I regularly get asked about the difference between therapy & coaching. I have a few different ways of describing this. Having been a therapist in the UK, and now a certified coach in the US, this is my playful perspective. I hope it resonates with some. Keep reading to hear how Chicken Licken helps us understand the difference.
My sensible answer, in a nutshell, is that therapy tends to focus on people’s experiences, whereas coaching focuses on the beliefs hanging around as a result of the experiences.
My husband and I were having a conversation about this and, for some very random reason, we got onto talking about the children’s fable Chicken Licken (AKA Henny Penny or Chicken Little – originating in the 1800s and attributable to various different authors). In case you are not familiar with the tale, the premise is that while Chicken Licken is out for a stroll, she promptly gets hit on the head by a falling acorn and goes spiraling into anxiety, thinking the sky is falling in.
She decides to go tell the King, and along the way meets some friends who, being unable to remain present, grounded and curious, engage in group anxiety and all believe the story that the sky is actually falling in – no judgment here.... They proceed, en masse, to visit the King. But before they can actually get to the King, they come across Foxy-Loxy and meet with a particularly gruesome ending. Foxes regularly receive bad press, unfairly in my opinion!
Getting back to the point of the differences between therapy and coaching, Chicken Licken is the client. At this juncture, I invite you to humor me and engage your imagination.
Chicken Licken comes to her session, distraught about the impending doom of the sky falling in...
C.L.: “What am I going to do, the sky is falling in?”
Therapist: “Tell me how it feels to have the sky falling in,” or “When have you felt the sky falling in before in your life?”
Chicken Licken then spirals into how she has led a life of anxiety, and recounts, in great detail, every moment she has felt the sky fall in (obviously a metaphor). She feels quite hopeless about the future.
Compare this to:
C.L. “What am I going to do, the sky is falling in?”
Coach “How true is it that the sky is falling in?” or “When have you successfully navigated your way through a time when you felt the sky was falling in?”
Chicken Licken realizes the story she was telling herself wasn’t true and recounts a time when she was able to deal with such a feeling.
As a therapist turned coach, I fully believe therapy is vital for us all at times, and I fully believe coaching can help clients get unstuck and re-frame the stories they tell themselves. Whilst this example may appear a tad whimsical, it highlights subtle differences in approaches. I love being a coach and will remain a coach.
Lastly, there are many learnings to be taken from this tale; from my perspective, Chicken Licken and friends would have benefitted from staying grounded, present and curious about the story she was creating AND listening to her intuition about what Foxy-Loxy was telling her (Google the fable if you want the riveting details!). As to the friends, colluding with stories that aren’t necessarily true is not a good thing and can lead to an early demise...
Laura is passionate about helping people get unstuck & out of their own way. She is a collaborative & heart-based life & leadership coach. As a previous therapist, and now coach-for-life, Laura brings deep insight, experience and appreciation for people with diverse challenges. If you are looking for a coach to help you shine in the world, then reach out for a free discovery call, to see how coaching with Laura could help you. You can contact Laura at 919-449-6491, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on her website at
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