A life coach and a therapist are professionals who have the common goal of being able to help their clients in their areas of need. To practice both professions, they need to go through a series of studies and training. Although the two professionals indeed work on various aspects of the individual, they are not the same.
There is confusion about therapy and life coaching. Sometimes people think that it is the same or that one is better than the other. These misconceptions can lead to the person not knowing which service to choose, which can affect their well-being. The goal of this article is to define, clarify the differences, and explain when you should seek therapy and coaching.
What Are a Therapist and a Life Coach?
To understand the differences between a therapist and a mental health coach, it is first necessary to define what both are.
A life coach is someone who works with a person seeking to discover and set goals. Also helps in identifying and establishing solutions to problems. It is not a mental health professional, since their preparation does not involve the diagnosis and treatment of people with mental situations, and the strategies that they use often do not apply to the field of mental health.
A person who has a specific goal can go to a life coach. The life coach goes through thought-provoking questions that often lead to creating a plan for the client. They follow up on the actions to be taken to achieve the goals. A person who feels stuck can turn to a life coach to identify in which part of their life they feel they are not progressing and then take action to move forward.
A therapist is a licensed health professional. During their sessions, the therapist goes to the person’s past to find the relationship between past events with the situation that is happening in the present. This specialist focuses on the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that a person manifests and teaches the client about themself and it is usually a slightly longer process than the one offered by a life coach.
The therapist also works with people who have mental disorders. Their practice does not seek quick results, but rather that the client can get to know themself better, and learn more about what is happening and how to solve it.
Differences Between Life Coaching and Therapy
At first glance, it may seem that the actions proposed by a life coach and a therapist are almost the same when, in reality, there are very marked differences between the two processes. When the person identifies the functions of therapy and coaching, they can choose with greater awareness the service they need.
One of the main functions of a therapist is to help the person to know themself, to be more aware of who they are and how those things can influence their well-being. This specialist also focuses on helping the individual to heal, so that they can heal those wounds that cause discomfort in their life, those that can trigger symptoms of high levels of stress and anxiety.
On the other hand, a life coach focuses on the person achieving success, which is reaching the goals that have been proposed. A person who wants to be better, who has a specific objective and does not know where to start, can turn to one. They ask the client open-ended questions to increase their awareness and help them achieve their goals.
In short, the therapist carried out a deeper process, which helps the person to navigate within themself, to know who they are at a higher level, and to give meaning to their life; while the life coach focuses more on the moment, does not delve so much into the being but rather focuses on external elements and how to use them as a source of motivation for the person to reach their greatest potential.
During the sessions, the therapist seeks to find out more about the client to respond to the situations that led them to therapy. During therapy, the questions tend to be more open, since more information can be beneficial for the therapeutic process.
In their practice, the life coach also asks questions, but the difference is that they orient the questions toward achieving the client’s goal. The client who is in the coaching process is usually clear about what they want to achieve, so they seek the support of a coaching professional who can guide them and follow up to achieve it.
Duration of the Sessions
Coaching sessions are established, and it is not usually a process that lasts for years. In therapy, depending on the type of diagnosis the client receives or the reasons for which they go to a therapist, the process can last from months to years. In both cases, some clients return after having finished a therapeutic process and need help in another area of their mental health. As in coaching, there are people who, after having reached a goal, have a new objective and need the assistance of a life coach.
Education and Accreditation
When it comes to preparation, the journeys are distinct for a therapist and life coach. The therapist goes through years of study, training, and supervision to become a licensed mental health specialist, serving clients who are in the state where they obtained it. This process is different for a mental health professional from another country, and the regulation may change. There are various types of therapy (family, couple, etc.) so it will orient the type of preparation to the branch the therapist chooses.
Likewise, as there are different types of therapy, there are also different types of life coaching (relationships, career, leadership, business, etc.). The life coach does not obtain a license as a therapist, but goes through training and obtains a certification. Also, some life coaches belong to the ICF (International Coaching Federation). The ICF is an organization dedicated to coaching training. It is considered the main accrediting body in the world of coaching. Training lasts at least 6 months and after which the coach must complete a series of mentor trainings and assessments to obtain the official certification.
Both experts set goals when working with a client, but their orientation and purpose are distinct. In coaching, goals are action and solution-oriented. These goals are usually short term, where the client, in partnership with a life coach, creates a plan for achieving them.
The goals the therapist sets with the client are not always solution-oriented, although objectives such as reducing depression, and anxiety, getting to know each other better, etc. are set. During therapy sessions, there are times when actions are performed that are far from action-oriented. Rather than establishing a certain time for the client to achieve result, it is more focused on their health and well-being and that can sometimes take a little longer than planned.
Similarities Between a Life Coach and a Therapist
There are also similarities between a therapist and a life coach. The resemblance does not mean that both do the same thing, but rather they have a common goal and that is to give what clients need.
Among the similarities are:
- Both focus on helping the client to obtain well-being by achieving the objectives set during both sessions.
- For the client to have a good result with the therapist or life coach, both need to create a good relationship with them. It is important for the client to feel trusted and listened to and that they have the support they need.
- They need to be prepared to perform their duties. It is unethical for both professionals to perform their duties without proper preparation.
- The experts direct the work. They are the ones who guide the sessions they have with clients since the client goes to one of them to search for solutions.
Choosing Between Therapy and Life Coaching
Knowing what a therapist and a life coach are and how they differ will help the person choose the right professional to work on their situation. It is not only choosing a good professional but also choosing one that is on the needs presented by the client.
When to See a Therapist
A person should visit a therapist for the following reasons:
- Suffering from a trauma in the past that does not allow the person to live a healthy present.
- There are problems in the way the person deals with others (friends, relatives, partner, co-workers, etc.).
- An undiagnosed mental disorder that is negatively interfering with the person’s life. The most diagnosed disorders are usually depression and anxiety.
- Problems managing emotions.
- Substance abuse.
- The person does not know any other alternatives about how to manage the problems they have.
When to See a Life Coach
The circumstances for which a person should see a life coach are:
- Has an established goal but does not know what steps to take and how to achieve it.
- Problems performing the activities that will allow the person to reach the goal.
- The person feels lost; they do not know what the next step is to take in certain aspects of their life (work, family, etc).
- Motivation to continue on the path to achieving goals.
Both life coach and therapist seek the client’s well-being, feel comfortable and achieve what is proposed.
A therapist is a mental health professional whose purpose is to help the client to heal from those symptoms that interfere negatively with their life. This specialist works with emotions, thoughts, and feelings, and how these impact the development of human beings in their daily life. A life coach is a certified professional who helps a person to set and achieve their goals; acts as an equal partner to accompany their client in the process, and helps them with the difficulties that they may experience.
Both professionals seek to help the person who comes into their lives, but this process is done with very different methods since both are distinct professions. Many people have confused the role of a therapist and a life coach where they think they are the same when, in fact, there are some similarities but they also have many differences.
The person does not have to choose one service, they can also access both at the same time. Some people choose to do coaching after or during therapy sessions, since being in sessions with their coach they have discovered aspects of themselves that deserve to be worked on by a specialist in another area, and a good life coach will refer you.
The above information will help you take the next steps to start the change you want for your life, and if you know where you want to start, a life coach will be an excellent ally.