The Difference between Coaching and Psychology

The Difference between Coaching and Psychology

As I have developed my expertise in coaching, the academic backdrop for this development has been organizational psychology. As such, I’m frequently asked, “what’s the difference between psychology and coaching?” Here is my personal point of view on the subject, please take it as nothing more than that:

One of the fundamental differences between a coach and psychologist is a great coach will try to expand your capacity in some fashion. In contrast, most psychologists are concerned with reducing or eliminating deficits. Coaches help you play to your strengths. Psychologists help you understanding and better tolerate your weaknesses. In this sense coaches help you realize an “impossible future” and psychologists try to get you closer to the mean (as known as “normal”). Coaches try to be an aspiration to their clients, where psychologists tend to inspire hope. This difference between the two is subtle, but important.

Coaching is about creating accomplishment and psychology is about conducting therapy.

A psychologist helps you achieve the possible and assists you better your present state, where a coach helps you define what is not visible and helps you achieve it, influencing your future state. Although both disciplines rely on changing behavior, coaching tends to focus on results and psychology on reducing consequence. A coach works with you in a collaborative manner to co-create and reinvent. A psychologist is generally bound by methodology and treats clients with prescriptive tactics and schemes. Perhaps paradoxically coaching is more process-oriented and does have its own formulas, even though the course of the relationship with a coach will undoubtedly have a lot of unique twists and turns. Psychology is more exploratory in nature, diagnosing underlying conditions and trying to remedy them. In this sense, coaching is about transformational learning where psychology is more transactional in nature. Psychologists tend to focus specifically on changing behavior. Coaches tend to focus on extraordinary results and improving the path to get there. Psychologists rely on competencies and techniques while coaches discover and create based on the engagement. Both hope to change the client’s way of being, the difference is psychologists do this in a deductive manner, where coaches do it in an inductive manner.


Where a psychologist is mainly focused on outcomes, a coach is focused on results. Psychologists are hoping to provide the client stability, relief and reliability within the world in which they live, in contrast the coach is helping the client move through the world with more power and velocity. Coaching tends to be expansive, where psychology tends to fill gaps. Psychologists analyze and push clients, coaches induce and pull clients. Psychologists look for a series of small wins; great coaches tend to look for big wins. Psychologists generally are looking to steady their client by alleviating personal deficits and reducing points of failure. Coaches generally are the clients personal change agent, looking to increase the capacity of their client’s potential, cementing and expanding the grace the client already possesses within.

Comments (3)

  • Brian Miles

    You hit the nail on the head describing the contrasts Mike. They’re both co-opted journeys, but the methods are vastly different. Great post!