Life Coach vs. Therapist: What's The Difference?

Over the years, society has highlighted therapy as an outlet for healing in all areas of your life. The various mental health apps and platforms that have been created are absolutely amazing, and have played a major role in destigmatizing the negative associations with seeking professional help.



Within the last few decades, a newer form of healing and growth, known as Life Coaching, has emerged. "As a formal field, coaching is relatively young, but it has roots in many older disciplines. It draws on areas that include the human potential movement of the 1960s, leadership training, adult education, personal development, and numerous areas of psychology. Life coaching formally emerged during the 1980s and grew in popularity throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Some of the earliest life coaches focused on life planning, but the field eventually grew to encompass other life areas including relationships, finances, careers, health, and overall well-being." (Kendra Cherry, What Is A Life Coach?)


Many people may not know what a life coach provides and how it differs from therapy. Today we'll discuss the differences between therapy and life coaching.



Therapy focuses on mental health; Life Coaching focuses on pursuing goals

"The major difference between therapy and life coaching is the focus of the work: therapy focuses on mental health and emotional healing, while life coaching focuses on setting and achieving goals. While therapists are trained mental health professionals who are in the regulated field of healthcare and require licensure, life coaches do not have mental health training and are not equipped to diagnose or treat mental health conditions (unless a life coach was previously trained as a therapist, which is also common)." (Devorah Steinberg, Life Coach vs. Therapist)


When to see a therapist:

  • You experience mental health challenges that cause distress in your life (depression, anxiety, trauma, eating disorder, etc.)

  • You want to heal from past hurt or trauma

  • You need support navigating your emotions

  • You struggle with interpersonal relationships in your life and you want to learn strategies to feel less impacted by others

When to see a life coach:

  • You want to get 'unstuck' and set goals you will actually achieve

  • You are looking for a mentor to help you take accountability in your life

  • You need support with rediscovering yourself, your life purpose and planning the next steps in your life

  • You feel like your life is on autopilot, and want to challenge yourself or break out of your comfort zone


Therapy focuses on healing and releasing; Life Coaching focuses on forging a new path for yourself

Therapy is all about healing from your past and/or how to cope with your current challenges in life. It's a wonderful outlet and support system for releasing any emotions or thoughts you have bottled up. Therapists are mental health professionals who can provide new coping skills and a reframing of mind on whatever you're struggling with. Therapists are qualified to diagnose patients with any mental or emotional disorders and to structure their sessions to help work through these challenges.


Life Coaching focuses on why you're feeling stuck, why you have the desire to transform, what's working in your life, what's not working in your life, and establishing realistic goals you can achieve during the time spent together and beyond. Life coaches will normally provide weekly homework assignments for you to complete in between each session as a way to hold you accountable for making the change you so desire. The homework assignments will vary depending on what type of life coach you're working with.


For example, a Therapeutic Art Coach will assign different types of art assignments to help you discover more about yourself and release your emotions in a healthy and creative way. A Spiritual Coach may assign weekly tasks that have to do with meditation, chakra work or affirmations. A Confidence Coach may assign weekly assignments focusing on techniques to build more confidence and gain awareness and control over negative thought patterns.



Therapy is rooted in the past and present; Life Coaching focuses on the future

"In therapy sessions, you’re often returning to the emotional experiences, the patterns, the trauma, the learning, and the beliefs that you had in the past – and connecting the dots to understand how they have now brought you to this time with challenges. Therapy, at its core, is working on the psychological problems from their source and doing healing work. Essentially, in therapy you’re deeply examining the questions and solving them, so that you feel free to move forward." (Devorah Steinberg, Life Coach vs. Therapist)


Life coaching is all about where you are now and where you want to be in the future. When working with a life coach, you are being coached to change or rid of any negative patterns, and discussing ways to develop your dream life. Life coaches help you discover what's blocking you and how you can overcome this through actionable steps.


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Therapy sessions can be more fluid; Life Coaching sessions have clear structures and agendas

Therapy sessions usually don't have an agenda when meeting each week. It's a more fluid meeting that allows you to express yourself openly, discuss your progress and seek insight for how to continue coping with any current or past life challenges. Therapists are there for support and to create a safe space to discuss whatever it is you feel like talking about that day.


Life coaches will create an agenda for each client session. A typical session will discuss your progress, prioritize your strengths and values, and plan the next steps to help you reach your goals. Life coaching sessions are all about progress and being goal oriented.



Therapy has no "end-date"; Life Coaching has a clear start and end date

Therapy is an ongoing process. You can schedule as many sessions as you'd like in the future, as working on your mental and emotional well-being doesn't necessarily have an "end result." We are all works in progress. Therapy highlights the importance of continual healing work.


Life coaching is usually offered in packages for an average of 6-12 weeks. Some coaching programs may even be as long as six months to a year. Once you complete a coaching program, your coach may offer additional support sessions in a customized package for you to continue working together and maintain the mentorship. Because as we all know, once we achieve a goal, a new one will replace it, and the cycle continues. Having a life coach to help guide you along your goal-oriented journey can make all the difference in the world.



Now that we've covered the main differences between a therapist and a life coach, it's important to know that you are able to work with both at the same time. It's not required to choose just one or the other. That's what's so wonderful about having choices! You are capable of creating the life you desire through therapeutic support and mentorship from a life coach.


 
"If you don't make the time to work on creating the life you want, you're eventually going to be forced to spend a lot of time dealing with a life you don't want." - Kevin Ngo

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