Mental Health

What's the Difference Between CBT and Coaching? Unveiling Key Distinctions

Explore Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) vs. coaching: methodologies and impacts on personal growth. Discover their distinct approaches to development.

Written by

Jacqui Walker

Published On:

Jan 30, 2024

Couple with ADHD talking to an ADHD coach asking about the difference between CBT and coaching
Couple with ADHD talking to an ADHD coach asking about the difference between CBT and coaching
Couple with ADHD talking to an ADHD coach asking about the difference between CBT and coaching

Diving into the realms of personal development and mental health support, you've probably stumbled across terms like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and coaching. But what exactly sets them apart? If you're navigating the maze of self-improvement or seeking ways to manage ADHD, understanding these differences can be a game-changer for your journey.

You might wonder if one is better than the other when it comes to tackling everyday challenges or if they serve completely different purposes. Let's unravel this together in a way that's as casual as grabbing coffee with a good friend. Imagine we're just sitting here, sipping our favourite brews, chatting about how these two approaches could play a role in your life.

Why should you even care about CBT and coaching? Well, finding the right strategy can mean the difference between spinning your wheels and moving forward with purpose. With ADHD in the mix, it’s crucial to tailor your approach so it fits like a glove – comfy, supportive, and just right for you. Stick around as we delve into their unique features and see which one resonates with your needs.

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Exploring the Origins of CBT

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, commonly known as CBT, has its roots in the early 20th century with the development of behaviour therapy. It wasn't until the 1960s that CBT began to take shape under the influence of psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck. Initially focused on depression, Beck noted how thoughts directly affected feelings and behaviours. This observation led to a revolutionary approach in mental health treatment where altering one's thought patterns could lead to changes in emotions and actions.

How CBT Works

CBT operates on the principle that your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are interconnected.

Negative thought patterns can create a vicious cycle:

  • You experience a challenging situation.

  • Negative thoughts arise.

  • These thoughts trigger emotional responses.

  • Behaviours follow that reinforce the negative thinking.

During CBT sessions you're encouraged to break down overwhelming problems into smaller parts. Through techniques such as exposure therapy or cognitive restructuring, you learn to challenge these distorted cognitions and replace them with more balanced ones.

Here's an example:

You're afraid of public speaking because you think you'll make a mistake and everyone will judge you harshly.
In therapy:

  • You examine evidence for and against this belief.

  • Discover most people are too concerned with their own performance to overly judge yours.

  • Practice skills in a safe environment before applying them in real-life scenarios.

This process helps build confidence and reduce anxiety.

The Benefits of CBT

CBT is hailed for its practicality and problem-solving approach which brings about several benefits:

  • Evidence-based effectiveness: It's one of the most researched forms of therapy with evidence supporting its efficacy for various conditions like depression, anxiety disorders, phobias, PTSD, among others.

  • Time-efficient: Often requiring fewer sessions than other therapies due to its goal-oriented nature.

  • Skills for life: Teaches valuable coping strategies that can be applied long after therapy ends.

People appreciate how they become active participants in their recovery process through homework assignments and reflective exercises between sessions. By practising new skills regularly they see improvements not just within themselves but also in their relationships with others.

What is Coaching

Defining Coaching

Coaching can be likened to having a personal navigator for your life or career journey. It's about unlocking a person's potential to maximise their performance, helping them learn rather than teaching them. Think of it as a partnership where the coach supports the client in achieving personal and professional goals, providing encouragement and motivation along the way. Unlike therapy, which often deals with past traumas or issues, coaching is future-focused and action-oriented.

Different Types of coaching

The world of coaching is diverse, with different streams tailored to various aspects of life:

  • Personal/Life Coaching: Focuses on improving an individual’s personal life through goal-setting and overcoming personal challenges.

  • Executive Coaching: Aims at enhancing leadership skills within an organisational context.

  • Career Coaching: Helps individuals navigate career transitions and make professional decisions.

  • Health and Wellness Coaching: Encourages healthful habits for physical and mental well-being.

Each type has its unique tools but all share the same essence: facilitating improvement and change.

The Role of a Coach

A coach wears many hats but primarily functions as:

  • An accountability partner ensuring you stay on track towards your goals.

  • A sounding board for ideas, concerns, and plans.

  • An objective observer providing unbiased feedback.

