If you found this page, you might be wondering…
What is the difference between life coaching and therapy?
This is a VERY IMPORTANT distinction.
Read or watch below to learn more.
Nowhere in the world have we found (yet) that there is any law or regulation of “life coaching”. Therefore, anyone can be a life coach.
NO TRAINING OR DEGREE OR LICENSE IS REQUIRED. However, it is important to understand that COACHING is not and should not be the same as THERAPY. We go into greater detail about the qualifications required to be a life coach in a separate video.
The first thing we are going to address is the use of terminology in the life coaching and therapy fields.
In some countries, ANYONE can call themselves a “counselor”, “psychotherapist”, or even “psychologist”, however in most countries, including the United States where Transformation Academy is based, there are clear distinctions. Misuse of these terms can result in legal consequences.
At the highest level is a Psychologist, which has a PhD and clinical training.
Then there are psychotherapists, therapists, licensed mental health therapists (LMHT), and licensed clinical social workers (LCSW), all of which require a Master’s Degree as well as clinical training.
The word “counselor” is often used to replace “therapist”, however it is also used to refer to non-degreed fields—even camp counselors. The word “counselor” is a grey area, however we do not recommend using the word counselor because of the possible confusion.
To add more confusion, there are related fields that call what they do “therapy”, even though it’s a “certificate” program, not a degree, and is also not regulated.
For example, hypnotherapy goes DEEP into the unconscious mind and is used for anxiety, depression, phobias, and more, yet it is an unregulated industry with no degrees or licenses required. However, there are regulations in place in some states and countries and you are there may be consequences for using it in a “therapy” setting or sense if you are not a licensed therapy. In other words using it to treat mental health issues.
Another field that is surprisingly not regulated is drug treatment–so yep, if you sent a loved one to a rehab facility there is no regulating body that “accredits” them, legally.
Even in countries that don’t regulate any of the above mentioned fields, it is still ETHICAL and PROFESSIONAL to use appropriate terms when referring to what you do AND receive appropriate training–even if it is technically on the honor system.
APPROPRIATE USE OF THERAPEUTIC TOOLS IN LIFE COACHING
Life coaches often use “therapeutic” tools, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Therapeutic Art, NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), hypnosis, and other psychological techniques, with clients. The word “therapeutic” means that it benefits the body or mind and increases wellbeing. Using these tools is helpful as a coach, however it is not the same as conducting “therapy” like a therapist.
THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN COACHING AND THERAPY
A life coach can use therapeutic and psychological tools to help people:
- Change their thinking
- Increase their emotional wellbeing
- Change limited belief systems
- Reframe past experiences
- Set and achieve goals
- Make life changes
- Increase motivation
- Learn a new skill
- Change their self-identity
In general, life coaches are PRESENT AND FUTURE FOCUSED. Life coaches help their clients explore their past only as a means of understanding their current life experience and belief systems. Their primary goal is to help a client look at where they are, where they want to be, and how to get from point A to point B.
A therapist may also help clients with these areas of their life, but they also help their patients:
- Treat mental illness or clinical anxiety or depression
- Heal past trauma
- Cope with traumatic loss
- Cope with abuse
- Treat addiction or substance abuse
- Cope with relationship turmoil or violence
In general, therapists are PAST AND PRESENT FOCUSED. While a therapist may work with clients to set goals and make changes, primarily clients come to them seeking assistance with healing trauma, overcoming abuse, treating addiction or treating mental illness.
Because therapists have a specialized graduate degree and clinical training, they have an extensive foundation of knowledge about the mind, biology, and human behavior. They are qualified to help clients in these sensitive areas, and, more importantly, they are properly trained on how to handle the volatile nature of these situations.
WORKING WITH CLIENTS WHO ALSO NEED THERAPY
Sometimes when coaching a client, an unexpected deep trauma can surface or it can become apparent this person is dealing with a deeper mental health issue than you are qualified to help them with. In this case, especially if the person expresses the possibility of harming themselves or others, it is your MORAL OBLIGATION to refer this person to work with a properly trained, licensed mental health professional. Failure to do so can lead to legal liability.
This is the best thing you can do to help them. You can continue to work with them as a coach if they seek the treatment they need, however it is not good for you or the client to continue to work together if they are not being properly treated.
So, you might be wondering, how can you tell if a person has mental illness or trauma that would require therapy?
Anxiety and Depression
Working with people who experience anxiety, sadness, or mild depression is okay because those are normal human emotions, however the following higher-level manifestations of anxiety and depression are signals that the person needs help that a life coach is not qualified to provide:
- Incapacitation or inability to function in daily life
- Panic attacks that cause harm or require hospitalization
- Suicidal thoughts, history or tendencies
We do not recommend life coaches intentionally work with clients who have been diagnosed with mental illness or personality disorders such as psychopath, sociopath, borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, multiple personality disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, etc.
However, this does not mean that life coaches cannot COACH people who fall under these categories, as long as the person is also receiving adequate treatment.
In these situations, the life coaches are not addressing the underlying illness. Instead, they are supporting the person to make life changes, set goals, and practice new ways of thinking.
Signs that your client may have mental illness and/or may not be coachable:
- Incoherent or illogical thinking patterns
- Inconsistent stories, beliefs or common flip-flopping opinions
- Regular poor decision making, even after discussing in detail the right decision
- Inappropriate attachment to the coach, neediness, or romantic advances
- Irresponsibility, such as repeatedly missing appointments or not following through on agreed upon action steps
- Explosive or hostile reaction to insights or recommendations made by the coach
Remember, it is always up to you to terminate the relationship with any client that is not coachable, not compatible, or needs help that you do not feel comfortable providing.
As coaches, we are here to empower people to live better lives, not heal them or cure their illness. And we definitely do NOT want to do them harm, so just like the Hippocratic Oath for medical professionals, we must all commit to the CORE ethical standard in the industry, which is “first do no harm”.
Life Coaching 101
6-Part Article & Video Series
Click below to view additional blogs in the series.