Choosing a Coach, Therapist or Psychiatrist

asking for help

It is wise to get help from a professional when you are dealing with significant challenges. While family and friends can provide support and advice, a professional brings specific tools and processes designed to help. For example, a parenting coach is specifically trained in the various aspects of parenting.

Whether you are looking for someone for yourself or your child, you will want to carefully evaluate your options. The person chosen should honor who you are while also challenging and guiding you towards growth. You want someone you are comfortable with sharing your deepest thoughts and feelings.

Figuring Out What You Want From Counseling

Begin by reflecting on what you hope to receive from counseling. Answer questions that clarify what you or your child want in supporting mental and emotional health.

Consider questions like:

  • Why are you seeking help?
  • What do you hope to accomplish?
  • Is there a specific area the professional should have expertise in (e.g. depression, addiction, parenting, ADHD)?
  • Do you want to meet in-person or online?
  • Do you want to see someone who integrates specific techniques such as mindfulness, hypnosis or play?
  • Do you want someone who shares your spiritual beliefs?
  • Does this person need to be on your insurance plan?
  • How soon do you want to start?
After getting clarity about what type of help you are seeking, the next step is figuring out what type of professional is the best match.

Choosing Between Coaching, Counseling and Psychotherapy

Each type of mental health professional has different characteristics. You want to choose the one that best matches your needs. Below are attributes to consider.


  • Coaches typically are certified.
  • Focus is future oriented.
  • Works to clarify goals, identify obstacles, and create action plans.
  • Helps clients achieve action and results.
  • Coaches do not accept insurance as they are not licensed to provide mental health services.
Therapy / Counseling

  • Licensed by the state or country they practice in.
  • Manages mental illnesses and diagnoses.
  • Focus is on the past and present.
  • Provides guidance on navigating a specific situation such as a divorce, loss of a loved one, or loss of a job.
  • Works through emotions, behaviors, thought patterns and heals past traumas.
  • Takes place over weeks or several months.
  • Many therapists accept insurance.
Psychotherapy with a Psychiatrist

  • Licensed as a medical doctor.
  • Can prescribe medication.
  • Focus is on past issues leading to present-day challenges.
  • Provides support for chronic mental illnesses.
  • Takes place over a year or several years.
  • Most psychiatrists accept insurance.

Choosing a Counselor, Coach or Psychiatrist

The final step is choosing a professional who matches your criteria. It can be helpful to seek suggestions from others like:

  • School counselors or administrators
  • Pediatricians
  • Religious leaders
  • Trusted friends who have similar values
  • If you live in the United States, you can use Psychology Today's therapist search. The results include fees and insurance accepted.
Once you’ve selected a potential therapist, try to schedule a short call before you set up your first appointment. Ask a few questions that will help you determine that this person is likely to be a good fit. You might want to ask:

  • What is your approach to therapy?
  • Who or what influences your work (other professionals, books, methods)?
  • How do you judge when therapy is no longer needed?
Finally schedule the first session. After a session or two, reflect on your experience. How are you feeling after each session? Is this person a good fit? Is there something you want to share with the therapist about what is working or not working for you? If you decide this person is not a good fit for you, find someone else.

Reaching out for help takes courage. Congratulate yourself for taking this important step!