Therapist vs life coach – how to choose?

The rivalry between life coaches and therapists is very real. It can make deciding on choosing a therapist vs life coach a significant challenge. There are all sorts of information circulating through the media, some of which are blatantly false and some that merit your attention. Whether you are planning on attending live sessions or turning to online mental health counseling, you need to be able to make the choice that is best for you. For that reason, we have prepared this article, where we will provide you with all the information you need to know about the differences between life coaches and therapists.

Therapist vs life coach – Are they the same?

To start with, we would like to mention that some sources mention that therapists are there to help you with mental issues but they are unable to help you better yourself. On the other hand, you can always read how all life coaches are nothing more than hacks, without any qualifications to help anyone. The truth, as it always is, is somewhere in the middle.

the truth of therapist vs life coach
We will help you find the truth!

Therapists have training that almost qualifies them to be life coaches. However, life coaching is entirely different from therapy, with its own, unique, goals. In fact, many therapists include separate life coaching services for their clients.

What is therapy?

In its basic form, therapy is supposed to help you heal. In addition to that, therapy is there to promote higher self-awareness and personal growth. When you need to feel better, you visit a therapist, that much is true. Therapists present a possibility of a “safe space”, where you can finally be free of any pressure that you might be struggling with. A space where you can work out your issues in your own time.

What is life coaching?

Life coaching, on the other hand, is not there to heal you of anything. It is there to help you succeed in your plans. However, it also has a growth aspect to it, similar to therapy. Whereas a therapist’s office is a safe space, the life coach will present you with an encouraging space and nudge you toward achieving your goals. Your life coach helps you create and maintain meaningful progress, no matter what you chose to achieve. It can be losing weight, it can be improving relationships, anything you want to set your mind to, really.

Similarities between therapy and life coaching

Most therapists incorporate many of the life coaching practices in their sessions. In fact, by being qualified to treat mental health issues, therapists usually help their patients grow, clarify their life goals, and overcome any obstacles that might be in the way. Personal growth, in particular, is something that most therapists heavily focus on.

But that is, more or less, what life coaching is all about, right? When it comes to therapist vs life coach, it is a bit more complicated than that, though. If you are looking at a personal growth aspect only, then you might as well choose a therapist. They are qualified professionals, after all. But there’s a lot more to life coaching than simple personal growth.

person on a ladder
Your goals will dictate your choice.

There are numerous “gray areas” in the practice of life coaching, as it is not meant to be therapeutical. That is why most ethical life coaches will refer their clients to a therapist if they require help with mental issues. For example, can you even work on your goals if you can’t deal with your emotional wounds? Or can you clearly state what is it that you want if you don’t know what you want in the first place?

It is the therapist’s job to help overcome mental issues, but life coaches are more “specialized” in the personal growth aspect. Therefore, you need to understand what kind of help you need in the first place. If you have deep emotional issues, it might be best to work through them with a therapist, before choosing to get life coaching.

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Do you need to progress with therapy before getting life coaching?

Before you can effectively work with a life coach, you may require therapy first. You need to heal before undergoing a challenging process, after all. Furthermore, if you want to pursue something but don’t believe you deserve to get it, a few therapy sessions might also be required.

That said, there is no straight line from therapy to coaching. It is all individual. Some people may require therapy before life coaching, some may require it after. In addition, you can’t really be “done” with therapy. The healing that therapy is capable of simply does not have an end. It is always possible to work on yourself a bit more, after all. You can, however, achieve your immediate goals.

Most therapies last for a certain duration, but they can go on for years. Continuing the therapy sessions is usually down to you wanting to be an even better person.

But if you don’t have any significant mental issues, you can “skip” the therapy and proceed with life coaching immediately. There are no rules that say that you need to progress with one before getting the other. There’s no set order, you need to choose what you believe is best for you. And if you don’t know what is best for you, then you may want to start with a therapist first.

What is life coaching and how is it different from other coaching types?

Life coaching is very hard to distinguish from all the different coaching types that are out there. There is coaching available on pretty much every notable subject, including:

  • Life
  • Career
  • Business
  • Wellness
  • Fitness
  • Creativity
  • Spiritualism
  • Writing
  • Performance
  • Finances
  • Health
person exercising
A life coach can also be a fitness coach.

However, most people will need to work on a few different things at the same time. That is why most life coaches will help you work toward improving the overall quality of your life, with a strong focus on their specialization. Good life coaches have a very broad skill set, meaning that they can help their clients in several ways. That is why it is so difficult to choose a therapist vs life coach.

Life coaches do not even need to have mastered the things they are trying to help you with. They are not consultants or mentors, after all. Good life coaches are not there to provide you with advice (unless when absolutely necessary, that is) but to help you get the most out of yourself. Tap into your inner resources, if you will.

