• Valerie McDonnell

Therapy vs Coaching: Deciding Which is Best for You




You may have heard this one: Therapy is for the past and Coaching is for the future.


And while that aphorism does have a kernel of truth, you won’t be surprised by the qualification that nothing in mental health care is so simple. Even within therapy, there’s a wide range of certifications, degrees, modalities, and treatment styles. And coaching can be even broader.


Therapy or coaching, we could all use some professional mental health support. For a long time now we’ve all been stuck in one slow-burning crisis or another. Take your pick of local, national, global traumas; from gutshot-profound to papercut-shallow. Accumulated stress plays havoc on our mental state, our communication, our need for human touch and proximity, and our relationships—sexual and otherwise.


Differences aside, mental health therapy & coaching both:

  • Offer objective support from a trained expert

  • Provide structure & routine for mental health progress

  • Take into account individual needs & experiences

  • Identify & restructure chaotic cognitive structures

  • Examine & manage adverse behavior patterns


But how to decide what sort of treatment to pursue? There’s a ton of options out there...but as a culture we’re still struggling to strip away the taboo against talking about mental health. Especially when it comes to sex and sexuality. As a result, too many people have no idea what questions to ask or what type of service is right for their particular brand of sanity.


Let’s talk about the two main models of interactive mental health treatment.



Legal differences between therapy and coaching


Mental health care is carefully regulated, as it should be to protect vulnerable patients. Therapists, psychiatrists, and social workers go through rigorous training and certification programs to ensure they’re keeping up expert standards set by science and precedent.


For any practice that takes health insurance, strict adherence to regulations is the only way to get paid, attract more clients, and stay certified. And beyond that it dictates how to structure treatment and how to conduct business.


Therapy is mental-health care but it’s also a business model.


Therapy is structured by diagnosis. A set of symptoms add up to a diagnosis, for which there is a set of acceptable treatments. In this model, regulatory bodies govern ethics and processes, including confidentiality protections, payment models, session structure, insurance interactions, and so forth.


Therapy is helpful because it makes sure everything is done by the book, that no corners are cut, and that patients receive standardized treatment. Therapy practitioners are held accountable by laws and regulations.


Benefits of mental health therapy

  • Identify symptoms & examine their origins

  • Unravel memories & analyze how past creates present

  • Uncover & process buried trauma

  • Exposure progress & cognitive restructuring

  • Standardized treatment parameters



Coaching is a different mental-health business model


Coaching is structured by strategy. A set of goals stacks up against a phalanx of obstacles, for which you plot an individualized course of action. In this model, coach and client work together to develop positive habits, communication skills, and lifestyle organization. For a sex therapist in a coaching service model, that could include intimacy exercises, empathy-centered conversation skills, gratitude journaling, and so forth.


Coaching is helpful because it’s a little more flexible and creative than therapy. Rather than a checklist of symptoms, coaching processes are guided by goals and capacity. Coaching practitioners are held accountable by client success.


Benefits of mental health coaching:

  • Solution-focused

  • Customize timelines & practitioner interactions

  • Adjust strategy to suit needs

  • Alternative approaches & creative pricing models

  • Allows for equilateral partner treatments (instead of diagnosed patient + family)



Why I added sex therapy coaching services


When I started practicing social work therapy, I worked with a group where I specialized in trauma and PTSD. We’d conduct an intake session with the client, analyze their symptoms, determine a diagnosis, and start working on a treatment plan. Through that process I found that I wanted to specialize in sex therapy, and eventually started my own practice. Through that I found that I wanted to focus deeper on sex positive, solution-centered, individualized action plans.


But too often it felt like I was being sandwiched between the pages of a diagnostic manual, with no wiggle room for creative treatment. So I reorganized my practice to add a coaching business model even as I was finishing coursework to become a Certified Sex Therapist, which is regulated by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT).


I still practice sex therapy, still guided by the morals & ethics of my qualifications—but with a coaching service model, I’m no longer bound by the diagnostic & structural codes of therapy. Meaning I can customize treatment plans for my variety of clients, many of whom don’t meet diagnostic requirements—though they definitely need expert help.


Within the coaching model, I’m no longer confined to the hourly session. Instead I can offer strategic service packages including less expensive check-ins to make sure you’re doing your homework between full sessions.


Speaking of which—have you downloaded my DIY sex therapy microcourse? (Sneak peek: It ends with sex...) Sign up below to get your Lipservice: Communication Guidelines for Better Sex and start improving today.




Wordwork by Quillpower

Sex Therapy at Home

Better communication for better intimacy

Exercises for mastering anxiety & facing fear

2567 Homeview Dr

Richmond, VA 23294

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© 2020 by Valerie McDonnell

Wordwork by Quillpower