Is career coaching becoming a form of therapy?

As work life issues rise in prominence, how is this affecting the work career coaches do? Micheal Deane speculates.

Two women seated, talking to each other


These days it is virtually impossible to completely separate your career from your personal life and mental health. It’s a relationship that goes both ways and it is important to be aware of the connection.

Nowadays, when more emphasis is being put on work-life balance and mental health in general, career coaching is increasingly being called upon to address this link between work and home. It’s a good opportunity to ask: Is career coaching as good as therapy?

Career coaching and mental health

The days of seeing your career as a mindless race to the top are, for the most part, behind us. It has taken us a while, but we are finally starting to realise that a myopic, almost sociopathic drive to work 24/7 is not a good thing. Governments and employers around the world are making huge strides towards making the workplace more humane.

This has also inspired a shift in the career coaching industry where the focus is being increasingly put on  work-life balance as opposed to just becoming the most amazing career-building automaton who will get at least six promotions a month and inevitably burn out along the way.

Ultimately, this has brought career coaching surprisingly close to therapy as career coaches guide their clients towards a healthier way to view and manage their careers.

Of course, it should be pointed out that career progression has always been affected, to some extent, by people’s personal issues, for example, a lack of assertiveness can prevent someone from asking for a raise as can an inability to rationally respond to critique in the workplace. In addressing such issues, career coaches have long tried to get their clients to face the personal issues that are holding them back, but with a more practical career focus.

A few big differences

While career coaches are increasingly having to deal with work life issues as more people grapple with 24/7 working and more families have both parents in work, it is important to make the distinction between career counselling or coaching and therapy.

The ultimate goal of career coaching is to help the individual better manage their careers, no matter how deep the coaching goes and how deep-seated the issues might be. The goal of professional therapy, however, is aimed at improving people’s mental health. This difference in goals informs everything else.

Moreover, the training is very different. Professional psychiatrists need to finish medical school and their education and training are, in the majority of cases, much more comprehensive than that of career coaches. There are certainly career coaches with medical training, but they are not the majority. There is also a huge difference in how therapists and career coaches approach the people they work with and their methods differ greatly. Therapists will often spend years guiding their patients towards improved mental health through addressing the deep-seated issues that are holding them back. Career coaches may address some of the results of mental ill health, but their focus is on the practical implications at work.

How can coaches keep up with the changing demands on them?

Any self-respecting coach will, of course, do something to keep their coaching up to date.

The good news is that this is now easier to do than in any other era thanks to the abundance of resources coaches have at their disposal. From taking psychology classes at local colleges or night schools to reading the plethora of blogs that cover the topic of mental health in the workplace. It might also be a good idea to keep abreast of the latest scientific papers on these subjects or even talk to professional mental health workers who might provide additional insights.

Career coaching can do wonders for people who decide to use it, including bringing some amazing benefits with regard to mental health and particular personal issues. But it would be a mistake to confuse career coaching with therapy.

*Michael Deane has been working in marketing for almost a decade and has worked with a huge range of clients, which has made him knowledgeable on many different subjects. He has recently rediscovered a passion for writing and hopes to make it a daily habit. You can read more of Michael’s work at Qeedle.

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