If you are at a point where you need extra support from a professional, you may be wondering whether to see a life coach or therapist.
Each plays a specific role, and there is overlap. In some scenarios, you should see both, as each has their specialty and can support you, differently, to live a happier and more fulfilling life.
Let’s explore who is a life coach and who is a therapist, their qualifications and roles, and when to see whom.
Life Coaches vs Therapists: Different Approaches
A therapist focuses on your mental health. They diagnose and treat mental illness and other problematic behaviors. Therefore, a therapist is the best person to see if you want help with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.
They also offer psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to help you manage and cope with the underlying illness causing the mental health issue. In some states, only a psychiatrist can prescribe medication for mental illness, but in others, a therapist can offer psychotherapy and prescribe medication.
Therapists also help with past trauma. They create a safe space to explore your past, beliefs, and perspectives. They help you to reconnect the dots about your life, identify patterns, and see how they affect you.
A life coach helps you with goal setting and serves as an accountability partner to help you achieve your goals.
A life coach helps you to take the actions that help you pursue and ultimately achieve your goals. In most cases, life coaching is proactive and seeks to prepare you mentally to face challenges and pursue your goals.
A therapist’s approach to mental health care involves looking at your past and how it established your blueprints, belief system, and perspective of life. During a talk therapy session, they help you pinpoint pivotal moments in your past that affect how you go about your present life or may have contributed to your mental illness. They may offer guidance on reshaping your blueprint and belief system for more empowered living.
A coaching relationship is a partnership. They guide you through a thought-provoking process to help you reach your personal and professional potential and tap into your creativity and productivity to achieve your goals or overcome challenging times. Coaching services also help you develop insight, skill, and confidence to figure out where you are stuck and to clarify and pursue your goals.
In a nutshell, a therapist’s approach is past-oriented, while a life coach’s is future-oriented. A therapist helps you heal your past in counseling, empowering you to face the present. On the contrary, a life coach enables you to create a vision for your future and pursue it.
Since therapists cover mental health problems, many insurance policies cover therapist sessions as long as you meet their mental health disorder criteria. On the other hand, coaching is not covered by health insurance.
Therapists are required to have an advanced degree and meet state licensing qualifications. For example, they should meet the stipulated psychotherapy supervised hours and pass state regulatory board exams.
There are various certification programs for coaches. However, there is no regulatory body for coaches. That notwithstanding, credible coaches have extensive experience and skills to enable you to level up your life. I have been trained in accordance with the International Coach Federation, and have achieved PCC designation (presently pursuing my MCC, of which there are fewer than 2000 in the world!).
Although coaches are not required to have this level of training, I choose to. It’s the standard I hold myself to.
Psychotherapists face restrictions regarding where they can offer their services, as they are limited to the state where they are regulated. Conversely, coaches can offer their services across the U.S and even internationally.
Traditionally, psychotherapy is offered face to face, while coaches can take you through a session remotely, either via phone or the internet. A lot of that changed during covid, so therapists are now more open to meeting virtually, however the services are limited to the states that they are licensed in. As a coach, I see clients in my office and around the world using Zoom or phone.
Generally, therapy sessions flow depending on issues that arise. Coaches are encouraged to help their clients set an agenda in the beginning of the session, and a goal for the entirety of the coaching program
When to See a Life Coach
Seek a life coach if:
- You need to make some changes in your life, but you do not know where to start.
- You want an impartial person to bounce off your ideas and help you think through things. You’re looking for a thought partner.
- You want to uplevel your mindset.
- You are taking significant steps in your life and want an accountability partner.
- You want to be better equipped to manage stress.
- You are proactive about your personal and professional development.
- You want to build your relationship skills.
- You needed targeted assistance with developing specific life skills.
- You want to gain a better understanding of yourself.
- You want help in discovering your purpose and gaining clarity on your goals.
- You want to build your self-esteem and confidence.
- Your friends are tired of listening; you want an advocate who believes in you and what you want to do and can help you get there.
When to See a Therapist
Seek a therapist if:
- You are dealing with a mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, etc.
- You want to heal a past trauma or overcome deeply-rooted issues from your
- You need support with emotional healing.
- You need support with depression and anxiety in getting through a challenging time in your life,g., the death of a loved one, job loss, divorce, etc.
- You want help with developing strategies to manage your emotional and mental triggers.
- You have a pressing mental health concern.
- You are taking prescription medication as described by a psychiatrist and want talk therapy to support this work as well.
Coach vs Therapist?
Both coaches and therapists can help you with your life. When deciding whether to see a therapist or a coach, ask yourself, “what do I want to achieve?” If it is mental or emotional health-related, see a therapist. If it is about your personal growth and development, see a life coach.
Ultimately, the two are intertwined. They help you in your self-discovery, healing, and personal growth journey. While you may need one more at one point than the other, it is essential to incorporate both simultaneously or at different times in your life for optimal growth and development.
A very important component in working with therapists or coaches is the relationship between you. It’s vital. Make sure you can connect with and trust your practitioner, whether she or he is a coach or therapist.
Depending on what you are working on, your life coach may refer you to a therapist and vice versa. Some therapists also have life coaching certifications to provide their patients/clients with all-encompassing support.