• Ellavate Solutions

Should You See a Therapist or Get a Coach?



May was Mental Health Awareness Month, and given the current state of our country and the world, maintaining our mental wellness is more important than ever. Self-care is key, but sometimes it’s best to seek the help of a trusted professional. But where do you begin? And how do you know if you need a therapist or a professional coach? To answer these questions, I spoke to two leading mental health and coaching experts.  Amanda Jurist, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist in the states of California and New York. As the Founder and CEO of The Denham Group, LLC, she and her team specialize in therapy for adults, children, and families.  Dr. Ella Washington is an organizational psychologist and is the Founder and CEO of Ellavate Solutions, a coaching and consulting firm that focuses on leadership development and promoting inclusive workplaces through executive coaching, team workshop facilitation, and speaking engagements.  ––––––––––––– the Rule: What are therapy and coaching, and why are they important? Jurist: Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a practice used to aid people with emotional difficulties and a wide variety of mental illnesses. Psychotherapy can help extinguish or control troubling psychological symptoms so an individual can experience better levels of functioning in order to increase overall well-being. Psychotherapy is important because it can help you cope with daily life; the impact of trauma, medical illness, or loss; and specific mental disorders, like depression or anxiety. It also provides a space for you to gain deeper knowledge of your internal world and how your earliest experiences inform your current ways of relating to the world around you. Our minds are so fascinating, and once you give yourself space and time you will begin to learn so much about yourself.   Washington: In a broad sense, coaching is a developmental process where a client gets individualized support in helping them maximize performance and increase their skills in their professional lives. My role as a leadership coach is to help remove any obstacles that stand in the way of the individual attaining their professional goals. Coaching helps increase self-awareness of developmental blindspots you may have and aids you in working strategically towards your goals. Coaching is an important and empowering process that enables you to reflect on what drives your behaviors and provides an objective lens on your professional development. Here are the three main types of professional coaching:

  • Career coaching: Provides support for employees looking to make a career transition, whether short or long term, including guidance on their professional development and job search. Career coaches may help with resume writing, job searches, online profiles, and job interviewing.

  • Performance coaching: Supports those within organizations who need to improve their work performance, often as a result of performance appraisal results, regardless of level or job title.

  • Leadership coaching: Provides coaching for those looking to grow and develop leadership skills, regardless of whether they are an individual contributor, manager, or senior manager.

the Rule: Where is there overlap between coaching and therapy?


