The Differences Between a Life Coach and a Therapist

The field of life coaching is still in its infancy, so it should come as no surprise that new and potential clients have a lot of misconceptions regarding what it is and what it’s not. Many people assume that it’s just therapy with a different name. This isn’t true, though. Although both services help clients improve their lives and find healthier ways to handle mental health problems, life coaching is a unique field that requires different training and expertise.

Typical Clients

While therapists usually work with clients who are struggling with acute or chronic diagnosable mental illnesses, life coaches focus more on helping people learn how to clarify and achieve their goals, while helping with prior mental health problems from a holistic approach. They treat the client’s current position in his or her life as a starting point then assist with developing strategies for achieving desired results. This may involve identifying obstacles or problematic behaviors and coming up with solutions for moving past them but the focus is on moving forward, not addressing past traumas. Also, coaching is a viable alternative for people who feel there is a stigma associated with psychotherapy and the subsequent diagnosis and not with coaching.

The Why vs. the How

Therapists focus on identifying why their clients are struggling with particular problems or behavioral patterns, while life coaches focus on helping their clients figure out how to work toward a particular actionable goal. The focus is less on a subconscious understanding of behaviors and patterns than on actions and results. This makes life coaching a more practical option for people who are looking for help with clarifying personal and professional goals, achieving financial security, holistically attaining mental and physical health, or working toward other tangible goals.

Finding Solutions

Since therapists often work with clients facing particular mental, emotional, or behavioral problems, their focus is typically on finding coping strategies and healthy ways to deal with those problems. Life coaches tackle some of the same issues, but they also help clients find solutions and execute actionable steps as well as coping skills. They empower clients to find answers that work for them using non-directional feedback instead of guided conversations.

Measurable Results

It can be difficult to tell if therapy is really working because the results of all that hard work occur on an internal, often subconscious level. Since life coaches support clients in making specific, measurable changes, it’s easier for clients to create benchmarks and identify whether the strategies suggested by the life coach are working. More often than not, achieving benchmarks with the help of a life coach requires making external changes while working with a therapist creates an opportunity for only internal change.

Schedules and Time Frames

Many clients who visit therapists see them for years at a time or even the rest of their lives. When clients engage the services of a life coach, they typically do so for a certain predetermined time frame. During this time, the client and the life coach will work together to come up with and implement an action plan and then evaluate its effectiveness. When the sessions come to an end, the client should already be seeing the results of his or her hard work.

The Bottom Line

Need help coping with past trauma or identifying the subconscious motivators of problematic behaviors? Head to a therapist.

Want to tackle mental health problems while creating and implementing a tangible plan for reaching personal and professional goals? A life coach is a better bet.

Dazzling Distractions

We live in the golden age of distraction. Would you agree? Study after study shows our attention spans are dwindling. Why? Maybe it has to do with the mini computer that is in everyone’s purse, pocket or hands. Market researcher Dscout says that Americans touch their phones 2,617 times per day on average! What?! How do we get anything done?

For fun, I looked up the attention span of a squirrel on Answer ™. Whether true or not, it makes a lot of sense. It said that a squirrel has an attention span on normal things for about one second and about four minutes on acorns and nuts. We, like the cute furry rodents, need something important to focus on to curb the distractions.

I have noticed that for us to increase our attention spans, it is essential to know our mission and purpose and goals. Without this knowledge, darn near anything can compete for our easily diverted attention. I have a successful client who, like most of us if we are honest, struggles to stay on task with her work from home business. She calls being present and focused, “butt in chair” time. With practice, her productivity has increased along with her pride and happiness.

We cannot improve our focus unless we know for what we are improving it. My suggestion is to write down your top 3-5 daily or weekly goals and use those for a starting point. I recently read about an academic scholar who was once a voracious reader but now has trouble completing a book. His fate has become a common fate… my fate, too. I was an active child but also a lover of books. My father took me to the library often and I would power through a stack of books before they had to be returned. I am in the process of retraining myself how to read a book without the urge to check my phone. And it is DIFFICULT.

Older Americans who have not grown up with a smartphone are superior in the ability to focus on complex tasks without getting bored or frustrated. This was discovered by Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor and author of The Attention Merchants.

I have come up with a four step plan to increase attention span and decrease distractibility.

1- Write down your daily or weekly goals on paper or electronically.

2- Keep electronics away. If the task requires them, resist the urge to use non-related apps or visit other sites. This will take practice and patience.

3- Use a time management app like Pomodoro Timer or another. Which will build into it step #4

4- Reward your sustained and improved attention. Pick something meaningful to you. I plan to roll out my back and leg muscles when I finish this post. A self chosen reward will reinforce the behavior you want to increase- better attention and ability to focus.

Let’s swim against the tide and improve our focus. Together! I predict the world will belong to those who can focus in a sea of distractions without drowning.

Need more help? More accountability? I may be just the coach you need.

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