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.

Gobble Gobble Gratitude

Writing this on Thanksgiving is appropriate as it is a day when many of us do focus on our blessings. But what about the other days of the year?…I would guess not unless the habit is being nurtured.

 We are genetically programmed to scan our environment for threats to our survival. Maybe it is not a Wooly Mammoth chasing us anymore but perhaps it is a job that is not secure and threatens our survival in that way.  So the worriers of the past have survived and passed down this trait.  Our bodies cannot decipher old school threats from the modern ones. This fact has us look at the negative in sharper focus than the positive.  

We can create new habits and influence our outlook in a meaningful way.  My love affair with the brain has to do with how, with some help, it can be shaped and molded in beneficial ways to live better, more peaceful, happier and healthier lives.  The neuroscientists call this phenomenon plasticity.

The research is clear- expressing gratitude has benefits proven by science; psychological, physical and social benefits. A 2005 study (Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson) concludes that keeping a gratitude journal causes less stress, improves sleep quality and builds emotional awareness. Many other studies find additional benefits that are just a Google away!

As a life coach, I offer texting or emailing in between sessions as part of the package. These communications offer brief encouragement and are in no way meant to replace sessions.  I have clients now who send me a daily text of gratitude in their lives.  It is a perfect way for them to stay accountable until the habit is firm and more automatic.

It should take no more than two minutes a day to jot down one to three positives. Writing it down in detail helps but is not necessary.

So the question I have received is what if there are simply no positives. I would gently disagree and say there always is, if one digs deep enough. In the midst of a very difficult divorce, which is now an amicable situation, I was at a low point.  Extremely low.  In my driveway, I was sitting in my car on a cold, gray winter day feeling lost. It began to snow big, beautiful fluffy flakes, the kind that float.  Amidst my fear and grief, I saw beauty and I felt joy. All those things could exist together.  I picked up a mandarin I had on the passenger seat and slowly peeled it and ate it sweet and tangy section by sweet and tangy section.  It gave me the glimmer of hope I needed to help my children and I through a tough time. And I vowed to be grateful for the simple things when the big things seem daunting.  Begin small.  A pen that writes well. A warm bowl of soup. A smile from a stranger or a loved one. And build upon it. The more we seek out the positive, the more it seems to seek us.

After a Thanksgiving filled with love and laughter and scrumptious food, I felt ridiculously blessed when my little dog Darth, curled up on my lap and gave out one of his signature contented sighs.

Start today.  Start simply. And watch the blessings stack up. 

Tell me about you!

Don’t Hire Jackie, Hire Me
THE CONNERS - "Keep on TruckinÕ" - In the premiere episode, "Keep on TruckinÕ," a sudden turn of events forces the Conners to face the daily struggles of life in Lanford in a way they never have before. "The Conners" premieres TUESDAY, OCT. 16 (8:00-8:31 p.m. EDT), on ABC. (ABC/Eric McCandless) SARA GILBERT, LAURIE METCALF

Don’t Hire Jackie, Hire Me

My career as a life coach started 14 years ago. The question I was most asked then was, “What is a life coach?” Flash forward to 2019; most people now know what this profession is and what it means. It is even finding its way into the wacky writing of sitcoms.  In the show The Conners, Jackie Harris, Laurie Metcalf’s character is dabbling in coaching. She claims she IS a life coach, albeit a nightmarish, quirky and questionable one.  With her intense and unconventional methods, it stands to reason that she is trying to open up a stew restaurant to add to her income.

So in the real world, why hire a life coach? The general answer is to succeed at life. Two more specific reasons are to gain clarity and add accountability. Even when we know what needs to happen to achieve a goal, the amount of distractions that pull us away has increased exponentially. (A future blog will be solely dedicated to this phenomenon)  Even as I write this, I know well enough to know that my phone needs to be in the other room or this will not be written efficiently…or at all. While attention spans have decreased, anxiety and depression have increased. People under 25 are among the most afflicted.  

What can you do about this? Small daily changes that move you in the direction of long term goals.  And an experienced coach (me not Jackie) can help you become and remain focused.  

There is a myth frequently written or spoken that is takes 21 days to create a new habit. Research has debunked this; said research is in line with what I see when clients create new and better habits…It takes longer. 

Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College in London published a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology which found the average rate of habit formations was 66 days and the longer timeline stretched to 254 days. A few fast folks took only 18 days but this, in my professional experience, is rare. The people in the study had to track their progress and had a built in support system.

A life coach is a personal and professional support system for you.  For your hopes, dreams, goals and well being.  Coaching can help you dismantle the internal and external obstacles to your success.  Accountability for your stated goals. Clarity for what holds you back.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have cared deeply about helping people. You could say it is woven in my DNA. Hire a lifetime of experience for deep and lasting change.  

Tell me about you!

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