Washington: The average person spends more than 90,000 hours in their lifetime (about ⅓ of your life) at work, and it affects their personal lives. This is why I wanted a career in this space, to help make people’s experiences at work better, thus contributing to them living more happy and whole lives.  The reality is that having a healthy work environment contributes to a positive personal life and vice-versa. Sure, you have differences in decorum and professionalism, but the core of who you are remains consistent. The image above is a popular comparison between consulting, coaching, and therapy.  As depicted here, both therapists and coaches are charged with asking the right questions, tackling issues at home or work, and focusing on individual behavioral change. Both coaches and therapists have aligned goals of desiring our  clients to be mentally healthy at home and in their workplace. Our methods are complementary to supporting the whole person.  the Rule: How does one determine if they need a therapist or a coach?  Jurist: The determination of whether one needs coaching or therapy would come down to where a person is in their process. If an individual is suffering from anxiety, depression or trauma, that is impeding their ability to deal with the realities of their daily life, they would be in immediate need of therapy. Additionally, if an individual is in a behavioral cycle that feels difficult to break and the fallout from that cycle is affecting the way that they relate in the world, they would be in need of therapy.  On the other hand, if an individual is interested in solution-focused career based work, one would be better served working with a coach. In that work, a coach can help the individual strategize ways to move toward goal completion.   the Rule: How does one find a good therapist or coach? What qualities and credentials should one look for? Jurist: There are many routes that one can take to find a great therapist. Asking for referrals is always a great place to start. In my experience, clients are more likely to trust a clinician that a friend or family member has had success with. If that isn’t a comfortable route, there are sites such as Psychology Today, Therapy For Black Girls, and Zen Care that compile lists of board verified mental health professionals. Browsing these specialized sites help clients weed through the web of trying to find licensed professionals. You should seek to find an individual who you feel is seasoned and makes you feel most supported. This can be done by asking the clinician for a complementary telephone consultation prior to booking an appointment.  Washington: The challenge in coaching is that anyone can self-title themselves a coach. However in order to find a coach that is knowledgeable and bound by ethical standards, you should look for coaches certified by a program with an established set of core competencies; one that evaluates you on your proficiency within these competencies; that has been audited by an accrediting agency; and that requires the institute delivering the program to be approved as an accredited agency. The International Coaching Federation is a globally recognized agency that provides resources to identify credentialed training programs.  the Rule: What expectations should someone have when seeking therapy or coaching, and what expectations do you set for your clients? Jurist: A client should expect to find safety, security, understanding and confidentiality in the therapeutic relationship.They should expect that the therapist will maintain a high level  of professionalism and that sessions will take place in a private, quiet environment.  From the therapist’s perspective, we are interested in your raw truth. Therapy is not homework; it’s not school, work, or a place where you should feel the need to present a certain image. A client’s level of engagement with the work definitely impacts the amount of time it takes to see change. However, the client’s many forms of presentation are different based on which phase of treatment they’re in. So, in that spirit, the therapist has no expectation except for the client to simply beWashington: Honest feedback and trust are the most important aspects of the client-coach relationship. I let my clients know from the outset that in order to get the desired outcomes from coaching they must be willing to put in the work during our one-on-one sessions and outside of our time together. I tell my clients I am like a GPS, I can lead you in the right direction but it is ultimately up to you which path you want to take. During our sessions, the client sets the agenda based on what their goals are for that day or for the entire coaching engagement. I then provide assessments, questions, and tactical action planning to help them reach their goals.  the Rule: What advice do you have for maintaining your mental health during these difficult and stressful times? Jurist: During these unprecedented times I have been working with clients  and encouraging them to be as honest as possible about where they are, and to try to remain grounded in the here and the now. Here are a six tips I share with them for healthy ways they can find control in their daily lives:

  1. Limit TV consumption: Hearing the media constantly spread panic isn’t good for anyone. It’s important to stay rational and do your own research to stay positive and separate facts from fiction.

  2. Nurture Your Body and Spirit: Be sure to get outside for some fresh air and go for a walk. Eat right and make sure to stay hydrated and get plenty of sleep. Avoid consuming too much alcohol and try and find fun ways to reconnect with your family.

  3. Tap into Your Sense of Fun: If you have kids, look to them for some good old-fashioned playtime. Play hide and seek in the house. Create an obstacle course in the back yard. Watch some of your favorite funny movies. Laughter really is the best medicine so get plenty of it!

  4. Support Your Local Community: Many local businesses are hurting right now. If you’re still getting a paycheck, consider buying a gift card from a local restaurant, gym, hair salon, etc. to give them revenue now and you can use the card later. This will make you feel great at the same time.

  5. Be a Role Model: Remember, your kids will ALWAYS look to you first to see how they should be thinking and feeling about something. So move about each day calmly and confidently and reassure your kids everything will be okay because it will be.

  6. Use Your Time Constructively: For many of us, there is a silver lining in this situation in the form of extra time. What can you do with the extra time that isn’t being used to drive an hour or more each day in commuting? Focus on using this time wisely. Maybe you have an ever-growing list of home projects that you just never have time to tackle. Tackle them now, you’ll feel great about it later.

Washington: During this challenging time, a good reminder is that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Be kind to yourself and give yourself grace when needing to pivot from those ambitious goals you set at the beginning of the year. Particularly for leaders, it is important to remind your team that you consider them people first. I encourage my clients so show their more human, vulnerable side to connect with their teams during these tough times. Change is hard for us all, and we will continue to face many adjustments in the workplace as we navigate life after COVID-19. Leaders that are equipped with the skills to navigate change, communicate effectively, and implore emotional intelligence with their teams will be the most successful. I work with clients and teams on building these types of skill sets.  For more information on Amanda Jurist, LCSW and The Denham Group, follow her on Instagram and read her blog. For further information on Dr. Ella Washington and Ellavate Solutions, read her blog, connect with her on LinkedIn and Instagram, and learn more about her coaching approaches for diverse leaders on YouTube.

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