3 Transformation Approaches: Therapist, Spiritual Director, + Coach

You need others to help you move forward in your life, but how do you know who the right person is to invest into your life? One of my favorite Proverbs is “plans fail for a lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.” Collecting reliable voices in your life will be a huge predictor of your life’s wholeness.

Recently, I’ve been asked multiple times about how a coach actually compares to other types of “mentors”. Because of the upsurge of coaches in the last 5 years, there’s a lot of confusion about what makes coaching different and what makes a coach qualified. Here are the over-simplified, not comprehensive distinctions between the 3 approaches:

THERAPIST: past focus

A therapist is a healing discipline, focused on the past. A great therapist knows how to help you heal from family of origins wounds, trauma, process past hurts, and know yourself better in light of your past experiences. I’m a huge fan of therapy. I’ve personally had several chunks of time in my life where I’ve utilized a trained therapist for my specific issues. Every member of my family has been to counseling. The healthiest of leaders I know are people who’ve spent significant time in a counselor’s office. I consider this healing discipline a requirement for healthy, thriving life and leadership.


Spiritual Direction a mystical practice, focused on the present moment. A spiritual director is someone who helps you hear the voice of God in your life right now. A fantastic spiritual director has discernment and often prophetic gifts that can help you tap into the mystical nature of God. Direction offers the you the opportunity to open yourself up to a deepening relationship with the Divine. I’ve had the same spiritual director for over 15 years. Brian and I haven’t made a major life decision without asking her to help us hear from God well. I’ve utilized another spiritual director this last year as I needed to know where the Spirit was in the midst of some confusion and pain. Spiritual Direction is a beautiful and powerful practice.

COACH: future focus

A coach is a behavioral discipline, focused on the future. Coaching applies the art and science of transformation for how a person wants to move forward in their life. A trained coach is intuitive enough to know people are complex, thus coaching is an artful process. However, they are also skilled in how people change on a neurological and behavioral level. Coaching is rooted in behavioral science. It’s mandate-based, action-oriented, and results focused. A coach’s job is to see how people relate to the future and to use that as leverage for the present.


It’s ideal when we have access to all three modalities of transformation. When I’m coaching someone I will often recommend using a therapist or spiritual director in partnership with coaching. Since they each focus on different aspects of transformation, each of them offer a unique perspective and approach. There are different periods of life when each modality is necessary and needs to be a priority. However, just as you would never go to a therapist who’s not trained and certified, you should really only work with a trained and certified spiritual director and coach. I’m not a certified therapist or spiritual director, so I don’t offer this kind of transformational work. I am a certified coach and because coaching has changed my life, I love providing this space for others. It’s so empowering when we’re able to achieve our goals and move from here to there.

There are a lot of “coaches” these days. The majority of those who provide coaching offer reactive, advice-giving based solutions. That approach has its benefits, but it’s not coaching. They’ve positioned themselves as the expert with the answers for your life. Since coaching is a developmental science, be sure to get a coach who practices the art and science of results-based coaching. Before you jump into a coaching relationship, explore their training and ongoing coaching development. Not all coaches are the same.

If you’d like to explore coaching for your future, you can take a next step HERE.

You can activate 1on1 coaching or participate in a catalytic coaching group this year.

Perhaps you want to be a certified coach. You can learn more about that HERE.


April L. Diaz

April has been a visionary activist her entire life. She has made it her mission to lead high performing teams and develop leaders in the margins of society while caring for our bodies, mind, and spirit. Secretly, she’s a mix of a total girly girl and a tomboy, and is still crazy about her high school sweetheart, Brian. Together, they co-parent 3 fabulous kiddos and live in Orange County, CA.