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Life Coaching vs. Therapy - What's the Difference?

Because life coaching is often confused with therapy, I thought I’d clarify the differences here.


According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), “life coaching” is defined as

“partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Life coaching, therefore, is a tool for self-realization. As much of self-development deals with perception, coaching is all about how the beliefs and actions of today can create the desired results of tomorrow. A life coach sees the coachee as resourceful, capable, and whole; the coachee comes to the coach because they may need a little help clarifying what they want and how they go about it, and the coach helps them examine the truth of their thoughts and fears so to ensure that they align with their actions and desired results. In classical coaching, the coach asks probing questions, actively listens, and repeats the coachee’s thoughts in an effort to untangle any cerebral knots. Because everything originates in the mind, untangling thoughts can mitigate fear and help the coachee move confidently towards the life of their dreams.

Therapy, however, is more reparative-oriented. In other words, trauma from the past is often stored in the brain (much like a corrupted file on a computer). Trauma-influenced thoughts create dysfunctional behavior, maladaptive patterns, addictions, compulsions, etc. Thus,

a therapist views the patient as needing repair and, given the gravitas of this work, a license is required. While a therapy patient may need a little help examining the truth of their thoughts, the ultimate goal is healing from the past.

Are life coaches like therapists?

Like a therapist, a coach asks questions; when the client's brain looks for answers, new and stronger neural pathways are made. A therapist typically is concerned with how the past impacts the present with the goal of getting the client to baseline functioning; once the client is there, a life coach is concerned with how the client's present impacts the future. (I like to think of past- and present-oriented therapy as passing the baton to present- and future-oriented coaching).

Can you see a therapist and life coach at the same time?

Of course. But remember, they serve different purposes. If an overweight person is struggling with eating issues stemming from childhood (and they are not at a functioning baseline), it would behoove them to receive therapy first. The therapist could help the person gain clarity as to what childhood patterns may have caused this behavior; a life and health coach could help the person set and achieve weight loss goals, develop eating plans, etc.

But here’s the thing about self-development: the coachee needs to be ready for it. No one else is experiencing that person’s life except for that person, so, for coaching to have maximum effectiveness, the coachee needs to take total ownership of his thoughts, feelings, and actions and abandon any semblance of a victim mentality. If a person is not ready to do that, then coaching is not appropriate (and could do more harm than good).

Couldn’t there be overlap?

There could be. For instance, there are trauma-aware coaches who have received specialized training. There are also people who seek out therapy when they really need life coaching. That’s why it’s important to identify what issues are at hand and clarify whether healing or self-realization is needed.

Do you need schooling to become a life coach?

No, but it helps. I completed the first part of my coaching education through Lumia Coaching School wherein I learned best practices and received a lot of training and experience. I intend to continue my education and become certified because I love this field and I want to know and learn more so to help more.

How do I know if it's for me?

Make an appointment and let's chat!




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