Life Coach vs Therapist

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Want help, but confused over whether the best thing for you at the moment would be a life coach or a therapist?

What is talk therapy?

First things first -- ‘therapist’ is an umbrella term these days which here in the UK can apply to a counsellor, counselling psychologist, or psychotherapist.

And it can mean they have studied one of a now huge list of talk therapies, from psychodynamic to existential, humanistic to cognitive, etcetera.

But in general, a talk therapist, if they are using the term correctly (always check their credentials as it’s not illegal to call yourself a therapist in the UK with zero qualifications) is someone who has studied a form of counselling or psychotherapy. Even a ‘counselling psychologist’ would have done a Master’s after their psychology degree that integrated learning forms of psychotherapy.

Counselling and psychotherapy aim to help you feel better about yourself and your life.

What is coaching, then?

Coaches study, well… coaching.

Like talk therapy, coaching has become a massive industry, so you will hear of different kinds of coaching, like ‘NLP coaching’, ‘executive coaching’, ‘cognitive coaching’, and ‘humanistic coaching’.

“Wait a minute,” you are thinking. “Aren’t those terms similar to the types of talk therapies you mentioned just a minute ago?”.

And you would be right. Coaching and therapy have in fact had their boundary increasingly blurred over the last decade. Nowadays, some talk therapists integrate coaching techniques, and some coaching schools integrate psychotherapeutic theory into their training.

So then what is the difference between a life coach and a therapist?

The original difference is that therapy focuses on helping you understand and feel good about yourself and your life, and coaching focuses on helping you achieve goals and move forward.

This means that coaching is more focused on your present and future. What decisions can you make now to reach the future goal you desire? Whereas talk therapy looks at your present as well, and considers your future, but might also look to your past to discover how you ended up with the issues you are now dealing with.

But again, lines have blurred. Some coaches will also briefly touch on your past to help you understand yourself. And some newer types of talk therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are present-focused and hardly mention your past at all.

So then should I hire a coach or a therapist?

It really depends on what you most want to deal with at the moment.

Do you have an exact goal you really want help reaching? Or are you dealing with one big decision or life transition, like changing careers, finding a relationship, or launching a business? Coaching, with its focus on clarifying what you want and taking action, might be best.

Do you want to move forward in life, and but are you aware that you have long standing issues that are the root of your problem? Negative thinking, traumatic past experiences, relating patterns that hold you back? And do you want to understand yourself, or get help with your moods? Talk therapy would be a better fit.

Or try the best of both worlds….

While a coach might have brief training in psychotherapeutic models, their training is mostly about the coaching process. And note that training is about a year’s worth at most, spread out across weekends or week-long intensives.

A talk therapist who has done some training in coaching, on the other hand, will have spent minimum three but more likely four or five if not more years at school studying talk therapy, either full-time or part-time. And that would be followed by being supervised for a period of time by a more senior therapist advisor.

Again, if what you really need is a big push into action, a talented coach is a godsend.

But if you want the best of both worlds, then a talk therapist who uses coaching methods is a reliable choice who might offer more options for approaching your life challenges.

Time to bite the bullet and book that coach or therapist and get your life back in gear? Use our easy booking tool to make the first move today.

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