Table of Contents
- Definitions of Therapy vs Life Coaching
- How is a Life Coach Different than a Therapist or Counselor?
- Why the Confusion Bewteen Life Coaches and Therapists?
- Therapy vs Life Coaching: Which One is Right for Me?
- What Do I Do Next?
- More Articles and Resources
Do you need therapy or life coaching?
Or do you just need to talk to someone about the problems in your life?
These are questions many people are asking these days, and it can be difficult to find the right answers. Luckily, there are some great therapists and life coaches in your area who will be able to help you out, but they aren’t all alike, so it’s important to know how they differ before you start seeing them. Here are some common differences between therapy and life coaching that can help you decide which one is right for you.
Definitions of Therapy vs Life Coaching
There is a lot of confusion around the differences between life coaching and therapy, and understandably so. Before we get into the similarities we need to clearly define and understand each individually.
Therapy is a broad term that includes physical therapy as well as psychological therapy, so for the purposes of this post we will look at the term “Psychotherapy.” Psychotherapy is literally defined as “treatment of mental or emotional disorder or of related bodily ills by psychological means” by Merriam Webster and “the treatment of mental or psychological disorders by psychological means” by Oxford Languages.
So right off the bat we see the word “disorder” being used in regards to therapy and counseling. Therapists work toward mental and emotional well being of their patients by listening and if need be, diagnosing them with a psychological disorder. This could be as simple as chronic anxiety or as complex as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Whatever the degree of seriousness, a counselor or therapists typically works with people who are in potentially dangerous situations mentally and emotionally.
A life coach is different.
Some life coach definitions include “an advisor who helps people make decisions, set and reach goals, or deal with problems” (Merriam Webster) and “a person who counsels and encourages clients on matters having to do with careers or personal challenges” (Oxford Languages)
This is a good start. The only problem is that life coaches don’t just help you in your career, nor is it always about goals. There’s a phrase used on Oprah’s website to define what a life coach does that I really like:
A life coach is “an action-oriented mentor…”
Life coaching is a rapidly growing industry. Millions of people are seeking life coaches to help them take control of their lives and improve their situation. A life coach may help people choose a career path and rise to success professionally. They might coach you to be more relaxed and self-confident in social situations or relationship struggles. Or a life coach may help a client to simply overcome thought patterns that limit their potential.
Viewing a life coach as “an action-oriented mentor” helps a us understand that the life coaching relationship is about taking specific action in order to see more desirable results in a given area of life.
So How is a Life Coach Different than a Therapist or Counselor?
Simply put…therapy is about addressing and healing your past. Life coaching is about action in the present for a better future.
Where therapists work to diagnose and treat a broad spectrum of potential mental disorders, life coaches serve as wisdom and support to improve specific areas of your life.
My life coach puts it very simply, “Therapy takes you from dysfunctional to baseline. Coaching takes you from baseline to flourishing.”
Therapy helps you survive. Coaching helps you thrive.
So Why the Confusion Between Life Coaches and Therapists?
The confusion between therapists and a life coaches is a growing problem, especially as the number of life coaches continues to grow.
Part of the problem is that counselors and life coaches do similar things. They are both gifted and trained in listening, asking intentional questions, and challenge your thought processes. They both are working to help you think, feel, and live a healthier, happier life. Both identify patterns of behavior that may not be serving and work to solve problems that affect their clients’ quality of life.
When it comes to therapy vs life coaching, there is definitely a lot of gray, murky, crossover…at least it appears that way.
A large part of the struggle to separate life coaches from therapists is the lack of regulation on life coaching.
Because therapists deal with diagnoses and potentially harmful situations, they have extensive oversight and regulation. They have to go through a lot more training and be approved by the state government in which they operate in order to practice as a licensed therapists.
Life coaching has no official governing body which means anyone can create a logo and call themselves a life coach.