In essence, they're there to challenge you to grow while maintaining a supportive environment. They don't provide ready-made solutions; instead, they guide you in finding your own answers—a process that fosters self-reliance and lasting personal development.

Key Differences Between CBT and Coaching

Focus and Goals

CBT, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, zeroes in on identifying and modifying negative thought patterns that can lead to maladaptive behaviours.

It's a problem-oriented approach:

  • CBT aims to alleviate psychological stress through specific goal-oriented procedures.

  • Individuals learn to challenge distorted cognitions and change destructive patterns of behaviour.

  • Typically used for treating mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or PTSD.

On the other hand, coaching focuses on personal development and achieving one's full potential.

Here's how it pans out:

  • Coaching is forward-thinking with an emphasis on career progression or life transformation.

  • It doesn't delve into past traumas but rather sets sights on future achievements and goals.

  • More about unlocking a person's potential to maximise their own performance.

Methodology and Techniques

The methodologies of CBT vs coaching are distinctively different. CBT utilises various techniques such as:

  • Cognitive restructuring: Identifying and disputing irrational thoughts.

  • Behavioural experiments: Testing beliefs through behavioural tasks.

Coaching methods might include:

  • Positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviours or decisions.

  • Action planning which involves setting specific, measurable targets.

CBT therapists often set homework for clients to practice skills learnt in sessions. Coaches may also assign tasks but these tend to be more strategic action steps towards personal goals.

Duration and Frequency

The duration and frequency of sessions greatly differ between CBT and coaching:

  • CBT: Generally short-term; 5–20 sessions are common. Sessions occur weekly or fortnightly allowing time for individuals to practice new skills between meetings.

  • Coaching: Can vary widely depending on objectives; from a few months to even years. The frequency of coaching sessions is typically tailored to the client’s needs—sometimes weekly, bi-weekly, monthly—or as required when specific issues arise.

Both approaches have their place depending on YOUR needs whether you're seeking help for mental health concerns (CBT) or striving toward personal or professional growth (coaching). Understanding these key differences will guide you towards choosing the right path for YOUR journey.

When to Choose CBT or Coaching

Target Audience and Goals

Choosing between Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and coaching depends on what you're looking to achieve. If personal development, enhancing performance at work, or achieving specific life goals are your focus, coaching might be the ideal path for you. It's tailored for individuals who are essentially well-adjusted but aiming to improve aspects of their lives.

Coaching is best suited for:

  • Career progression

  • Personal development

  • Skill enhancement

On the flip side, if you're grappling with mental health issues like depression or anxiety, CBT could be more appropriate. This therapy aims to change negative thought patterns that affect your behaviour and emotions.

CBT is typically chosen for:

  • Treating mental health conditions

  • Managing emotional challenges

  • Addressing behavioural problems

Considerations for Mental Health

When it comes to mental well-being, distinguishing whether coaching or CBT fits your needs is crucial. Coaches aren't usually trained to diagnose or treat mental illness; thus, if symptoms of a psychological disorder are present in your life, seeking a qualified therapist skilled in CBT may be vital.

CBT can help unpack and transform the underlying thoughts contributing to distressing feelings and dysfunctional behaviours:

Examples where CBT is beneficial include:

  • Overcoming phobias

  • Reducing stress related to PTSD

  • Tackling obsessive-compulsive tendencies

However don't overlook the potential benefit of coaching alongside therapy once any acute issues are under control – it can support goal setting and future planning post-recovery.

Long-term vs. Short-term Goals

Your time frame matters when choosing between these two approaches. For short-term objectives like preparing for an interview or enhancing public speaking skills within a few weeks, investing in several coaching sessions could suffice.

Meanwhile long-term aspirations such as changing harmful behavioural patterns ingrained over years likely require a longer commitment through regular CBT sessions. Here's where patience plays a key role – enduring change takes time but rest assured that with dedication results will follow.

Deciding on whether CBT or coaching suits you best isn't always straightforward. Take stock of your current situation with honesty; engage professionals if needed; remember that sometimes combining both might unlock the greatest potential within yourself.


You've explored the nuances between Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and coaching throughout this article. It's clear they each have their unique place in supporting personal growth and mental well-being. Let's break it down into simpler terms to help solidify your understanding.

Remember that everyone’s journey is different; choose the route that complements yours best. Whether through the problem-solving lens of CBT or the aspirational scope of coaching, taking informed steps towards self-improvement is within reach—simply start by identifying where you stand today and where you hope to be tomorrow.