There is some confusion about the difference between a Life Coach and a Therapist.
Well, good news! I’m here to help sort things out. Having engaged the services of both at different points in my life, I can safely say that while there is some overlap, both serve very different purposes.
Firstly, I hope that both are caring individuals who truly work to better your life. There’s nothing worse than a professional who reminds you of their own life story with every step you take. These sessions are not for helping the professional process their own emotions around your paint points. Once in a while, a personal nugget from them could be helpful, but their focus should always be you and seeking ways to better your life.
I once had a therapist who would openly and regularly relate my struggles with how her husband handled a similar issue. Whenever she interrupted to tell me how she related to what I’d just mentioned, she put an abrupt end to my own processing and made me question whether this space was really designed for me. In this context, it’s never your job to carry someone else’s burdens. Their focus should always be with you, and they will show this by helping to create a safe, supportive environment where you can show your own vulnerabilities.
With both professionals, you should be at the center of determining your own path. In other words: each one should allow you the freedom to choose whether you want to tackle Problem A, Problem B, or neither. The professional’s own agenda should never be a part of the picture.
You will only go as far as your brain is willing to take you in the moment. If there is strong resistance to opening up an area that doesn’t seem safe to you, there are reasons for this; and a kind, compassionate, and in-tune coach or therapist should work with you to help you explore why that might be. But they should never push you into territory you’re not ready to explore.
Therapists obtain special training in different modalities, whether it be Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye-Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR), Internal Family Systems (IFS), or a whole host of other methods. They are regulated by state boards, and they must obtain licensure from their practicing state to work with clients. Ongoing education is required to maintain their license. And because their work is seen as a part of the healthcare field, therapists can choose to bill insurance agencies for services rendered.
Life coaches, on the other hand, are currently not regulated by the state (though there is talk that this may change in the near future) and cannot be reimbursed by medical insurance. Most life coaches receive some formalized training that follows International Coaching Federation (ICF) standards; oftentimes, certifications can easily be found on the coach’s website.
Coaches are there to work with you in different domains of your life. They help you craft goals, and a good one will walk you through action steps so that you can fulfill your dreams. A good life coach will also help you identify pain points that can prevent you from moving forward. We all experience blocks at different points in our lives: talented life coaches will help you remove your blocks and uncover your best Self.
Many coaches I’ve met see the value of adding this education to their knowledge base after years spent in other, often complementary, career fields. After I spent years mentoring others in both the higher education and nonprofit sectors, adding life coaching to my skill set made sense. You will often find that therapists, consultants, and even priests looking to pivot into tangential career fields will add this certification to their resumes.
As a former CEO and having been through some very tough times both personally and professionally, I wanted to help people during their transitions in life. Change is hard, and I am only standing today because I had many coaches and other professionals by my side.
If you allow it, these periods in your life can lead to real transformation. As I reflect on what I went through in the Spring of 2023, I feel gratitude for my life coming to a screeching halt. That period allowed me to really reflect on who I am, and who I want to be.