Coaching is distinct from both psychotherapy and counselling. It is typically future-focused, personal or professional development approach. Coaches work with clients to identify goals, create action plans, and develop skills to improve performance and achieve specific outcomes. At times, it can be a subcomponent of a therapeutic process with a mental health professional, but many times, people can find coaches for specific areas outside of mental health field such as financial coaching, executive coaching, nutritional coaching and so on.

Key Elements of Coaching:

  1. Focused on Personal and Professional Growth: Coaching is ideal for individuals looking to improve a specific area of their life, such as career advancement, leadership skills, or personal productivity.

  2. Building Skills and Achieving Goals: Coaches help clients develop concrete skills and strategies to reach their objectives. This might include time management, goal setting, or overcoming obstacles to success.

  3. Short to Medium-Term Engagement: Coaching engagements can vary in length but are often short to medium-term, typically lasting from a few months to a year, depending on the client's goals.

  4. Action-Oriented and Future-Focused: Coaching is highly action-oriented, with a strong emphasis on achieving measurable outcomes. The relationship is collaborative, with the coach providing motivation and accountability.

Making the Right Choice

Choosing between psychotherapy, counselling, and coaching depends on your needs and goals. If you are dealing with significant mental health issue and/or are seeking deep self-understanding, psychotherapy might be the best option. If you are facing specific life challenges and need targeted support, counselling can provide the necessary guidance and skills. For those aiming to enhance personal or professional development and achieve specific goals, coaching offers a structured and results-oriented approach.

In any case, the relationship with your therapist, counsellor, or coach is paramount. A strong, trusting relationship enhances the effectiveness of any intervention, providing a safe space for growth and transformation. Always choose a professional whose approach aligns with your needs and with whom you feel comfortable working.

Understanding these distinctions empowers you to seek the right support and take the first step toward a healthier, more fulfilling life. To get you started on one of these categories, feel free to book a free phone session with Growth and Healing Psychology in Calgary to discuss your goals and see for fit.