Its very common to hear people ask questions regarding the differences of life coaching and therapy/counseling. As a certified life coach that has met with hundreds of clients, I’ve had an opportunity to become very aware of both the differences and the commonalities between the two professions. This is well worth a deeper discussion and I’ll provide all the answers to the common questions I’ve heard regarding how these two services compare in this article.
As a side note, if you are looking for in depth information on how to become a life coach or are wondering what a life coach is, these linked articles may be a better starting point for you.Fundamental Differences of Life Coaching and Therapy
When I first decided to enroll in a life coach training program, a clear distinction was made as to what coaching was and what it was not. The job of a coach is to support a client to see clearly for themselves the right action to take. Fundamentally, a coach is dedicated to the principle that the client has their own answers. The coach recognizes that a client is not ‘broken’, they are whole and complete and nothing needs to be ‘fixed’ to engage an individuals passions and dreams. The coach is not a consultant prepared to provide an answer to the client and they are not an expert trained in providing a diagnosis. A client that engages a life coach is hiring an expert in self inquiry, in empowerment, goal setting and motivation.
OK, this does not sound a whole lot like a therapist or counselor. Certainly someone trained as a psychologist does have the skill set to diagnose, to provide counsel, to give the answers that a client may need to hear. This is one fundamental difference between coaching and counseling.
A mentor of mine told me that a psychologist is trained in healing the pain in the past whereas a life coach is trained in focusing on your dreams and passions and turning those into action. The result of counseling may be therapeutic, the result of coaching is always action in the physical world. If you were to look at the timeline of your life, the domain of a psychologist would be the day you were born up until today, the domain of a life coach would be today and into the future.What are the Commonalities of Life Coaching and Therapy
Both life coaches and therapists are trained listeners. They have developed a communication skill set that provides a space for clients to express themselves – albeit on different topics. A coach and a therapist will frequently meet in a similar setting – usually in an office for a scheduled time frame and they will meet on a regular basis as agreed upon. Life coaches will often offer phone meetings for clients as well which is something less often seen in a therapist setting.
Both a therapist and a life coach will communicate with you on a very personal and deep level. As such, both professions act under professional guidelines for confidentiality. I’ve had a number of clients tell me that they were working with a counselor in addition to the coaching and this has been a fantastic mix for them. Sometimes with these clients the topics shared in coaching may be similar to those shared in counseling. The difference is the focus of the conversation. Whereas the therapist will have a higher tolerance and ability to delve into the deep seeded ‘issues’ that are present, a coach will remind the client of their visions and goals and focus on potential solutions.What about Solution Focused Brief Therapy?
This is a very interesting question. About a year ago I had a client point out to me that they felt that coaching and therapy were very similar. I mentioned the differences noted above and she asked me what I knew about Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT). I had to admit I did not know much. She had been trained in this field and began to discuss how it is a branch of therapy focused on the present and future rather than the past. The focus is moving a client via action towards that vision.
Hummm. Wasn’t that interesting. Indeed it does sound a lot like life coaching. Now the methods and processes may be unique (and each coach has their own methods anyway), but fundamentally it sounds similar. The only difference I can clearly see is that SFBT seems to engage a clientele that is dealing with a ‘problem’. Life coaches are prominent in working with individuals and business clients for the purpose of achieving more success in life. This may or may not be related to any problems or issues perceived by the client.
Now if you are trained in SFBT – I would personally love to hear from you and have you write a guest article on my blog to provide more detail for my readers. If you’d be willing to do this – please contact me, I’d love to discuss more with you.What’s Better Coaching or Therapy?
Clearly the world of therapy at the date this article is written is immensely more popular than that of life coaching (however life coaching is gaining a lot of momentum). Life coaching as a profession really only emerged in its infancy in the mid 90’s. Therefore, therapy is better recognized and has a well documented track record. But is it better?
I believe that the question is really one of fit. What is it you are looking to achieve as you are considering a coach or a therapist. Is your focus on the past or the future. Are there overwhelming feelings and emotions that you need to work through to move on, or are you engaging in a vision of the future and you can’t quite figure out how to get there. Asking yourself these questions will provide you some instant guidance as to the appropriate path forward.

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