Coach Not Therapist: Know Your Lane

Coach Not Therapist: Know Your Lane

James FitzGerald’s Monthly Knowledge Series: Coach Not Therapist

In this month’s Knowledge Series webinar James FitzGerald discussed the difference between coaches and therapists, six reasons why there has been overlap between these two professions, and what we can do to fix this.

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Coach vs. Therapist

In the coaching profession, knowing what you can and cannot prescribe can be a grey area. But, by talking about this subject we can create clear lanes for the coach and recognize that we do have powerful tools that are within our scope of practice.

“To understand the difference in scope of practice for a coach or therapist we need to understand that if 0 is the baseline for wellness, the therapist is responsible for -5 to 0 and the coach is responsible from 0 to +5”

James FitzGerald


To demonstrate the coach’s scope of practice James uses a scale of -5 to 5. If 0 is the baseline for wellness, the coach is responsible for 0 to +5. While the coach can provide their noticings about clients behaviors that fall in the -5 to 0, it is not their job to try and fix them.

The coach uses biological models of physical stress and adaptation to design programs that provide the correct expression, recovery, and adaptation. Their tools are food, exercise, and lifestyle. The relationship between the coach and client should extend for many decades, and include continued education in how to use these modalities to support vitality.


Using the same scale, James classifies the therapist as responsible from -5 to 0. The therapist intervenes actively to change behaviors and bring the client from sickness back to a baseline.

The therapist is medically licensed and uses a wide variety of modalities to treat patients including medicine, supplementation, active modes of therapy, acute pain modes of therapy, modalities of healing, manual machines, needles, etc. The relationship between the therapist and client should be short-lived, as once the client is back to 0, therapy should no longer be necessary.

The Overlap

There is some inevitable overlap, but the program that takes someone from -5 to 0 is not the same as the one that takes them from 0 to +5. Coaches need to remember that they are the masters of 0 to +5–the sweet spot of challenges that move people towards living longer and with more vitality.

How We Can Change This

To conclude the webinar James poses the question “At the end of the day, the coach needs to know their lane and stay within it. What if we stopped trying to prescribe rehab hacks, referred out for the -5 to 0 population, and just wrote better programs for 0 to 5 folks?”

In order to truly change this paradigm, coaches need proper education about what professional fitness coaching looks like and what the ideal goal for their clients should be. And thus, James has spent his 25+ years in the fitness industry providing coaches with this proper education. As part of that mission, James has created The Free Coach’s Toolkit to introduce coaches to his professional methodology of coaching. Sign up today, and start learning to write programs that help clients find vitality.

The Coach's Toolkit