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.
If you’ve considered life coaching or therapy (or both!), you may not know the difference between them. Maybe you’re even under the impression that there isn’t a difference. Well, to sum things up succinctly: THERAPY and LIFE COACHING are not the same and each serves a different purpose.
So, what’s the difference between a life coach and a therapist?
Below, we’ll dive into the technical and legal differences between these two professions. But in the matchup fight between life coaching vs. therapy, there aren’t any losers. It’s a simple matter of choosing the right approach that reflects your mental well-being and life goals.
The Difference Between a Life Coach & a Therapist
Let’s get a few things straight—life coaching isn’t therapy, although coaching can make use of therapeutic tools.
Therapists Address Trauma and Behavioral Issues
Therapy, also commonly referred to as psychotherapy or counseling, is designed to be a long-term process between a patient and their therapist. The client works with their therapist to deal with issues interfering with a healthy, satisfying life. A therapist might address problematic behaviors, relationship troubles, and grief among other emotional obstacles.
You Must Be Licensed to be a Therapist
Therapy is conducted by a licensed healthcare professional who can help patients confront and cope with a traumatic past, improve their relationships with others (and themselves), and identify, process, and deal with their feelings appropriately. A licensed therapist can also diagnose, monitor, and treat mental health issues.
A life coach isn’t a healthcare professional (unless he or she is separately licensed as one). A life coach helps their clients set goals, hone in on effective behaviors, and overcome specific obstacles like procrastination on preparing for a public speech, for example. A coach acts as a kind of mentor to help the client focus on what can be changed now and for the future—instead of addressing events that have happened in the past. Coaches can also help their clients come up with actionable steps to accomplish their goals.
We’ll go into more granular details of the differences between coaching vs. therapy below.
THE LIFE COACH APPROACH
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 experiences and belief systems. Their primary goals are to help a client look at where they are, where they want to be, and how to get from point A to point B.
Here are a few ways a life coach could potentially help you:
- Change your thinking and deliver an accurate outside perspective.
- Make an action plan to initiate positive change.
- Improve your self-esteem.
- Find a work-life balance.
- Question limiting beliefs about your potential.
- Reframe past experiences with a strong focus on making changes for the present and future you.
- Identify, set, and achieve goals.
- Take real action and measure the results.
- Adapt to life changes effectively.
- Increase motivation.
- Learn a new skill.
THE THERAPIST APPROACH
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.
A therapist may also help clients in areas of life that overlap with the focus of a life coach, but they can also specifically do the following:
- Treat mental illness or clinical anxiety or depression, with the ultimate goal of achieving better mental health.
- Help you heal from past trauma.
- Understand behavior patterns and triggers for self-destructive behaviors.
- Explore past relationships that went wrong like divorces, estrangements, or toxic friendships
- Guide you through the grieving process.
- Cope with traumatic loss.
- Help evaluate your unconscious and subconscious mind.
- Treat addiction or substance abuse.
- Cope with relationship turmoil, abuse, violence.
It’s important to remember that although coaching and therapy may cover some of the same topics, only therapists can treat mental health disorders and conditions.
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN A LIFE COACH VS. THERAPY
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 well-being. Using these tools is helpful as a coach, however, it is not the same as conducting “therapy” like a therapist.
Both therapists and life coaches focus on creating positive change in their clients’ lives. But only therapists are qualified to diagnose and treat mental health issues.
BECOMING A LIFE COACH VS. A THERAPIST
Becoming a therapist involves undergraduate, graduate, and even doctorate levels of education in some cases. Therapists and mental health care workers are regulated.
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 serious legal consequences.
Therapists Must Get Licensed Before Practicing
At the highest level is a psychologist, who holds a Ph.D. 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 there may be consequences for using it in a “therapy” setting or sense if you are not a licensed therapist–in other words, using it to treat mental health issues.
Another field that is surprisingly not regulated is drug treatment—so yep, if you send 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.
Life Coaches Don’t Require License/Degree to Practice
Nowhere in the world have we found (yet) that there is no law or regulation of “life coaching”. Therefore, anyone can be a life coach. NO TRAINING OR DEGREE OR LICENSE IS REQUIRED to become a life coach. There’s a reason why the life training industry is exploding! People just like you are realizing that they can provide valuable advice and mentorship thanks to their unique experience and background. You can even target a niche that reflects your personal interests and history, like helping business leaders develop confidence in front of an audience.
When to Seek a Life Coach v. a Therapist
If you’re trying to decide whether to see a therapist or a life coach, it’s a good idea to assess your overall emotional and mental well-being. If you’re struggling mentally or emotionally, talking to a mental health professional first can help. Some patients might even see a therapist and life coach at the same time to work through issues while tackling an action plan to accomplish a goal. You could also choose to see a life coach instead of a therapist if you feel ready to take on a new challenge and just need outside guidance and perspective to get there.
You might find that during coaching, an unexpected deep trauma can surface or it can become apparent you’re dealing with a deeper mental health issue that needs the attention of a healthcare professional. If you’re struggling, it’s critical to find a properly trained, licensed mental health expert to help you.
So, you might be wondering, how can you tell if you need a life coach vs. a therapist?
What a Therapist Can Help With
For example, if you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition, you might experience symptoms like:
- Incapacitation or inability to function in daily life
- Panic attacks that cause harm or require hospitalization
- Suicidal thoughts, history, or tendencies
- Other symptoms of mental illness
In this case, a licensed therapist will be able to provide appropriate, sufficient, and ethical support, as they have the proper training to assist you.
What a Life Coach Can Help With
With that said, you can still work with a life coach if you have been diagnosed with mental illness or personality disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, multiple personality disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, etc. But it’s important that you also actively receive adequate treatment and get the help you need from a healthcare professional who is qualified to monitor your condition.
If you have a mental illness, life coaches are not trained to address the underlying illness. Instead, they are supporting you to make life changes, set goals, and practice new ways of thinking.
Coaches want to empower people to live better lives, not heal them or cure their illnesses. Just like the Hippocratic Oath for medical professionals, life coaches have the responsibility to commit to the CORE ethical standard in the industry, which is “first do no harm”.
When to See a Life Coach
A life coach is someone who acts as a mentor that helps you create lasting changes, break free, and get “unstuck” from your problems. But remember, a life coach isn’t going to solve your depression. Instead, they’ll help you change your mindset so that you can embrace optimism while dealing with challenges in your life. A life coach can help you break down a big goal into smaller chunks that are less overwhelming to take on.
When to See a Therapist
As we mentioned before, a therapist helps you address, heal from, and develop coping mechanisms for problems leading to mental distress. Your mental health could be affected by any number of conditions such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. You might even be dealing with concurrent mental illnesses.
If you feel overwhelmed and unable to function on normal levels, it’s a great idea to find a therapist you feel comfortable talking to. A therapist can give you a diagnosis and has the medical and clinical background to help.
Takeaway: Therapy for the Past, Coaching for the Future
If helping people is your dream but you don’t want to spend years getting clinical training, life coaching provides a way to connect with others in a positive way. While there aren’t specific governing bodies that regulate the life coaching industry, you can still prepare yourself for a career in coaching. In fact, you can get certified TODAY and totally transform your life.
Interest In Becoming A Life Coach? Become a Life Coach Today!
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Joeel & Nataile are co-founders of Transformation Academy®, where they train leading-edge entrepreneurs, leaders and life coaches how to master their mindset and create a purpose-driven business. They have started more than a dozen businesses, and trained over 500,000 coaches from 200_ countries and territories. Joeel is a former psychology professor with a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Education is currently completing his dissertation on eudaemonic happiness for a Ph.D. in Psychology.