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Emotional Wellbeing

Life coaching vs therapy: how to choose the service you need

Article • 4 min
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When seeking professional help to change your life for the better, you’ve probably noticed the blurred distinctions between life coaching and therapy that make you wonder which way to go. While both practices are intended to improve your life, they have completely different frameworks and areas of focus. And your choice will depend directly on the type of issue you want to address and solve. 

In this article, we’ll clarify the key differences between life coaching and therapy and explain which type of help is best suitable for your needs. 

What is life coaching?

Life coaching is the practice of helping people reach their personal goals by overcoming limiting beliefs and setbacks. Life coaches provide ongoing support, guidance and resilience in a wide range of areas, such as relationships, career, life satisfaction and self-confidence. Their job is to maximize clients’ potential by identifying their areas of growth and monitoring the progress. 

Who is life coaching for? 

Life coaching is of great use for anyone who: 

  • Gets overwhelmed with personal problems
  • Wants to change their lifestyle
  • Wants to get clear on what they want from life
  • Strives to have better career perspectives
  • Wants to get rid of toxic relationships 
  • Needs guidance to achieve goals faster

Simply put, coaching helps people from all walks of life identify their concerns and take measurable steps to reach the desired level of balance and fulfillment. 

What is therapy? 

Therapy, on the other hand, narrows down to providing clinical-based treatment in the field of mental health. Therapists specialize in treating mental issues such as anxiety, ADHD, depression, eating disorders, etc. A client works together with a healthcare professional to diagnose and heal from adverse life experiences, unwanted behaviors or physical reactions that appeared as a result of these events.   

Who is therapy for? 

Therapy is the right choice for people who suffer from mental health issues such as:

  • Addiction
  • Grief and loss
  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Personality disorders

5 main differences between life coaching and therapy 

  1. Accreditation

    To become a practicing therapist and gain experience in the field, one must hold a master's degree or a Ph.D., Psy.D. or M.D. with a state license. Therapy is strictly regulated given the complex areas therapists work in. Diagnosing and treating mental health problems is also impossible without years of clinical experience and passing a specialized board exam. 
    In comparison to therapy, coaching has no regulating party that controls the industry. Therefore, there’s no demand for a specific type of license or training to become a professional life coach. But aspiring specialists pursue their coaching careers by undergoing training and receiving an IFC (International Coaching Federation) certificate, which gives them an official qualification to practice coaching and work with clients. 

  2. Direction

    Therapy requires taking a step back and reflecting on past experiences to understand current behaviors. There’s a clear-cut approach that involves deep analysis of a certain issue, its further diagnosis and treatment plan. Therapy has psychological implications that require diving into all areas of a client’s mental health to find the root of a problem at hand.

    At the same time, a life coach teaches how to use limiting beliefs as stepping stones to rise above them and move towards the future. By explaining why individual behavior patterns occur, coaches ignite inner transformation that makes clients ditch their old ways and make positive shifts happen. This method allows to break the endless cycle of inertia, manage mindset blocks, get over unwanted habits, and live a better life.
  3. Framework

    The topics of therapy sessions are usually defined by a client in the context of a program, and a therapist takes it from there for further work. Therefore, a session with a therapist doesn’t necessarily have a clear target, although there’s a final goal, which is complete recovery from a mental health issue.

    In the case of life coaching, consistency is half the battle. Sessions with an online life coach are more structured and have a clear plan. Considering that coachees have goals and roadmaps to follow, coaches focus on specific topics under discussion to make sure the progress doesn’t stop. This allows sessions to be focused on actionable strategies and achievable steps towards growth.

  4. Approach

    In their daily practice, life coaches mostly implement the downward arrow technique that involves active listening and asking navigating questions until the client uncovers their underlying emotion.

    For example, if a client fails to make an important decision, a life coach could ask, ‘What options do you have in this situation?’ or ‘What would you do if you had no obstacles?’ This way, coaches stimulate self-reflection by making clients doubt their beliefs and eventually come up with right answers by themselves.

    Therapy is more of a one-sided practice, where a therapist also listens to their clients but provides them with individual answers based on careful observation and processing. It is mostly a theory-based approach, and since mental health problems are multi-layered, a therapist might need several sessions to explore the issue before gathering actionable takeaways. 

  5. Timing

    As a rule, life coaching sessions bring positive results within several months or one year. The ultimate goal of coaching is to provide clients with tools they need to bridge the gap between the person they are now and the person they wish to be. And this result can only be achieved by setting clear timeframes and milestones that foster improvement and keep clients accountable.

    On the contrary, therapy requires long-term commitment of a client, and there are no specific timelines involved in this process. The specifics of therapy make the progress individual for each client, so it may take years before a specialist finds the root cause of specific distress and removes the triggers causing it. 

Choosing the right service

Before zooming out your life and working towards self-improvement, here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing between coaching and therapy:

  • What’s my issue? Did I just get stuck in life – which is something a coach can help me with – or is it a severe problem that interferes with daily functioning and needs to be diagnosed? 
  • Why is this issue important? Why do I want to get over it? 
  • What results do I expect to get from this or that specialist?

Note: if you have both mental health and personal life problems, you can work with a coach and a therapist at the same time. As long as they have proper training, certification and credentials, you’re in good hands.  

The bottom line

Both life coaching and therapy are effective practices for personal growth. They have an equal mission – to improve lives – but implement contrasting approaches to reach this goal. To know who can help you, think about the nature of your problem and choose a specialist who knows it like the back of their hands. 

If life coaching is what you’re looking for, the RiseSpace algorithm will set you up with an online life coach automatically. The system will find a perfect-fit coach based on your needs and expectations, while you’ll be able to change your specialist anytime.