5 key differences between life coaches and therapists and how you can help others without a degree as a life coach
Most people recognize that life coaches and therapists are not the same thing, but not everyone understands what the primary differences are or why it matters.
If you’re a life coach or considering a life coaching career, understanding the differences between coaching and therapy will benefit you because:
- Potential clients may ask you the difference between a therapy and your work as a life coach. Answering clearly and confidently will help you both discover whether that client is the right fit for you and your services
- You may encounter people who believe that life coaches can’t be taken seriously. Whether potential clients or even your own friends or family, you might want to help them understand that both coaching and therapy are valid for different reasons
- Understanding the distinct benefits of life coaching will help you differentiate your services from traditional therapy on your website and social media, making it easier to reach your most aligned audience
- You may work with clients who are also seeing a therapist or who would benefit from traditional therapy. Your understanding of the boundaries between your role as a certified professional coach and that of mental health professionals will help you serve your clients ethically and more fully.
Why am I qualified to talk about the differences between a life coach and mental health therapist?
I’m Mary Morrissey, and while you might be familiar with my work in the personal development space, you might not know that I also have a degree in counseling psychology. In fact, I counseled private clients for many years before I became a transformational life coach and certified thousands of successful life coaches myself.
I have a very real, personal understanding of the differences between coaching and therapy, and there are 5 key differences I think will help you in your understanding as well.
Life Coach vs Therapist: 5 Key Differences
1. A therapist’s primary focus is the past; a life coach’s primary focus is the future
One main difference between life coaching and therapy is the primary focus of the work.
While therapists are not limited to addressing a client’s past, traditional therapy often focuses on helping a person gain insight into past traumas and events. A therapist’s role is to help their clients review patterns from past experiences, analyze where they may be feeling hurt or fearful, and help them move beyond those experiences so that they are no longer affecting the present.
A good coach, on the other hand, will primarily help their clients with a focus on the future. Life coaches help their clients determine where, what, or who they want to be in the future and determine the best path to achieving those goals. Coaches assess the present to identify blocks, limiting beliefs, and patterns that need to be overcome, but rarely delve into the how or why of the past.
Carol Kauffman, PhD, ABPP, PCC, a clinical psychologist and professional coach, put it aptly: “A therapist follows a person’s trail of tears, while coaches follow their trail of dreams.“
2. Life coaches are driven by what a client wants to create, while therapists are driven by what clients want to heal
Both life coaching and therapy play critical roles in the personal development space, helping individuals make positive changes and improve their quality of life. However, the lens through which life coaches and therapists view a person’s current situation differs.
Therapists are driven by what their clients need to heal. Talk therapy and other forms of professional counseling can be an amazing way to help someone in deep pain to transform experiences and traumas in order to become a happier, healthier person. The main way therapy achieves its objectives is by addressing mental health challenges, mental illnesses, and emotional problems that life coaches are often not qualified to address.
Life coaches are driven by what a client wants to create. Their work focuses on future goals, action plans, and removing the obstacles between where a client is and their desired outcome. Coaching is, in essence, a co-creative process designed to help people achieve personal goals.
3. Therapy pursues personal growth with no end date, while life coaches typically work in finite timelines
Outside of some specific formats of therapy, most counselors conduct therapy sessions with their clients on an unlimited, ongoing basis, depending on their needs. A licensed therapist may work with a client for months or even years in a long-term process of exploring and healing.
Most often, life coaches in the coaching profession work on short-term, finite timelines. Life coaching services are usually offered in packages of sessions or through pre-designed programs aimed at helping people achieve specific results.
4. The role of a life coach is to guide as a partner, while the role of a therapist is to lead as an expert
When it comes to their relationships with clients, the roles of a life coach and a therapist differ. A therapist leads his or her clients as an expert, identifying the root causes of their struggles and creating a treatment plan to help them overcome.
Life coaches, on the other hand, are guides with the purpose of leading their clients to the truth, knowledge, and resources they already have within them.
5. Therapists are required to have a degree, while life coaches are not
As healthcare professionals, therapists are required to have an advanced degree in order to work with clients. In many places, state law requires a master’s degree or a doctorate degree in order to practice as an independent counselor or therapist.
The life coaching industry is not regulated in the same way. Coaches are not required to have a degree or even to be certified in order to become a life coach. However, the right certification or training program can help ensure your success as a life coach, and is highly recommended!
Life Coaching Allows You to Help People Without a Degree
At Brave Thinking Institute, we’ve spent decades training successful life coaches and equipping them with everything they need to make a meaningful impact in the world and an abundant income that supports a life they’d love.
We have the honor of helping people like you fulfill their calling to help others change their lives without having to spend years completing the schooling required to work in mental health care.
Our primary role is to help you design a life that you truly love living and turn that dream into your living, breathing reality by doing the same for others.
As a former counselor myself, I know that mental health services and professional counselors play a vital, irreplaceable role in helping people who are struggling with trauma and mental health disorders.
And I know that life coaches help people in equally important, yet different ways.
So, yes – there is a difference between life coaches and therapists, but they’re both necessary in helping different people reach their full potential.
If you’re passionate about helping others and are considering becoming a life coach, take our life coaching style quiz!
Your results will help you discover your unique coaching style, along with the strengths you can leverage to become a phenomenal coach and make a massive impact on the world.