Life Coaches are becoming very popular and it is often difficult to know if you might want a therapist or a life coach. Here are some of the similarities and differences to help you decide for yourself.
The biggest difference between Life Coaches and Therapists is their qualifications and regulations. I am using the term, Therapist, to cover all licensed mental health professionals, such as Social Workers, Mental Health Counselors, Psychotherapists, Psychologists, etc. Therapists are licensed by a Board of Mental Health regulated by whichever state you are located in. They have to reapply for their license every few years, take a required amount of continuing education credits each year, and usually have graduated from a university with a Master’s level degree or higher. They have to follow strict ethics and guidelines, have regulated procedures, and can be called before the Board if their practices are called into question.
Currently, for Life Coaches, there is no regulated credentialing or standards. Anyone is able to become a Life Coach, either with training or without. There are groups working to form standardized credentials and requirements, but this is not in effect at this time. There are many levels of training a person can go through to become a Life Coach, but it is not compulsory. It is best to do some research into the Life Coach you are interested in and the training they have.
The next thing to consider is the type of services offered. A life coach and a therapist both help with either short term or long term issues. They can help motivate, provide support, and “coach” you toward accomplishing your goals. A therapist is also trained to look beyond the immediate to the larger picture, to help clear up issues that may continually arise, often from looking from where the issue originated, if that is part of your goal. A therapist is able to diagnosis more serious mental health issues, where a life coach is not able to diagnose.
One question that comes up is why Life Coaches offer appealing timelines for success, such as offering to help in a limited number of sessions or guaranteeing success. Therapists, who are bound by the ethics of their profession, are unable to guarantee anything for certain. You can always discuss time tables and make sure that your therapist understands your goals. Again, Life Coaches do not have anyone that regulates their claims. Someone might say, “But I only have a small issue, I don’t need to be in therapy for a year to help with it?” Both therapists and life coaches can work on small issues, you just need to find one that understands what you are looking for and also, what you are not!
Another question is about the quality of the relationship between the two. Life Coaches can be mentors, have dual relationships with you outside your sessions, and offer unlimited contact if they desire. Therapists, again, are bound to stay away from dual relationships and limit their contact with you in order to preserve good, healthy boundaries.
Overall, it comes down to personal choice. Therapy consistently fights negative stereotypes and bad press which can lead people to look for alternatives. Seeing a “Life Coach” certainly has less of a stigma than “going to therapy,” but the question is if less stigma is what is most important to you.