Life Coaching vs. Psychotherapy

The emerging field of life and recovery coaching has created a number of questions about their qualifications, practices, and why one would choose a coach instead of a psychotherapist. As a result, many clients who would benefit from the expertise of a psychotherapist instead seek out a life coach to receive what amounts to obtaining services that may be expensive, out of pocket, and could also be handled by other licensed professionals, volunteers, or 12-step programs.

Supposedly, life coaching differs from psychotherapy in that a life coach is focused on helping a client achieve a particular goal in the present, while a psychotherapist explores this and uncovers the root of what is keeping the client from obtaining that goal (past traumas, negative beliefs). Life coaches claim that they are concerned with improving their clients’ present and future, whereas psychotherapists are concerned with understanding how the clients’ past may be impacting the present.  How and why does this pattern seem familiar?

Actually, like a life coach, a psychotherapist can also offer advice and support to help a client achieve their goals and remove obstacles in their way, as well as create ways of coping with symptoms and learn self-regulation tools for self-care. Furthermore, a psychotherapist may not initially delve into a client’s past, and may ask as many or as few questions about their personal life as the client prefers, depending on what brings them to the therapy office.

A misconception about psychotherapists and psychotherapy is that they only serve the “mentally il” making therapy seem like a lengthy and time-consuming endeavor. This mental health “stigma” can lure many away from psychotherapy.  This can be from the fear of being diagnosed with a mental illness, or being referred for medical treatment that is more intense than what they need, such as going on medication.  Life coaching seems to be free of this burden, which implies coaching to be shorter and less involved.

Clients be aware!  Just because someone sees a psychotherapist does not mean that they are mentally ill, or that they have a mental health problem, and need medication. A psychotherapist’s clientele are usually as healthy, functioning beings as anyone else!  They may be seeing a therapist for any number of reasons such as anxiety, relationship coaching, addiction or substance abuse problems, life threatening illness, death of a loved one, childhood trauma, work stress, or simply to have someone to discuss their life within a confidential setting. One may see a psychotherapist for varying lengths of time, from many years to a single session, or come back years later for “a check in”.

As a profession, life coaching is not regulated. Psychotherapists are required to have a state license, a master’s degree from an accredited university in mental health to obtain the state license (passing a state exam) and obtain continuing education credits to keep the license active and current.  Life coaches do not require licenses, a degree from an accredited university or obtain the certification of life coaching organizations. And for those who do obtain a certification, the process lasts for merely several months or up to two years for the most prestigious programs, or as little as a few days. In any case, no life coaching program is accredited by a college or state licensing board, only by the International Coaching Federation, a private association.

Despite their lesser training, some life coaches claim to be an “expert” due to life experience which they deem qualifies them to specialize in areas that would normally be reserved for psychotherapists, or certified addiction professionals. A recovery/sober coach, for example, attempts to assist clients in recovering from a alcohol, drug, or behavioral addictions (internet, eating disorders, gambling).  A mental health coach deals with problems such as stress management or work-life balance. Yet, since they do not require specialty training, they are usually not covered by insurance and can cost more than psychotherapy.

If you are thinking about seeing a life coach to help sort out your issues, it is suggested you first do some research on their training, read their reviews, and also consider a psychotherapist or certified addiction professional who may be more qualified for the help you are seeking. Alternatively, you could seek out a life coach who is also trained as a psychotherapist:

Dr. Kathy…The Fun Therapist!  Check out her FUN™ Lifestyle Management Program on her website!