This is great in that life coaches tend to be people with lots of experience and wisdom in a particular area and are more readily available than therapists, but it can problems. Because there is no official licensing procedure, there are A LOT of really bad life coaches out there that think they are experts when in reality, they have no business guiding other people. The joke around the life coaching profession is that many life coaches are 25 year olds who didn’t want to go to college or work a real job, so they stayed home and became a life coach.
There is some truth to this. All of us think we are experts in some way or another, but the truly wise ones are those that know what they don’t know and have the humility to say it.
I would never trust a life coach that acted like he/she had all the answers or like their life was perfect. Good life coaches can balance expertise with humility. They can readily admit ignorance while recognizing they are still growing themselves. You are not superman. You cannot change your life, do everything you ever dreamed, and live the perfect life in six months or less. If you want real help with real results, you will need a life coach that is a real person. You can read more about how to find the right coach for you here.
Therapy vs Life Coaching: How Do I Know Which Is Right for Me?
There are two questions I would ask myself if I was weighing hiring a life coach vs a therapist.
1. How am I doing?
When I sought out my life coach i was going through a hard time. I felt sad a lot. I felt angry a lot. Mostly, I felt trapped by my job and my inability to do the things that brought me life. I wanted to be a writer and help people, but I was stuck working for a large corporation that didn’t value me or my time OR helping people.
I felt pretty miserable, but in reality I was doing fine. I had a job that I was excelling at. I had a good marriage and some pretty good friends. I was doing great, I just wasn’t moving forward and had unrealized potential. That struggle was driving me crazy.
In that situation, a life coach was perfect for me. My coach helped me see that I really just needed to make a couple of changes, tweak a couple of things, and start taking small steps toward the life I really wanted. Less than a year later I was out of that job, got certified as a life coach myself, and was already helping people by utilizing my natural gifts and abilities.
Compare that with a couple of years later when I was going through the grief of losing a loved one to cancer. Some of the feelings were the same, but the underlying issue was a deep-seeded belief that the people I love will ultimately abandon me.
THIS was not work for a life coach. This was past-focused pain that needed some deep attention and healing. For that I went to my therapist.
2. What am I wanting?
What is the end goal of your time with a life coach or a therapist?
Are you wanting to “stop feeling this way” and live a normal life? Are you wanting to address the mental gymnastics of a toxic relationship with your parents, siblings, or significant other? Are you wanting to give up addictive behaviors that cause a lot of pain and difficulty in your life?
These are all things that a licensed therapist would be trained and experienced in working through with you.
However, if you find yourself thinking you want to do more, be more, experience more, you might be looking for a life coach.
In my first session with a new client I always ask what they hope to get out of our time together, what they hope changes for them. Here are some of the responses I get:
- I want to be more confident
- I want to be able to talk to people more easily
- I want to make friends and be more social
- I want to bring up my grades and feel proud of myself
- I want to get out of my dead-end job but I don’t know what I would do or how to get there
- I want to be a better spouse
- I want to learn to communicate better with my parents
- I want to live a life that better fits my personality and my passions
These are all excellent reasons to seek out a life coach to help you rather than a therapists. It’s not that therapists can’t help in these areas. Rather, it’s that these areas are a life coach’s expertise. Their training is focused on these things and they spend all their time thinking on and practicing these things themselves. Ultimately you need to hire the professional that is best for your unique needs.
What Do I Do Next?
The question of therapy vs life coaching comes down to these two questions: “Where am I and where do I want to be?” If you are needing help to go from dysfunction to baseline, then reach out to a counselor or therapist near you. If you are wanting to get more out of life, to go from surviving to thriving, consider life coaching.
Remember that it is always okay to go from one to the other. If you choose life coaching and realize you may need deeper healing, then switch to a therapist. At the end of the day, the most important thing you can do is just reach for help. Do that and you’ve already won half of the battle.
More Articles & Resources on this Subject
- How to Find the Right Life Coach
- 8 Ways to Succeed in College Socially and Professionally
- Life Coaching for Young Adults