Life Coach, Therapist, or Life Coach Who Was Trained as a Therapist?

Coach gives lecture to out-of-focus group of adultsAs a transformational therapist and a mindful-empowerment coach, I am often asked to explain the difference between therapy and life coaching. It makes sense people would want to know. After all, when you have life goals you want to achieve, it behooves you to make an informed decision about which professional is most suited to help you reach those goals.

Therapy and life coaching differ in some notable ways.

Education and Training

Therapy, sometimes called psychotherapy, is generally a highly regulated profession by state. Therapists are either master’s degree holders (MA, MSW) or doctoral degree holders (PsyD, PhD). They usually have attended anywhere from two to seven years of school past their undergraduate degree. Depending on the state, they will have a license commensurate with their degree and certain qualifications met postgraduate training. For a licensed professional counselor (LPC) license, for example, a person is required to complete the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) exam. In Colorado, where I work, therapists are required to renew their license every two years by completing and accounting for continuing education (CE) credits, which allows us to stay current on best practices.

Life coaching, however, is relatively unregulated. You can find coaches who have taken various trainings and received certifications. There are even membership and training associations, such as the International Coaching Federation. But there is no central, regulating, or accrediting body for coaching professionals. There is also no licensure and no requirement for continuing education. Coach training programs range anywhere from one weekend to several weeks. The instructors of these programs may have any level of experience.

Focus of Sessions

Therapists are highly trained in clinical psychotherapy. Good therapists should be competent at working with a variety of mental health-related issues, including managing chronic conditions, trauma resolution, coordinating care with psychiatrists and other mental health care providers, and people looking to do depth work or focused growth work.

Coaching would not be appropriate for people still learning to manage mental health issues or processing trauma.

Coaches may have varied levels of training, so it’s always important to check their background and education. This may or may not be important to you, depending on what you intend to use the coach for. Coaching is not a replacement for therapy. Coaching generally focuses on your future goals and the steps and practices to get you where you want to go. Coaching would not be appropriate for people still learning to manage mental health issues or processing trauma. People ready for coaching are generally optimally functioning, goal-focused, personally driven individuals.

There are other differences as well, but we’ve covered some of the biggest.

Is a Coach Who Was Trained as a Therapist Right for You?

Some people interested in coaching prefer to hire a coach who was also trained as a therapist. There are many reasons a person may choose to do this, including:

  • There may be comfort in knowing the coach has extensive training in direct service to people.
  • If the person brings matters more appropriate for therapy, the coach-trained-as-therapist should know when to redirect and refer.
  • Coaches without therapeutic training may not realize when a coaching session is beyond their scope of practice (i.e., may not know when to refer).
  • Even if a coach trained as a therapist won’t be able to do trauma resolution or manage chronic mental health issues with you, they should have a deeper level of understanding about those experiences and any processing you may have already done in therapy.

If you’re not sure whether it’s best to find a therapist or a life coach, the best advice I can give is:

  • Write down what you hoped to have achieved when the therapy or coaching relationship is over.
  • Bring that list of goals to the first therapy or coaching session.
  • Discuss your goals with each professional you interview.
  • Ask each professional how and if they can help you achieve those goals.

The answers to those questions will give you valuable information about whether that professional is the right fit for you.

References:

  1. Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies – State Board of Licensed Professional Counselor Examiners: Laws, Rules and Policies. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dora/Professional_Counselor_Laws
  2. International Coaching Federation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.coachfederation.org/
  3. National Board for Certified Counselors. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nbcc.org/exam/statelicensureexamregistration

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 7 comments
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  • Solomon

    April 14th, 2017 at 7:46 AM

    Well I guess that for the most part it will all depend on what you are wanting to get out of your sessions. Personally I would love to just have someone with me that I can work on with life goals and how to overcome some of the challenges that I have been facing so I think that a life coach would probably be the best step for me.

  • Reaca

    April 14th, 2017 at 9:24 AM

    Absolutely, Solomon! Who you hire and what training you’d like them to have totally depends on what your goals are for life coaching. Thank you.

  • Peg

    April 15th, 2017 at 5:54 AM

    I actually think that I could probably thrive with someone who has a little bit of training in each field. I have some deep issues that probably need to be addressed but at the same time I have some surface things that I think that a life coach could help me out a little bit with too.
    I would be open to anything , just something to help me make my life not only better but also to help me become a better person with a greater understanding of myself and the world around me.
    Is that too much to ask?

  • Reaca Pearl

    April 15th, 2017 at 10:16 AM

    I don’t think that’s too much to ask at all! And since you know what you’re looking for it will be easier to “interview” potential providers. I offer free 30 minute consults to potential clients to see if we’ll be a good fit. It’s definitely something you can ask for. Good luck!

  • Genn

    April 17th, 2017 at 8:55 AM

    When all else fails you can always rely on a good friend too! The advice may not be professional but sometimes what you need is just someone who will listen.

  • Lou

    April 18th, 2017 at 10:46 AM

    I seriously didn’t know that there was such a thing as a life coach?

    this hasn’t been anything that has ever been on my radar but man, i does sound not only like a very cool job but also a great encounter to go through if your looking for some guidance and positive energy in your life.

    I guess that I am usually so hamstrung by a tight budget and only doing things that hopefully my insurance will just at least cover a portion of that I have never even considered that there could be something like this out there that could be a possibility for me.

  • Reaca Pearl

    April 18th, 2017 at 2:22 PM

    Yes! Life coaches do exist! I definitely understand the insurance and tight budget constraints. Most life coach services, in my experience, aren’t covered by insurance. However, some employers do offer free access to EAPs (employee assistance programs) which sometimes offer life coaching, or comparable services. Check with HR to see if you’ve got an EAP.

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