When looking for ways to help yourself it is important to land with a professional that can help you by having the knowledge to do so, capability and sometimes legal grounds. In the world of self-help there are lots of different professionals you can turn to but those most found are life coaches. However it appears as if it’s not completely clear what exactly the difference is between a life coach, which are often found in the world of self-help, and a therapist? So I’ve gone ahead and outlined the most important differences between life coaching and therapy as well as show you how to choose between a life coach or a therapist.
What are the differences between coaching & therapy?
First of all I want to say boldly and clearly life coaches are not therapists. Yes both help you improve your life but how they achieve that and what they do is clearly different, even to the point of legal matters being involved.
One of the main differences between life coaching vs therapy is that life coaching is present & future oriented. Coaching helps you get forward in life by helping you see where you can be taking more positive actions then you were before seeing a life coach. Therapy helps you get forward in life by looking at the past, present and future. Therapy creates space for your emotional well being that is attached to the situation that you’re in therapy for.
I want to deviate real quickly by informing you that the notion that therapists only look at the past and present but not really at the future is not true. People can be in therapy to take a look at their future and what they want to improve.
It’s also false that when you start therapy you’ll be in therapy forever as the goal of therapy is always to help you get to a point where your reason for therapy is dealt with in a healthy manner and get you to a point where you can handle your future on your own.
2. Addressing Mental Health
Another huge difference between the two is the fact that therapists, and some other professions, deal with mental health. Life coaches do not handle mental health. In some countries it can land a life coach in legal trouble if they do coach their clients through mental health problems. Not the point of this post, but I’ll tell you anyways any life coach that is offering you to address your mental health issues by coaching make sure you run for the hills!
I do want to mention that people can see a life coach when they have normal, not pathological issues with their mental health. As soon as the problem is recognized as more than just the human life experience the above statement holds true. Life coaches do not treat mental health problems in any way, they can land themselves in legal problems depending on the country specific laws.
3. Making a diagnosis
Aligned with the difference of addressing mental health issues is diagnosing. Life coaches do not make diagnosis at all, ever. They can however pick up that you might have a mental health issue that needs addressing. They can tell you that but in the same breath should refer you to a mental health professional. A life coach is not a mental health professional just for the record. Therapists are classified as mental health professionals and thus do diagnose and form treatment plans based on the diagnosis.
4. Licensing in the professions
Life coaching, unlike therapy, is not a licensed profession. You do not need a license to become a life coach. There is no governing body for life coaching anywhere. Anyone anywhere can become a life coach. But there are certified life coaches?! Yes there are but the certification has been granted by schools that have gotten their name based on results they have provided, not based on a governing body doing quality testing for the certification as is the case for therapists.
Being & becoming a therapist is a licensed affair more often than not. You need to get your licenses and in most cases, country dependant, keep them updated. Due to the fact that therapy is a licensed profession there is a standard that can be expected from a therapist. Simply because to get their license they needed to learn about it and show proof of knowing how to practice it and to keep their license the same holds true. There is a governing body determining whether someone is fit to practice yes or no. This is not the case for life coaching.
Let’s take me for example in how licensing works for me to work as a psychologist. *Mind you licensing works different in every country*. I have a Master Degree in Psychology and also a Certificate in Narrative Therapy (this was the preliminary educational program to continue and become a Narrative Therapist). Next to those I have a license to practice and a documentation stating that my education is up to par to practice. My license to practice is one I have to renew each year.
5. Malpractice processes
A difference that is tied to licensing is that in therapy there is a special board for therapists that do not adhere to their codes and standards. They can get a formal reprimand which does affect their working abilities which can go all the way to the point of not being allowed to practice anymore. Such a board does not exist for life coaches. If there is malpractice in life coaching this will probably go via the justice system, while in therapy the disciplinary board is usually the first place to go and afterwards, or simultaneously sometimes depending on what happened, the justice system.
6. Quality Control
This difference between life coaching and therapy was mentioned briefly before but there is no quality control in life coaching as there is no governing body for it. In therapy there is quality control in the form of degrees and being able to get your license to practice renewed. Of course it’s not because there is quality control in therapy that it is automatically better as there are still differences between mental health professionals that need to be taken into account to even commence being able to make such a statement.
Do I need a life coach or a therapist?
To determine whether you need a life coach or a therapist there are a few questions that you need to ask yourself. Just an FYI you might still end up needing the other one just because you didn’t realize certain things about yourself that you discover while working with either one.
The biggest and most important two are whether you are struggling emotionally and/or whether you are facing mental health issues? If any of the two questions are a yes then the professional you need to be looking for is a mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Other questions that should lead you to a therapist are whether you feel the need to air out your feelings and/or what’s on your mind to make it less heavy. Also if you have a heavy heart because of situations that happened you should see a therapist or other mental health professional. However a therapist could also be your choice when needing help navigating making decisions for your future as all aspects of you will be taken into account.
A life coach is the option when you have a specific goal that you want to achieve and you need help getting there. You want to be supported in your endeavor, find and get help adapting your life in the best way to be able to achieve your goal.
You can also look around and find someone who is a therapist but also a life coach. This way you can get the best of both worlds. Of course if it results that you need them to be a therapist for you instead of a life coach they should inform you of that and will probably switch your plans to one of their therapy packages. The nice thing about this process is that you will still be talking to the same person, so no one new needs to enter your life.
I am a licensed psychologist but also a certified life coach. If you’d like to be coached by me take a look at my coaching packages right here. If you would like to have online therapy you can take a look at my online therapy packages. Not sure what would be best or hesitant to for either one? Schedule a call to discuss your worries.
Could I have a life coach & a therapist?
In theory, yes. In practice this could be a terrible idea. Whether it is a terrible idea depends heavily on why you are seeing a therapist. The more intricate your reasons are for seeing the therapist, the less great of an idea it is to see a life coach and a therapist at the same time.
In this case it would be better to finish or have some serious progress made with your therapist before starting a coaching trajectory. Definitely also bring it up with your therapist as they can be able to help you gain insights on what to expect from yourself in a coaching trajectory based on where you are in your therapy and mental health journey.
I hope you now are emboldened in making the right decision for you regarding needing a mental health professional or a life coach. If you have any more questions regarding how to make the right choice feel free to contact me.
Life coaching & therapy can both deliver great results when used in the form that they were intended to.
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