If you are looking for help with life’s ups and downs, there are more options than ever. Psychotherapy has been the traditional choice for decades and has a well-established track record. Life coaching, meanwhile, has emerged in the past 20 years as an alternative and has been growing rapidly.
Both therapists and properly trained coaches can help individuals who want to make changes in their lives. If you have a mental health diagnosis (such as anxiety or depression), it might be best to see a therapist who has the licensure, education, and training to address your specific issue. As for coaching, one of the reasons for its increasing popularity is it remains largely insulated from the stigma that keeps many people from seeking a therapist.
As both a licensed therapist and a certified life coach, I hope to be able to clarify some of the issues worth considering when deciding whether a therapist or a coach is the best choice for you and your circumstances. The main, broad differences between therapy and coaching follow:
Therapists are licensed and regulated by the state in which they practice and must have the required levels of education, training, and continuing education to use the title of psychotherapist.
While many coaches seek specialized coach training and certification, there is no state board that requires this. In fact, anyone who wants to use the title of coach can do so because coaching is an unregulated industry at this time.
Goals and Expected Outcomes
People typically see a therapist because they have symptoms of a mental health issue and want to feel and function better. Therapy also helps individuals by increasing insight and self-awareness by identifying the roots of issues and problematic thinking.
Coaching tends to focus on the present and future rather than the past. Coaches help people identify their goals and the obstacles they are facing. Like therapy, coaching involves guidance and support but also places a great deal of emphasis on accountability, enabling people to do more than they might on their own.
Scope of Practice
Therapists work with individuals with mental health conditions, substance abuse, relationship difficulties, trauma, grief/loss, and a wide variety of day-to-day challenges and struggles. A therapist’s training allows them to work with people who have severe mental health issues, but they also work with individuals who are highly functioning but want more out of life by utilizing coaching tools and techniques.
If you are more comfortable knowing that the person helping you is a highly educated professional who is licensed and regulated by the state, shares a common language with other health care providers, and is trained to deal with the symptoms of mental health issues as well as the dramas and traumas of ordinary life, a therapist is your best bet.
Coaches work with people who are basically healthy and functional but not reaching their full potential. Coaching almost always addresses an individual’s mindset and attitude by uncovering self-limiting beliefs and negative self-talk. A person being coached is assumed to have all the answers they need within them; the coach’s job is to facilitate the discovery of those answers by asking the right questions.
Location and Format
Therapy most often takes place in the therapist’s office, and sessions are typically 45 to 50 minutes once a week. Therapists can only operate in the state in which they are licensed. A growing number of therapists now offer sessions by phone or online, but this is also regulated on a state-by-state basis.
Coaching sessions typically take place over the phone, but they can also occur in an office or online. Many coaches work with people on a weekly basis, but due to the lack of regulations in the coaching industry, there are no set standards or expectations. Coaching services can be offered in person, over the phone, via video chat, by email, by text message, or in any combination the coach chooses.
Fees and Coverage
Insurance companies set a range they consider “reasonable and customary,” and the marketplace tends to establish the value of therapy services based on the cost of living, the number of therapists in the area, and population density. Coaching services typically vary more widely in pricing; it may cost less than therapy or considerably more.
Another difference is that while therapists tend to charge by the session, coaches often price their services as packages or programs, ranging from six weeks to six months or longer. This is an important consideration because therapy is more of a pay-as-you-go expense, whereas coaching might be a larger upfront expense, requiring a more substantial financial commitment.
Therapy is often covered by health insurance because therapists are able to use reimbursement codes for the treatment of specific mental health issues. Coaching is not reimbursed by insurance companies at this time because coaches do not assign diagnoses.
A Matter of Choice
If you don’t need (or want) a mental health diagnosis, are not looking for insurance reimbursement, and want someone who will push you to move toward your goals rather than facilitate insight into your past, a growing number of coaches are waiting to work with you.
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