Choosing between a therapist and a life coach is not a better or worse proposition. Everyone seeking help has their own unique needs. Every therapist and life coach has their own strengths. Therefore, the ideal scenario would involve compatibility. Do you want to create a plan and set goals? Are you looking for a deep exploration of your past and current patterns? Is this mostly about motivation or mental health?

Of course, you might be thinking, “all the above” and that’s fine. This brings us back to the ultimate goal of compatibility. To attain that goal, you’ll want to do some homework.

What Does a Life Coach Do?

This growing service is having a worldwide impact via techniques like:

  • Identify strengths and weaknesses
  • Setting goals
  • Overcoming obstacles
  • Finding motivation
  • Building self-awareness and clarity
  • Holding you accountable
  • Enhancing confidence
  • Helping you find a sense of purpose

Like coaches in other fields, your life coach seeks to empower you with the skills and ambition you’ll need to stay on the path you’ve targeted.

Don’t Therapists Do Some of This, Too?

Therapy is malleable to the client’s needs, so yes, some sessions can feel similar to life coaching. Hence, this comparison can be best performed in a general sense. With that in mind:

Life Coaching

  • Tends to be present- and future-focused.
  • Life coaching drives you to take actions
  • Depending on your goals, life coaching can center around financial advice
  • You won’t get a diagnosis
  • If you seek relationship coaching, you will get it
  • In the style of any coach, your behaviors will be guided and often turned into patterns

photo of woman across from her therapist in a sessionTherapy

  • Tends to be past- and present-focused.
  • Action is important, but insight comes first
  • Except in rare cases, therapists will not offer financial input 
  • Therapists have the training and experience to diagnose disorders and design treatment plans
  • Relationships are addressed through current patterns and previous attachment styles
  • Your behavior patterns will be revealed, root causes assessed, and you can draw conclusions from there.

In addition, therapists are state-licensed and governed by a licensing board. Most take some form of health insurance. Life coaches do not have a regulating body or specific requirements and they are not covered by insurance.

How Do You Choose?

If your budget and schedule allow, you can avoid choosing by opting to see both. Outside of that relatively rare approach, you’ll need to dig deep and ask yourself some blunt questions, e.g.

  • If I have a problem that needs to be addressed, is that problem hampering my day-to-day functionality? If so, therapy is almost always the best place to start. Never hesitate to reach out to a therapist if you experience symptoms that suggest the presence of a mental disorder.
  • Am I feeling lazy or unmotivated? Do I seem to lack focus and a mission? Therapy can help, but this is precisely what life coaching was designed to tackle.
  • Can I afford this service? Do I have adequate insurance and what’s the most I can realistically pay out of pocket? Financial realities can swiftly narrow down your options.

It May Come Back to Compatibility

If there is not an obvious mental illness present, your best choice might be the person with whom you have rapport. You’re going to spend time with either a coach or therapist, so you’ll want to like them, be inspired by them, trust them, and feel optimistic about what they have to offer. As much as you may want to start ASAP, you may be best served by taking your time. Talk to as many folks as you can. I’d love to talk to you to go deeper into these questions.