The fact that life coaches do not require any kind of expertise to be able to do their job is why many people consider them to be “hacks”. But the fact of the matter is that your life coach needs to inspire you to achieve your goals and keep you inspired for the duration. They are there to give you that nudge you need when you need it.

Life coaches are, above all, practical. They help their clients progress toward a specific goal, usually by being very-action oriented.

Are life coaches professionals?

Therapists are licensed professionals, life coaches are not. That is a simple fact, as the therapy itself is a licensed profession. To be a therapist, you need to meet certain standards. Life coaches, on the other hand, do not need to fulfill any standards. They do not have to deal with getting a specific degree, uphold ethical and professional standards, nor do they need to fulfill an obligatory hour quota to be able to practice life coaching.

While all of that is definitely true, the reality is that most good life coaches are true professionals in every sense. They might not be required to do anything, but they put in the work regardless. That is why most great life coaches possess exceptional education and training, as well as uphold the highest ethical standards.

In addition, life coaches can become certified by the ICF (International Coaching Federation) or by CCE (Center for Credentialing and Education). These institutions add requirements and standards to their coaches and are trying to bring certification into the field. Not all life coaches pursue certification, of course, some may feel like they have nothing to prove. They might be right, too.

certification, showing the difference in therapist vs life coach
Life coaches can choose to become certified.

Another interesting fact is that many therapists are now offering both therapy and coaching services. Some even transition to being full-time life coach, to maximize their skill set. What this all means is that you can’t simply discount all life coaches as unqualified individuals. They are not required to get certification and follow standards, yes, but most choose to do it anyway. The important thing is that you figure out which standards your life coach chooses to uphold.

Vetting a life coach

Since there are no life coach licenses, does that mean you simply can’t vet a life coach? What you can do is read customer reviews, as well as online profiles of the coach in question. Then you can schedule a quick consultation over the phone, via video, or in person. In most cases, you will be able to arrange a “test session” with a life coach before you commit to anything. You can also only choose ICF-Certified coaches. The reason you might want to do that is that the ICF holds its coaches accountable. Clients are able to file an ethics complaint if their coach is ICF or CCE certified.

Here are some good questions to ask when vetting a life coach:

  • Does the coach have any relevant degrees and training?
  • Has the coach learned any specific coaching methods?
  • Does the coach have relevant expertise from their past career?
  • Does the coach possess enough life experience to achieve greater empathy and insight?

Remember, your requirements are the only relevant requirements when it comes to choosing a life coach. They do not need to fulfill a certain list of requirements, but they do need to meet yours.

Check out prices on the best online therapy platforms today!

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Therapist vs life coach – the therapist’s role

As we mentioned previously, therapy is for healing. That means that the therapist needs to be able to help you overcome your mental issues. But that is not all that therapists do. Your therapist can help you achieve your personal growth goals, as well. That being said, the therapists that do focus on personal growth usually charge more for their services. This stands to reason, as life coaches usually charge more than therapists. The fact of the matter is that healing is a necessity and growth is a luxury.

therapist with a patient
The therapist’s role is primarily to help you heal.

But the best therapists do not agree with this, they fully realize that your dreams are as important as healing from a trauma or recovering from depression. If you are looking to visit a therapist without being diagnosed with a mental condition, you might find that your insurance will not cover it.

Do therapists only focus on the past?

Therapists focus on the past, that much is true. After all, it is your past that “haunts” you in a certain way and much of the therapy is identifying and making sense of the events that happened in your past. But that is not the only focal point of therapy sessions, as many therapy styles focus exclusively on the present. For example, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) helps you deal with your thoughts as they come up. There is no need to go through your past to get the effects of this therapy modality.

Furthermore, therapists also often look to the future. After all, the only way to measure therapy results is to see how much closer you are to the ideal version of yourself. This future outlook is present in both therapy and life coaching.

When it comes to therapist vs life coach choice, how to decide which one is best for you?

If you need help overcoming mental health issues, you will want to seek therapy, simple as that. But if you don’t need therapy, the answer gets a bit more complicated. Choosing between a therapist vs life coach usually comes down to which one is the better fit for your unique needs. If you need someone to simply mobilize you into action, life coaches are usually specialized for that sort of thing. But some therapists can do that for you, as well. The bottom line is that the help you require is extremely individual. That means that you need to get in touch with an individual that is the best match for you, regardless of whether they are a therapist or a life coach.

If you would like to know more about therapy or life coaching itself, as well as browse through the best companies that offer such services, explore Consumer Opinion Guide and discover the answers to all your questions!

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