One of the most common misconceptions about life coaching is that it is therapy in disguise — or, worse yet, therapy from an unlicensed practitioner. In reality, life coaching is truly its own unique service designed to help ambitious achievers meet the outcomes that will bring them success and fulfillment. Here are some of the differences between life coaching and therapy, and a basic guide for when each service is appropriate.
Therapy, also called counseling or psychotherapy, is a long-term process in which a client works with a healthcare professional to diagnose and resolve problematic beliefs, behaviors, relationship issues, feelings and sometimes physical responses. The idea behind therapy is to focus on past traumas and issues to change self-destructive habits, repair and improve relationships and work through painful feelings. In this sense, therapy focuses on the past and on introspection and analysis.
Life coaching is a process which may be long- or short-term. In life coaching, a client works with a coach who is not a healthcare professional in order to clarify goals and identify obstacles to success and problematic behaviors in order to create action plans to achieve desired results. It takes the client’s current starting point as an acceptable neutral ground and is more action-based from that point onward.
The fundamentals of life coaching are what distinguish it from therapy. Life coaches do not diagnose, while therapists determine illnesses and pathologies so they can be clinically treated. Therapists analyze their client’s past as a tool for understanding present behaviors, whereas life coaches simply identify and describe current problematic behaviors so the client can work to modify them. In other words, therapists focus on “why” and coaches work on “how.”
Therapists help clients explore and understand their subconscious and unconscious mind. Their goal in this exploration is deep understanding. Life coaches focus on results and actions. Their goals can be measured with key performance indicators and specific behavioral outcomes and goals.
Therapy and life coaching do share certain traits and aims, however. Both therapists and life coaches work to enable clients to make positive changes in their lives and become more productive. While therapists do diagnose and treat from a healthcare perspective, not all therapy clients are ill; many healthy people seek the services of both therapists and life coaches. Therapists may at times work with specific results in mind, such as the cessation of a particular problematic behavior.
Despite occasional areas of overlap, however, the work and processes of therapists and life coaches are distinct.
Want to learn more? Check out the Life Coach v. Therapy Infographic!
Naturally, the decision to seek out a therapist or a life coach is a very personal one. It might help to imagine yourself getting ready to climb a mountain. You could either hire an expert sherpa and guide for your expedition or a doctor. Which should you choose?
If you are physically unwell, or would be in danger if you even attempted the climb, a sherpa and guide wouldn’t do you any good. You need to be at a baseline level of good health before you can make the climb at all, so if you’re not, you might need to see the doctor before trying something that challenging. However, if you’re healthy and just need someone to help you with climbing strategy, carrying the load of supplies and finding the best path, the sherpa and guide is the best bet.
The therapist is like the doctor in this example. He or she gets you well enough to take on major challenges in your life by exploring your mental and emotional well-being. The life coach is like the sherpa and guide. He or she has an expert knowledge of your climb and can help you reach the summit.
A life coach would be able to offer guidance by:
A therapist, on the other hand, focuses their conversation on ways to:
Although life coaches and therapists occasionally help clients with similar problems, their work is not the same. In order to get the right kind of professional expertise, it is crucial to know which kind of guidance will serve you best. Life coaching isn’t simply a watered-down version of therapy. It is a dynamic discipline designed to help motivate and inspire people to achieve more than they believe is possible.