What is the Difference Between a Coach and a Therapist

On the surface level, life coaching and therapy might seem similar. After all, they both include talking to a professional that can help you solve some problem. But, if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll learn that the two areas aren’t as much alike as they appear. 

As you’ll see, coaching and therapy deal with different types of problems, have different approaches, and even varying ultimate goals. 

Only therapy can help you deal with a mental illness 

Psychotherapists are trained to help people dealing with mental illnesses, while coaches are not. This is the most important distinguishing factor between psychotherapists and coaches.

Keep in mind that a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It is also more frequent than you might think. In fact, researchers have shown that one in four Americans suffer from some form of mental illness during their lifetime. 

Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are the most common types of mental health problems. If you or someone close to you is affected by them, therapy is the way to go. 

Past vs. future 

Even though there is a particular deal of overlap between these fields, therapy and life coaching have a different focus. In general, coaching is more focused on helping you achieve your future goals, while psychotherapy tends to have more of a past and present focus.

Of course, this division is not as strict as it might seem. Many coaches can help you understand how the past contributes to your present, and psychotherapists can help you achieve your future goals.

Therapy, also known as talk therapy, focuses on the long-term and works to understand your thoughts, moods, and behaviours. Meanwhile, life coaches aim to motivate, offer emotional support, and create confidence in their clients. 

Differences in payment

As stated above, therapists deal with mental illness. As such, they and their practices are sometimes covered by health insurance. This is not the case with coaching. Most of the time, if you want to consult a life coach, you’ll have to pay for it yourself. 

Always check to see if your insurance company considers psychotherapy a necessary treatment. 

Different ways to get accreditation 

Therapists, whether classified as psychologists or counsellors, have varying master’s and doctorate degrees and are licensed by their state. You can find a licensed therapist in Austin, for example, at the Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council’s website, however, it is different again for therapy for children.

All life coaches have to do, on the other hand, is obtain certification through an accredited program like the International Coaching Federation

One central point is that, for coaching, accreditation is not necessary but instead just strongly encouraged. Besides that, it’s not as strictly regulated as therapy is. 

When to choose life coaching 

Life coaching is highly beneficial when it comes to helping clients reach a particular goal. If you want to lose weight or make a significant career change, a professional life coach can help you get over obstacles you encounter and, more importantly, those you create by yourself, for yourself. 

A life coach can make you feel in charge – and accountable – for your progress by having someone other than yourself to answer to. 

Is therapy right for you? 

If you think that you need help at a particular aspect of your life and feel confused about which of these two professions would be the right fit for your needs, here are some things worth considering. 

Though all the talk about regulations and severe mental illnesses might make you think of therapy as something majestic and earth-shattering, you should know that that’s not necessarily the case. Therapy is also a way to establish better emotional wellness in your daily life.  

Simply put, you don’t have to go through a huge life event or trauma to benefit from therapy. Talking with a professional allows you to get a sense of how you appear to other people, helps you get feedback on whatever you’re feeling, and offers insight on how those emotions are affecting your everyday life.

How are coaching and therapy similar?

As you could see throughout this text, the two areas of expertise have way more differences than someone who is not familiar with them might think. 

However, one key component that brings them together – both therapy and life coaching help you become a better person, and both are focused on communication.

So, as a life coach can help you formulate a plan to make a significant change in your life, therapy can help you develop a strategy to handle a current hardship you may be facing. 

Research shows that social support can help build resilience against stress — a useful tool if you’re trying to make a significant life change. So, do your research and find a professional that suits your needs. No matter whom you choose, remember to approach them with an open mind. After all, communication is a two-way deal where you have to give something to get something in return.

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