If you often get a high from helping friends and family and solving their lives‘ conundrums, you might be attracted to the idea of helping people to make positive changes in their lives. If you feel called to dedicate your life to support others while living a fulfilled and productive life, you may be wondering whether you should pursue the path to become a life coach or a therapist.

Life coaching is sometimes misunderstood as a type of therapy or counseling as they both share that same intent and also require similar vital skills such as critical thinking, empathy, communication, and flexibility.

However, there are some key differences to consider before choosing one career over the other. If you’re unsure what a life coach does and, therefore, which direction to go in, take a look at these six main differences between life coaching and therapy.

1. Coaches Do Not Treat Mental Illness

One of the most significant differences between psychotherapists and life coaches is that therapists diagnose and treat mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar disorder. Clients with emotional or behavioral challenges seek counseling to help them recover from traumatic experiences, explore problematic relationships, and work through any diagnosable condition that hinders their ability to function.

Life coaches, on the other hand, focus on the “how” by setting and achieving goals but aren’t equipped to treat or diagnose mental illnesses; instead, they generally assume a baseline of emotional wellness. Therapists and life coaches could also work with a client simultaneously, so while the therapist focuses on pathology, the life coach focuses on possibility and co-creating solutions to achieve the client’s goals.

2. Coaches Are More Action-Oriented

Broadly speaking, therapists explore their client’s past and present rather than their future. A psychotherapist would explore past events and traumatic experiences and then work through how they influence the client’s current behavior. A client’s intention could be to understand and change existing behavior patterns, resolve painful feelings, and improve their relationships; however, these goals are usually not precisely measured or planned out with the client.

Coaching focuses on personal empowerment, achieving goals, and helping your client remain accountable. Life coaches help their clients get “unstuck” by creating action plans and encouraging clients to achieve desired outcomes. These goals are measurable, and therefore, clients can be held accountable. Nevertheless, these goals are entirely individual, and life coaches can support their clients in any area they need help with; it’s not a one-size-fits-all.

3. Life Coaching Is Fast-Paced

As coaching focuses on actionable goals and strategies, results are generally realized much faster. Life coaching clients typically sign up for short-term coaching packages. These programs will average around six months to a year. Therapists customarily offer long-term support for an unspecified amount of time as they need to diagnose and remedy a mental health problem.

Some of the areas life coaches can help with:

● increase career satisfaction
● create financial abundance
● start or grow a business
● build self-esteem and confidence
● develop healthy habits
● improve family dynamics
● manage work-life balance
● establish daily rituals and routines


4. Life Coaches Act as Guides

While both vocations are taught to ask powerful questions and encourage and challenge, life coaches bring tools of self-inquiry and accountability to the table. It’s a co-creative process where the coach walks side-by-side with the client.

Life coaches aim to have a synergistic partnership with their clients. They facilitate growth, help identity goals, implement consistent action, and provide guidance and structure throughout the process. The life coach is responsible for supporting the client, but the client is responsible for the results. They encourage their clients to find their own answers and solutions.

Life coaching and therapy both use talk sessions, but life coaches, more often than therapists, use structured sessions that guide the client to actionable strategies.

A typical life coaching session could include:

  • mindfulness moments, reflecting on past assignments
  • reviewing goals and anticipated milestones
  • creating a plan for the next session
  • exploring assignments or homework until the next session

5. Life Coaching Is Largely Unregulated

Another significant difference between therapists and coaches is that psychotherapists need an advanced degree, usually at a master’s or doctoral level, while coaching is largely unregulated. Therapists also need to meet specific licensing requirements, which include taking an exam and many supervised hours of practice.

While some aspiring coaches may be attempted to skip the essential step of comprehensive training, the results won’t be sustainable. You may then wonder how to become a certified life coach: well, you have many options depending on your desired approach as certified coaching programs and life coach training mainly differ in their methods and process.

Most schools rely on cognitive-behavioral models, while other institutes, such as the New York Life Coaching Insitute combine these cognitive-behavioral models with a more holistic approach: focusing on human thoughts and emotions, intuition and imagination, as well as the fundamental concepts of values, purpose, and trust. Before choosing a program, research and reflect on your desired approach and find a program that aligns with your values.


6. Life Coaches Are More Flexible

As a life coach, you’re able to apply your life coaching experiences and skills to any other profession, which offers you endless possibilities. You could specialize in helping people from a specific field, such as from your other occupation.

Besides, you can work from wherever you want – not just in the U.S. but internationally as well. On the other hand, psychotherapists are more restricted as they would need to attain a license for each state and country.

As a life coach, you’re also more flexible regarding your workplace; clients do not expect a traditional, quiet therapist’s office. Some even prefer coaching over the phone, via video calls, or meeting in public settings such as outdoors. You’ll be able to create a business that suits your lifestyle.

Find What Feels Right

It’s important to note that these differences are not absolute or mutually exclusive but provide an overview of each career’s approach. Some therapists might work with a more action-oriented approach, while some life coaches might focus on goals that ease a person’s mental health issues. Both careers bring invaluable skills to the table and can improve people’s outlook on life tremendously.

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