Why Therapists Are Not Good Coaches

The world of psychotherapy is in a precarious place. It’s just smattered all over the place with every kind of theory and practice under the sun.  It has had 60 years to evolve, and the longer it goes at least three things happen:

1)  The DSM, the manual for diagnosing mental illness, gets bigger and bigger.  More and more is brought under the scope of what can be diagnosed and reimbursed by insurance companies.

2)  Greater and greater attempts at measuring efficacy against recidivism turn out more and more kinds of therapies. 

3)  More drugs are invented and more drugs are prescribed – many more.

It is interesting to find that more and more of the techniques of coaching are increasingly used by the therapeutic world to be effective and to show some measurable results.  Affirmations are common now and goal-setting has taken on increasing importance. There is for sure a realm of mental illness that needs good therapists.  There is even more need for the realm of human growth that is coaching and the two should not be confused.

Psychotherapy treats diagnosed mental illness based on established (although not always tested) criteria.  It is a medical model with a diagnosis and a diagnostic number that is aimed at healing a disorder. That’s what the insurance companies are paying for- intervention in illness. Coaching is not therapy or counseling based on a diagnosis of an illness. It is an education/developmental model that teaches the tools of thriving and flourishing in the journey toward to the well-lived life.  It is educational.  Coaching is teaching the skills of thriving and flourishing to anyone who can and will do the homework of this learning. If you are capable of doing the homework and following the directions, you can be coached.

Coaching does not focus on healing. There are plenty of places today to go for that.  If you need healing, don’t go to a coach.  If you want to grow personally, go to a coach.
While coaching is not focused on solving problems, problem-solving is certainly a part of coaching, but in a whole new way. 

NeuroPositive coaching starts by looking at what is good and right, what works, and builds on that.  As that becomes stronger, we can look at problems and goal-setting from a position of growth and competence.  Coaches find what is best and grow it. They do not scour the client for problems that need repair.

Coaching is, at its best, preventive. If insurance reimbursement starts to look at the issues of prevention as the best insurance, which it will, coaching can become a part of insurance reimbursement, but only as prevention.

Fixers are not good coaches.  People who look at and find problems and are used to using a negative lens to look at and examine what is wrong with a person are not good coaches.  The practice of using the negative lens becomes very learned over time.  Look through the negative lens and you always find a problem to fix, a negative story to hear, and a victim to continue to create.

You can sit in the silence of a therapist’s office, and if the silence is long enough, just to break it, you can come up with something that you “need” to talk about.  Take all those needs to a therapist and when you are done with that, go to a coach for personal growth in thriving and flourishing, the journey to eudaemonia, the good life, the well-lived life, the strengths-filled life, the life of goals, a life with vision and meaning.

If you want to be a therapist, then cure illness. If you want to be a coach, teach the skills of looking through the positive lens and educate for the thriving and flourishing of human potential.

If you want to be a psychotherapist, keep your nose in your licensed-protected scope of practice. Diagnose and heal.  If you also want to learn how to coach, learn the skills and do that outside the scope of your practice as a therapist.  Every good therapist knows that the place where the resolution of mental conflict has occurred sufficiently well-enough that the task then becomes growth in the skills of living. That is when they let go and make referrals to coaches, rather than pretending to be coaches to continue to collect fees.  Is this just black and white?  No.  There is some overlap but it is very short-lived.

Does healing and wholeness happen as a result of good coaching?  You bet.  It has always been the by-product of good education.  But coaches are not “healers.” They are “growers.”

And if you want to be a NeuroPositive Life Coach, don’t get the two confused.


1) Summarize your understanding of the major ideas presented in this blog. How have you maintained a clear line between therapy and NeuroPositive coaching with clients or group members? Give us an example.

2) “Coaches are not healers. They are growers.” What does this definition of coaching mean to you in light of your ANI training? What do you see as the most unique ANI tools and strategies which reinforce this approach? Give us examples from your experience.

3) “Fixers are not good coaches.” Give us your reaction to this statement. Back up your statement with the research and coaching tools you’ve learned at ANI.


1) In your experience, have there been individuals who have served you as “natural born” coaches? What qualities do they possess? What is it about their energy and approach that supports you in the ability to thrive and flourish, just by knowing them? Tell us your story.

About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute