Life coaching vs therapy. Do you need a coach or a therapist?
When it comes to seeking support for personal growth and navigating life’s challenges, many people turn to professionals such as therapists and life coaches. But what is the difference between a life coach and a therapist and how do you know when to see a therapist and seek the support of a life coach? While both therapists and coaches can provide guidance and help individuals achieve their goals, there are some key differences between these two professions.
Table of Contents
Life coaching and therapy
The discipline of life coaching
Life coaching is a transformative process that seeks to empower clients and help them achieve their goals, aspirations, and personal development in various areas of the client’s life. It is rooted in the belief that everyone possesses the internal resources and resilience needed to create positive change and lead a fulfilling life.
In essence, life coaching is about bridging the gap between where you are right now and where you want to be. Life coaches work with you to clarify your vision, set specific goals, identify obstacles or limiting beliefs holding you back, manage challenges in your life, and develop strategies for moving forward. This process involves asking powerful questions, active listening, providing objective feedback, challenging assumptions, providing support and accountability, and partnering with clients as they navigate personal growth journeys.
Life coaching provides an invaluable space for self-reflection, self-discovery, and self-improvement. It offers a non-judgmental environment where individuals can explore different aspects of themselves—their values, beliefs, priorities, and passions—without feeling pressured or stigmatised in any way.
The discipline of therapy
Therapy is a collaborative process between a licensed therapist and an individual seeking support or guidance for mental health concerns. Unlike coaching, which focuses on achieving goals and personal development, therapy primarily deals with emotional healing, exploring past experiences, and addressing underlying psychological issues.
One of the key aspects of therapy is the therapeutic relationship that develops between the therapist and client. The bond creates a safe space where individuals can freely express their thoughts and feelings without judgement. Licenced therapists are mental health professionals that are trained to listen actively, emphasise their clients’ experiences, and offer insight into patterns of thinking and behaviour that may contribute to their psychological distress.
The relationship between a life coach and a therapist
The relationship between a life coach and a therapist is characterised by their respective approaches and goals. While therapists focus on addressing and healing emotional, psychological, and mental challenges, life coaches primarily direct their efforts towards empowering individuals to achieve personal growth, set goals, and improve their overall quality of life. Although both professions aim to support individuals in overcoming obstacles and achieving well-being, the methods and scopes of their practices differ significantly.
The key differences between therapy and life coaching
One key difference between life coaches and therapists lies in their primary focus. Therapy typically aims to address and resolve past traumas, emotional issues, and psychological disorders and focuses on mental health care. It delves into the root causes of problems and seeks to heal and alleviate mental distress. On the other hand, coaching concentrates on the present moment and emphasises personal growth, self-improvement, and achieving specific goals. Good examples here are a health coach, career coach, leadership coach, business coach, or relationship coach. In the coaching industry, although a life coach helps clients identify their strengths, values, and motivations, empowering them to create a plan of action to enhance their lives, coaches don’t focus on the past or treat mental health.
Another significant difference is the relationship dynamics between a therapist and a client versus that of a coach-client relationship. Therapists are considered subject matter experts who provide guidance based on their professional training and expertise in psychology or psychiatry, for example, a family therapist. The therapy process often involves the exploration of deeply personal topics in a clinical setting where there may be more emphasis on analysis and interpretation. In contrast, coaches act as collaborative partners who believe that individuals already possess the resources they need to achieve their desired outcomes. They facilitate self-discovery through thought-provoking questions while offering support, accountability, encouragement, and practical tools for moving forward.
Understanding these key distinctions can help individuals make informed choices about which approach best aligns with their needs for personal growth or healing at different stages of life. Whether one opts for therapy to address unresolved emotional issues or engages in coaching for achieving specific goals or personal development aspirations, these paths offer unique benefits that can lead individuals towards living a more fulfilling life on various levels.
Important similarities between life coaching and therapy
While life coaching and therapy are distinct practices, there are also notable similarities that make them more alike than different. Both approaches aim to facilitate personal growth and self-improvement. The primary focus of both disciplines is on personal development, and they share the goal of assisting clients in resolving issues that hinder their well-being and assisting individuals in navigating these areas of life. Additionally, both can be instrumental in promoting mental health by providing support, guidance, and accountability.
One significant similarity between life coaching and therapy lies in their client-centred approach.In both modalities, the client takes an active role in their own healing or growth process. Therapists and life coaches provide a safe space where clients can explore their thoughts, emotions, and experiences without judgement. They listen attentively to what the client shares during sessions to gain an understanding of their unique challenges and aspirations.
Another similarity between these two practices is the emphasis on creating positive change in clients’ lives. Whether through therapy or life coaching, professionals help individuals identify patterns or behaviours that hinder progress towards their desired outcome. By providing tools for self-reflection, offering alternative perspectives, or suggesting new strategies for action-oriented change, therapists and life coaches empower clients to take steps towards achieving meaningful transformation.
A last side comment: coaches don’t typically diagnose or treat mental disorders like therapists do. It’s common for individuals to seek help from a therapist and work with a coach at the same time to address different aspects of their current life.
Therapy session vs coaching session - the structure
The focus and goal of the session for the client will differ for each role. The way the sessions are organised and broken down is the primary distinction between a life coach and a therapist. While a therapist’s client sessions have no end date, a life coach will create action plans that span eight to sixteen weeks.
Therapy sessions are arranged over a predetermined length of time and usually last one to two hours. Similar to coaching, therapy has no set conclusion for the client. When a client feels they have reached the desired result in their mental health, a licenced therapist makes a decision or concurs with them.
The first session, commonly referred to as the intake, will be longer, much like in life coaching. Clients and therapists have the chance to get to know one another better and determine whether there is a fit during this session.
Working with a coach can take as little as 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how often the client wants to meet. While some clients might feel they require sessions every week, others might only feel the need for them once a month.
Because of the structure, the first session can be longer in order to collect information, discuss the client’s goals for their life, pinpoint obstacles, and spot bad attitudes or behaviours. In order to support effective progress, goal visualisation, and the development of strategies to reach those end goals, there will be scheduled time-based sessions.
Skills of a therapist and a life coach
The therapist as mental health professional
For a therapist to be licenced in the medical field, they must be certified and hold a master’s degree. To be able to treat mental conditions, they must hold a degree in psychology or a closely related field like nursing, medicine, or social work.
Its emphasis on mental health and emotional healing justified this level of qualification. Working with distressed individuals requires a high level of education, and those in this sector must comprehend both cognitive and emotional management in order to do this effectively.
A degree programme will educate therapists in a number of disciplines, including cognitive behavioural therapy, healing from prior trauma, understanding and adjusting to client reactions and emotions, counselling abilities, patience and composure under pressure, and the identification and diagnosis of mental health disorders.
The certified, professional coach
As of right now, coaching is regarded as an unregulated profession, meaning that anyone can provide life coaching services without needing to hold any specific credentials. However, certification for life coaches is frequently restricted to those who successfully complete an approved or licensed training course.
This is a crucial element when considering South Africa. The first stage in your coaching path is certification. The next step you might take from there is to think about being credentialed.
The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) requires all education and training providers to submit an application for accreditation with an Education and Training Quality Assurance (ETQA) agency. The only legal bodies in South Africa with the authority to support a Certificate of Competence are SAQA and/or the Department of Higher Education. This is a mandate by law. Certificates of completion are issued for all other certifications.
Anyone can design their own plan and even certification procedure because coaching is an uncontrolled industry. A professional umbrella organisation for companies offering mentoring and coaching services in South Africa is called COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors of South Africa). Despite not being a formal organisation, its users (clients) have access to a complaints mechanism for ethical issues, and its members (coaches) are required to abide by its Code of Ethics.
Furthermore, COMENSA is now required to screen training providers after previously recognising and registering them. There are three approval levels for training providers: gold, silver, and bronze.
The certified, professional coach
What about global certification? The International Coaches Register and the International Coaching Federation (ICF) are the two most well-known international statutory entities; there are literally hundreds of other accreditation agencies. These two multinational companies carry out a thorough evaluation procedure to guarantee that each coach and coaching course satisfies international criteria.
Need a life coach or a therapist? How do you know which one to choose?
When you are facing difficulties or obstacles in your life, it can be challenging to decide who needs to support you. Listed below are a few important topics to help you or those who might need further support decide which is the best reason to take action.
Visit a therapist
- You wish to recover from past suffering, trauma, or mental health concerns.
- You suffer from mental health symptoms such as
- eating disorders, or
- You require assistance since you are constantly feeling bad.
- Couples counselling is necessary to address marital issues and/or deal with a toxic relationship if you’re having trouble with it.
Consult with a life coach
- You wish to accomplish specific objectives in your life.
- You experience life-long stagnation and a lack of direction.
- You wish to advance to your next professional level.
- You’re searching for fresh challenges to ignite your progress because you feel like your life is going too smoothly or that you’re in a comfort zone.
- You want to start forming good habits and kick negative ones.
- You want to live your best life and be held more accountable.
- You want to step outside of your comfort zone because you feel like your life is “stuck in a rut.”
- You long for a meaningful existence but are unsure of where to begin.
- You would like advice on what would be best for you because you are unsure about the next phase of your life (i.e., you are having trouble deciding on a career and other important decisions).
- You are aware of all the things for which you are thankful, but there seems to be a gap in your appreciation, and you require a little more motivation to fill it in.
- To achieve a significant objective, like finishing a marathon, you want to find your inner motivation.
What is the role of the therapist?
A therapist is a mental health professional who is trained to assess and treat mental health conditions. They use various therapeutic techniques, such as psychotherapy, to support clients in overcoming their challenges and improve their overall well-being.
How do therapists help clients?
Therapists help their patients by offering a private, secure environment in which they can examine their feelings, ideas, and actions. Through active listening, empathy, and evidence-based interventions, therapists assist clients in gaining insights into their issues and developing coping strategies to navigate them.
What distinguishes life coaching from therapy?
While therapy focuses on healing and addressing past traumas or mental health conditions, life coaching focuses on helping individuals create and achieve their desired future outcomes, this focusing on the present and future. Another key difference between a therapist and a life coach also lies in their areas of focus and the training they receive. To summarise, therapists primarily address mental health issues, past traumas, and provide treatment for diagnosable conditions, wheras a life coach focuses on the present and future. Life coaches emphasize personal growth, self-improvement, and achieving specific life goals.
What is the difference between coaching and therapy in terms of time orientation?
Coaching typically focuses on the present and future, helping individuals set and achieve goals. Therapy, on the other hand, may delve into past experiences and emotions to address underlying issues and promote healing.
Can an individual be a life coach and a therapist?
Yes, it is possible for a therapists to train and become a life coaches. However, when acting as a therapist, they follow ethical guidelines and professional standards specific to therapy. In contrast, as a life coach, they would utilize coaching techniques to support clients in reaching their desired outcomes.
Some therapists may also choose to offer additional services as certified life coaches. However, it is essential to ensure that the therapist has the necessary qualifications and expertise in both therapy and coaching.
What is the role of a life coach?
A life coach is a professional who helps individuals identify and achieve their personal and professional goals. They support clients in creating action plans, overcoming obstacles, and making positive changes in their lives.
How do life coaches help clients?
Life coaches help clients by providing guidance, encouragement, and accountability. They work collaboratively with individuals to explore their desires, develop strategies, and take focused actions towards their goals. Through regular coaching sessions, life coaches empower their clients to move towards a more fulfilling and purposeful life.
