What’s the Difference Between Life Coaching and Psychotherapy?

What’s the difference between Life Coaching and Psychotherapy?

by: Johnny Blogger consultant with

The primary difference between a life coach and a psychotherapist or mental health counselor is that psychotherapists and counselors commonly “treat” clinical issues, such as an existing mental health problem like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. A life coach however does not treat anything. Therefore, life coach services are not covered by insurance programs.


Another difference between traditional psychotherapy and Life coaching is that in psychotherapy, the client is generally going through severe pain and suffering. They are seeking relief and looking to the therapist to “fix” them or help them eliminate their problem. The client will seek therapy to deal with their acute distress so they can then leave, terminate the relationship, and resume their previous life. In short, they are being treated for something.


More about the differences between Life Coaching and Psychotherapy


In Life Coaching, the relationship may typically be short term or it could last months and years. Sometimes there are situations where a client wishes time-limited life coaching , such as being coached through a special project or personal transition. An example might be learning how to better communicate in preparation for a job interview or promotion.  This is different from psychotherapy where there could be a brief encounter with a therapist for a specific issue or concern, such as overwhelming grief over the loss of a loved one. Sometimes the client may be severely emotionally damaged and need to stay in psychotherapy for many years simply to maintain an emotional holding pattern. Again, the primary difference is that Life Coaching is not focused on treating a problem – where psychotherapy is.


Differences in boundaries between Life Coaching and traditional Psychotherapy/Counseling


The boundaries that exist in the psychotherapy relationship are quite rigid. This is mostly because the patient/client is usually suffering a clinically diagnosable condition, and sometimes they can be very fragile emotionally. Breeching these boundaries can often be devastating for the patient/client. Some boundaries can include no contact outside of the therapeutic setting, e.g., office, clinic, hospital, etc. except in very rare and extenuating circumstances. Self-disclosure on the part of the psychotherapist is generally minimal. Also, allowing a genuine two-way dialogue to evolve is not supported. Life Coaching has a much more flexible set of boundaries. The assumption is that the life coach is dealing with an emotionally healthy, relatively well-adjusted and effectively functioning individual. Therefore, appropriate self-disclosure by the coach, more authenticity, lightness, fun and friendliness in the relationship is often the rule.


About the author:


Johnny Blogger is a consultant in the mental health field and contributes his marketing services to organizations such as 2nd Story Consultants in Chicago at