7 Ways Therapists and Life Coaches Are Different8 min read

Whether a therapist or life coach is better for you depends on your needs and goals. Therapists and coaches both help people address their problems and personal growth goals. Therapy and coaching are ways to help you change your life so you can live a life that brings you joy and wholeness—but they’re not the same. There’s a lot of overlap between therapy and coaching. Here’s how the two professions compare and contrast.

1. Required Education and Training Of A Therapist

Therapy is a form of mental health treatment that focuses on resolving emotional problems. The goal of therapy is to help people resolve problems by exploring past experiences, relationships and emotions; identifying patterns of thought, feelings and behaviors; recognizing unhealthy habits; achieving insight into current issues; learning new ways of coping; managing stress; making changes in one’s life; improving communication skills; resolving conflict with others; improving self-esteem; resolving low self-worth, etc.

Therapists undergo extensive training and education before they can practice independently. They typically complete a four-year college degree in psychology or social work and then attend graduate school for another two to seven years (depending on the specialization). 

To become licensed as a therapist, you’ll need to go through an internship under the supervision of an experienced professional. After completing their training, they must pass a state licensing exam before they’re allowed to practice. Often they’ll need to be supervised by a more experienced clinician before practicing independently. Some states require therapists to take continuing education courses throughout their careers to maintain their licenses. Therapists are also governed by state boards that enforce codes of conduct for all professionals within the field.

Many therapists also have training in specific areas of expertise. For example, someone who is trained as a marriage counselor would be able to help couples work through their relationship problems. Someone who specializes in eating disorders would be able to help someone struggling with food issues.

2. How Else Do Therapists Support People?

A therapist helps people with emotional or mental issues through talk therapy using various modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Psychodynamic, or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, to name a few. A therapist may work with clients individually, in couples, or in groups on issues such as depression, anxiety, or stress management. Therapy or counseling focuses on the past and helps move people from a state of dysfunction to a functional state—from stability to healing. They are trained to diagnose mental imbalances, treat symptoms, and support people in crisis. A therapist is known as the expert, although the client is the expert in their experience. In the case of therapy, the insight comes before the action.  

Therapy can be helpful for anyone who wants to improve their mental health or emotional well-being. It’s not just for people who are struggling with mental illness or problems related to it—therapy can also help people improve their relationships, become more productive at work, and live happier lives overall. So one would say therapy is about uncovering and recovering, while coaching is about discovering.

3. Required Education and Training Of A Life Coach

Life coaches don’t have to undergo any formal education or training before they can practice independently—anyone can be a life coach. While there are no national standards for life coaching certification or accreditation, several organizations offer certification programs for people who want to become life coaches. Training can be weekend-long or extensive training that lasts over a year. 

Life coaches are not mental health professionals, but some are well trained in helping clients develop themselves and achieve their goals. Some coaches have degrees in psychology or another field related to coaching (such as organizational development), but others don’t; some coaches have no formal education. Some coaches have various specialties. For example, a life coach could specialize in financial health, wellness, spirituality, business, etc. 

4. How Else Do Life Coaches Support People?

A life coach helps someone move from stability to growth. They focus on what’s interrupting someone’s present—the here and now to positively impact future outcomes. Usually, life coaches help you become proactive before something becomes a crisis and will often hold you accountable and act like an accountability partner. Most coaches will hold clients responsible for their life choices and actions (or lack thereof) and ask them what they want to do. 

Coaching often looks at what’s working right now and how you can do more of what’s working. When working with a life coach, they will ask you what you’re vision is and often reverse engineer it to see that vision come to life. The action comes before the insight. 

Many people seek life coaching instead of therapy because they want to work on their goals and become the best version of themselves. A life coach can help people who have decided to make a significant change in their lives, are experiencing some kind of transition, or are interested in finding solutions for what’s holding them back from achieving their goals.

A person might seek out coaching if they need more confidence in their abilities or if they need help changing their behavior. Coaching can be an excellent resource for anyone who needs help finding direction in their life. It’s a valuable tool that aims to assist you in meeting your goals and growing as an individual.

Coaches work with people who are basically healthy and functional but not reaching their full potential. Coaching almost always addresses an individual’s mindset and attitude by uncovering self-limiting beliefs and negative self-talk. 

Coaches help people identify their goals and the obstacles they are facing. Like therapy, coaching involves guidance and support but also places a great deal of emphasis on accountability, enabling people to do more than they might on their own. A person being coached is assumed to have all the answers they need within them; the coach’s job is to facilitate the discovery of those answers by asking the right questions.

5. How Do Therapists And Coaches Structure Their Pricing

Therapists often use insurance. You can get a portion of your fees covered if you have insurance—similar to a copay at the doctor’s office. Insurance companies set a range they consider “reasonable and customary,” and the marketplace tends to establish the value of therapy services based on the cost of living, the number of therapists in the area, and population density (charging by the sessions).

Not all therapists use insurance, so you might come out of pocket if you decide on one that doesn’t. I’ve seen therapists cost $50 an hour to $500 or more. Some therapists offer sliding scale fees depending on your circumstances. 

Life coaches typically vary more widely in pricing; it may cost less than therapy or considerably more. Coaches often price their services as packages or programs, ranging from six weeks to six months or longer. At the same time, others may offer group coaching programs and memberships. Life coaches do not accept insurance.

6. Let’s Do A Quick Recap

Therapy works best:

  • For people who might be in abusive relationships (domestic violence, emotional, mental, etc.) who need support and assistance. Usually, in these cases, therapists will help the individual find safety before implementing therapeutic interventions. 
  • For individuals with unresolved childhood issues or trauma.
  • For people battling addictions.
  • For people suffering from severe depression.
  • For individuals who live on an emotional roller coaster
  • For people who have diagnosed mental conditions.
  • For people who need longer term support. 

Life coaching works best:

  • For people who may feel as if they are stuck in a rut.
  • For individuals who are poised to move to the next level in life but are unsure how to get there.
  • For people who want to learn how to take action.
  • For individuals who are ready to make changes in life to improve their well-being.
  • For people who want support in finding meaning and purpose in life.
  • For individuals who wish to enhance a specific aspect of their lives – career, wellness, financial, etc.
  • For individuals who are comfortable with short-term support.

7. Do I Need Therapy? Do I Need Coaching?

If you’re wondering whether or not you need therapy or coaching, it really comes down to your goals and where you currently are in your life. Take an honest assessment of your emotional health. Because coaches and therapists do different things (although some techniques overlap) some people have both in their lives simultaneously. 

For instance, I have a spiritual mentor, a therapist, and often a coach. I connect with my therapist 1-2x per month. I’m in a two-year mentorship program with my spiritual mentor. I did three months of coaching with a business coach. I also spent six months with a course creator coach. I’m always finding ways to dive deeper into my personal development and look for ways to expand my skillsets. I’ve never regretted the money and time I’ve spent developing myself. 

If you’re considering therapy or coaching, you are likely in a place in your life where you have the desire and energy to make real change. It’s important to ask yourself a few questions. Is there a problem you’re facing that you cannot overcome alone? You may be ready for coaching if you’re experiencing a significant transition, feel stuck, or want to achieve a specific goal. In contrast, it is time for therapy if you are struggling with depression or anxiety and have gotten to a point where you do not see any way out. Take your time and think about your specific needs.

Regardless of the type of support you’re looking for, be it a coach or a therapist, it’s always beneficial to build a relationship with someone who is invested in your growth and well-being. With that being said, take the time to find someone who suits your needs. Your emotional health should be addressed with care, compassion, and understanding.

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