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.
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.
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.
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.