What Does a Life Coach Do? And Do I Need a Life Coach or a Therapist?

Woman walking down the road at sunset

Most of us have heard the terms ‘life coach’, ‘coach’, and ‘therapist’ at some point in our lives- and seemingly moreso during the pandemic. But many people do not know the distinctions between each.

“What does a life coach do?”

“How do I know if I need a life coach?”

“What’s the difference between a life coach and a therapist?”

“How do I know if I need a therapist instead of a life coach?”

These are the questions circling in the brains of individuals who have decided to get extra help accomplishing their goals- and if you’re anything like most people, you were initially uncomfortable with the whole “life coach” thing. Some look at it with squinted eyes filled with skepticism and a mind that is thinking “what are your qualifications anyway”?

It’s understandable- I had the same hesitation when I became a life coach. I was concerned the field would be filled with people who wanted to be therapists but not invest in the schooling that would be required in that field.

Sound familiar?

What is a Life Coach?

What Does a Life Coach Do?
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Alright, so what is a life coach? And how do you know if you need a life coach or a therapist?

Think of these scenarios: where do new parents go when they’re struggling trying to balance kids and work? Where can you go when something isn’t right about your job or your relationship, but you’re not sure what that is. You feel stuck, you’re experiencing all kinds of cognitive dissonance, you want something different and aren’t sure how to achieve it. Do those feel more like ‘therapy’ questions or  ‘coaching’ questions?

Where can you go when you want to think clearly and take action? Where do you go when:

  •  Change is needed and you don’t know where to start.
  • You’ve tapped out your friends and family and want to talk with an impartial third party who can help you bounce ideas around and think things through.
  • You want an accountability partner to support you as you make a big change.
  • You want to level-up your game.
  • You and your partner are making big changes and you want a third party to support you each independently, and support your couple-ness as well

These are needs, real needs. And this is where a life coach fits in. If you want to learn more about how I coach my clients, go hereThis is the answer to the “what does a life coach do?” question.

When talking about coaching and therapy, we are talking about two different modalities. Yes, there is overlap, but the two are fundamentally different.

So, what are the differences between therapists and coaches? A simple — and clear — difference between therapy and coaching is that therapists are licensed, and often help people who feel like they are below baseline with their mental health find their way back to baseline. Therapists can treat mental illness, focus on your past and present, and bill through your insurance company.

Coaches work with clients who are at baseline and looking to level up. Coaches may often work in conjunction with therapists. Coaches provide accountability and goal setting support, helping you reach your desired outcome. They focus on your future and helping you develop within yourself to set and meet goals. Coaching is not covered by insurance.

Let’s take a look at a scenario to see how a therapist and a life coach might respond.

Scenario: My mother wasn’t very loving when I was growing up and now, I struggle to receive love from people.

Therapist’s approach: dig into your past, pinpoint crucial moments, helps you process the present as it relates to the past, may potentially give you action steps regarding your mother

Coach’s approach: asks you what your goals are regarding this challenge, helps you facilitate your own growth and serves as your guide and accountability partner for change.

Allison’s approach: This may come up during a coaching session, and I’d refer someone to a different specialist to work on this, either a therapist or someone who specializes in relationship coaching. This would inform the career / transition work we do, but it’s not my specialty.

Make sense?


Coach Definition

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.

We all have goals we want to reach, challenges we’re striving to overcome, and have times when we feel stuck. According to the ICF, partnering with a coach can change your life and set you on a path to greater personal and professional fulfillment- and I can’t say I disagree!


Coach Meaning

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Another great comparison to having a coach is having a consultant. Let’s take someone learning how to ride a bike. A consultant is going to read you the instructions on how to ride a bike- they are giving you all the keys to success. And you can do it, or not.

A cheerleader would root you on. They are the neighbors that stand on the sidewalk saying “you got this!!!”.

coach is neither a consultant or a cheerleader. We will help you develop the insight/skill as to how to ride a bike on your own. Coaches are the parents that set the training wheels a little off kilter so you’re wobbly, but can have confidence, and eventually run alongside you as you ride. We have bandaids and cold compresses because you will fall (and we don’t prevent you from falling). We help you reinforce your instinct as you figure it out yourself.

What is coaching? Someone providing you with strategic support and accountability as you clarify, pursue, and achieve your goals. Life coaches help you realize you CAN do anything.

Life Coach

Still thinking “what does a life coach do”? Hopefully not, but in the event that you are, click here to understand the coaching process. Life coaching is not endless counseling. You have regular sessions and clear action steps. Our coaching program has closure.


Find a Life Coach

What Does a Life Coach Do? Girl typing on her laptop
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We’ve established that coaching can be a transformational experience, but how do you find the right coach? To help you with this process, ICF developed the Credentialed Coach Finder (CCF), a free searchable directory with listings for thousands of qualified ICF-credentialed coaches worldwide. Individuals and businesses can use CCF to identify and select trained, qualified coaches best suited for their particular situation.

They also have prepared tips to keep in mind when looking to hire a coach.

Coaching can be the exact thing to take things to the next level.

If you are ready to see what that could look like for you, book an introductory session– by the end of it you will have: vibrant insights, action steps, and clear goals.

Your time is valuable, so let’s make the best use of it. This introductory session is designed to help you reframe your situation with a fresh perspective and create options to move forward.

Let’s do this. Let’s make change happen.

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