Can a life coach provide therapy sessions?
No, life coaches are not trained or licensed to provide therapy sessions. They are not qualified to diagnose or treat mental health conditions. If an individual requires therapy, it is recommended to seek the services of a licensed therapist who specializes in the appropriate therapeutic approach.
When should you visit a therapist?
Therapy is a suitable option for individuals dealing with a wide range of mental health issues. Licensed therapists are equipped to address conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression, trauma-related disorders, addiction, relationship problems, and more.
What issues do therapists typically address?
Therapists are trained to address a variety of mental health conditions and challenges that individuals may face. These can include, but are not limited to, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and substance abuse.
When is therapy a suitable option?
Therapy is a suitable option when an individual is experiencing significant distress, impairment in daily functioning, or a desire for personal growth and self-exploration. Seeking therapy can provide valuable support and guidance during challenging times.
What are the benefits of seeing a licensed therapist?
Seeing a licensed therapist offers several benefits. Therapists are highly trained professionals who can provide an objective perspective, offer support and understanding, teach coping skills, and guide clients towards self-improvement and emotional well-being. Additionally, therapy sessions are confidential, allowing individuals to freely discuss their concerns without fear of judgment.
When should you consult with a life coach?
Life coaching can be beneficial for individuals who are looking to make positive changes in their personal or professional lives. It can help individuals gain clarity, set goals, overcome obstacles, and enhance their overall satisfaction and success.
What does a life coaching session involve?
A life coaching session typically involves a collaborative conversation between the coach and the client. The coach asks powerful questions to help the client gain insights, explore possibilities, and define actionable steps towards achieving their goals.
What can a life coach help you achieve?
A life coach can help individuals achieve a wide range of goals, including career advancement, improved relationships, increased self-confidence, enhanced work-life balance, better health and wellness, personal fulfillment and building a more fulfilling life.
How to choose between therapy and life coaching?
Choosing between therapy and life coaching depends on various factors. It is important to consider your specific needs, the nature of your challenges, and your personal goals.
What factors should you consider when deciding between a therapist and a life coach?
Factors to consider include the severity of your distress, the presence of a diagnosed mental health condition, and your preference for addressing past traumas versus focusing on future goals and personal growth.
Can someone see a therapist and a life coach simultaneously?
Yes, it is possible to see both a therapist and a life coach simultaneously. Each professional offers a different approach and can address different aspects of your life. However, it is important to communicate and coordinate with both professionals to ensure that their approaches are aligned and complement each other.
Is it necessary to become a certified coach to practice life coaching?
While certification is not a legal requirement to practice life coaching, it is highly recommended. Becoming a certified coach ensures that you have received proper training and adhere to ethical standards in your coaching practice.
What types of issues can a career coach help with?
A career coach can provide support and guidance in various aspects of your career, such as career transitions, job search strategies, interview preparation, and professional development. They can help you identify your strengths, clarify your career goals, and make informed decisions.
How does business coaching differ from therapy?
Business coaching focuses specifically on helping individuals improve their performance and achieve success in the business world. It may involve setting and achieving business-related goals, enhancing leadership skills, and overcoming obstacles in a professional setting. Therapy, on the other hand, focuses more broadly on mental health and emotional well-being.
How long does therapy usually last compared to life coaching sessions?
The duration of therapy and life coaching sessions can vary depending on individual needs and goals. Therapy may be more long-term, involving regular sessions over a longer period of time. Life coaching sessions are generally shorter in duration and may be more focused on specific goals or challenges.
What makes a good coach?
A good coach possesses strong listening skills, empathy, and the ability to ask insightful questions. They create a safe and non-judgmental space for clients to explore their goals and challenges. A good coach also has a clear understanding of coaching principles and techniques.
LEDISA Coaching Academy offers courses in Life Coaching and Counselling. Click on the link below to get more information on the variety of courses we offer: