Although life coaching has been around for quite some time, many people are unaware or unclear about how it works and how it may be different from traditional therapy. While there is some overlap between the two, there are distinctive features that uniquely separate one from the other.
Past vs. Future Focus
One of the more well known features of therapy is that it focuses on the client’s history and background. By starting at the beginning and moving through a client’s past experiences, therapists are able to gain a better understanding of current unresolved issues. Because clients often seek out therapy when they are unable to process or overcome an internal issue, such as a past trauma, marital issue, addiction, etc., therapists must spend sufficient time getting to know their clients in a deeply intimate way so that they are well equipped to walk them through a process of healing, coping, and restoration.
Life coaches, on the other hand, begin working with clients where they are and focus on where they would like to be in the future. Of course, there is some value in looking at the past in order to understand current mindsets, habits, and beliefs, however the focus is largely on present status and future goals. When clients work with coaches, they are looking for a desired result or outcome. Oftentimes, they are in need of accountability, structure, and guidance in a specific area in order to make progress on their goals.
Methods and Approaches
When it comes to the practices of coaches and therapists, there are some key commonalities. For example, both professionals provide a safe space where clients can show up authentically as they are. Both encourage vulnerability and participation in order to reach a desired outcome. Additionally, coaches and therapists are both skilled in asking thoughtful and guided questions in order to help clients better understand their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
While both therapists and life coaches serve as authority figures in their field, life coaches tend to assume a more interactive role with their clients, compared to therapists.
For example, a weight loss coach may offer tools such as journaling, record keeping, and app tracking, and may review progress at each session. They can help clients to evaluate their results as well as identify any thought or behavior patterns that may be interfering. They can then provide targeted feedback to help in the process and further guide their client in the right direction to help them reach targeted goals.
A therapist’s role consists of providing the space for clients to safely express themselves as well as discuss issues they are facing in order to help them navigate through internal struggles and conflict. They may offer specialized practices, such as EMDR, cognitive-behavioral, humanistic, or psychodynamic therapy, to name a few, however, psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) is one of the most common forms of therapy today.
Licensing and Certification
To put it plainly, a therapist is a licensed health care provider and a Life Coach…is not. In order to become a therapist, you must complete graduate work and obtain any specialty licensure requirements for your state and chosen field of therapy. In addition, you may be required to take and pass state exams.
A life coach, on the other hand, may work with clients with or without certification. While not required, it is certainly in the best interest of coaches and their clients to be certified by a qualified program in order to gain the knowledge and skills needed to be successful. Many certification programs provide coaches with extensive training and resources that can be implemented in their work with clients.
Because therapists are licensed by the state they work in, they are required to follow a different set of guidelines than life coaches. By law, therapists must comply with HIPAA policies and they are also governed by a regulatory body that ensures compliance with all state rules and regulations.
In stark contrast, there are no such rules or regulations for life coaches. While anybody can assume the role of a life coach, those who are serious about pursuing this as a career, will obtain certification. By investing in a qualified program, coaches demonstrate their own commitment to learning, growing, and helping others.
How Much Does it Cost?
By taking the steps to address their mental, physical, and emotional needs, clients are choosing to invest in their overall well-being. When it comes down to it, it is hard to put a price on the life-changing results that one achieves through working with a professional coach or therapist.
Because of the uniqueness of each profession, client costs can vary depending on the structure and format. While therapy tends to follow a more structured payment format, there are many factors that determine the costs of working with a coach.
For example, a client can expect therapy to cost approximately $100-200 per one hour session, while life coaching can be completely customized depending on length of program, sessions, and a coach’s personalized services and/or offerings. In addition to meeting with clients, many coaches also offer supplemental resources, such as courses, workbooks, videos, etc.
Typically, a client will see a therapist on a weekly basis for several months or until they no longer require services. Since therapists are mental health professionals governed by each state, insurance providers cover this service. Depending on a client’s health plan, they may have varied out of pocket expenses, however, for many people, this is minimal and largely absorbed by their provider.
One caveat to this is that therapists do have the option to decline working with insurance if they choose. Unfortunately, due to the amount of paperwork required and the delay in payouts, more and more therapists are opting out of working with insurance companies.
Coaches, on the other hand, are free to name their price for services and can offer packages to clients in a number of ways. While one coach may package their services in a 3 month bundle for $2,500, another coach may offer the same duration at $10,000. Each coach is unique in what they offer and specialize in, but it is difficult to name an average price for their services.
Additionally, coaching is an entirely out of pocket expense for clients (unless, as in the case of companies such as LinkedIn, an employer offers this as a service to their employees). The bottom line is the cost of coaching will depend on many factors: type of coaching, duration of coaching program, coach’s experience/preference, supplemental resources, and more.
Specialties and Areas of Expertise
As with most professions, therapists and life coaches come with their own set of specialized knowledge in a given area. Whether a client is seeking support for their health, marriage, or finances, there are specialists in both professions who can offer targeted guidance and support.
While a therapist may have special licensing in a specific area, a coach may have a background in their niche that qualifies them to offer a particular service. For example, a life coach who specializes in helping high achieving executive women prioritize their health and well-being, may be someone who spent twenty years working in management at a corporate job while successfully maintaining a high level of self care. Likewise, a weight loss coach may be one who achieved their goals by means of a very specific process and can now show others the way to reaching their goals.
It’s not to say that there aren’t therapists who don’t have personal experience in the areas they work in, however, it is very common for life coaches to coach on what they have personally experienced and mastered through a process of their own.
Access to Services
People have long benefited from the services of mental health professionals, however since the pandemic, the number of those in need has increased exponentially, while the number of providers has seemingly decreased. With a surge of requests pouring in, the mental health field has become overburdened and highly impacted to the point of having to turn people away or place them on unusually long wait lists before they can be seen. Many of those in need of therapy services have had to find their own ways of coping and managing due to the lack of available service providers.
The coaching industry, on the other hand, has become a popular and quickly growing field that is widely available to those looking for help. A simple online search will guide you in the right direction. Many coaches also maintain a social media presence, which helps potential clients get to know a little more about who they may be choosing to work with.
While therapy and life coaching are two distinctly unique professions, they share the same goal of helping others to be healthy, happy, and well. Depending on the exact needs of the client, one may be better suited than the other. In some cases, if a client is unable to find a therapist, there is likely a specialized coach who can help them with the issues they are facing.
The important thing to keep in mind is that depending on who they choose to work with, there may be limitations in the scope of the work that can be accomplished. In the end, both therapists and life coaches are invaluable resources for helping others to maintain healthy and productive lives.