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What’s the Difference Between a Therapist and a Life Coach?

Both life coaches and therapists have the potential to add tremendous value to your life!

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It seems that therapists, for all the good work that they do, have nevertheless been the butt of scores of jokes over the years; so have the people who seek them out. 

Perhaps that has a lot to do with the centuries-old stigma against the mentally unwell. Fortunately, that tide is changing! 

By contrast, any mention of dealings with a life coach is met with admiration and encouragement.

The implication of benefiting from a life coach’s wisdom is that one is taking charge of their life, being proactive and asserting their own self-worth. 

Sounds an awful lot like what therapists and their clients do, doesn’t it? 

Indeed, therapists help their clients believe in themselves and become more assertive but there is a world of difference between a life coach and a therapist. 

If you are considering self-help but are not sure which professional to work with, brew yourself a cup of tea and settle in for this good read. 

Consider Credentials

A therapist is a licensed member of the medical community. S/he studied for many years and then interned at various facilities that treat and help manage mental health.

S/he may be licensed to write prescriptions and may assign you ‘homework’ – anything from beneficial physical exercises such as simple meditation to exploring potential causes of your current state.

Life coaches are also educated and they are certified by a professional association – not an academic body. They are taught ethical guidelines that govern the coaching business and coaching skills such as active listening and how to set goals.

Life coaches cannot prescribe any medication but, if they sense you are at a breaking point in your life, they must recommend you see a licensed physician (and therapist, if the situation warrants it).

Credentials are a major difference between a life coach and a therapist.

Looking Forwards or Back

A therapist’s job is to help you find the root of your trauma, guide your healing it and help you progress into a healthy, whole human being.

To do that, s/he may take you back in time to the event that caused your pain. Together, you would spotlight it, dissect it, figure out why it was so very impactful to you and put it into perspective with the rest of your life as context.

A life coach might ask you to consider events in the past that may have put you in the situation you are in but it is far more likely that s/he will ask about your goals and help you layout steps to reach them.   

Life coaches are trained to identify obstacles and even behaviors of yours that might make it more difficult to achieve what you want out of life but correcting them is up to you. 

In a nutshell: a therapist takes today’s you and works backward while a life coach infers that today is the first day of the rest of your life and plans ahead from there.

Timing and Scheduling

Depending on your degree of need, your therapist may schedule you for several sessions a week or if s/he intuits you are in a relatively safe place mentally, perhaps only once per week.

Therapy is an open-ended proposition; there is no set number of sessions before you can be declared mentally well. Some people stay in therapy for years – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

You shouldn’t count on seeing your life coach every week.

After the initial assessment of your specific goals, together, you will lay out a plan to reach them. Such a plan has exact steps – milestones laid out; as you reach each successive one, you can count on a visit from your life coach.

Naturally, just like any other type of coach, s/he will be available by phone if you need to talk between visits and, should you need more than that, weekly meetings could be arranged.

Your meetings might last 20 minutes, 30 minutes or, if there’s really a lot to talk about, the standard 45-50 minutes.

Life coaching is a finite scheme; depending on your situation, it may take as long as nine months to reach all of the milestones and get yourself where you want to be, or only three months.

Life coaches and therapists are not interchangeable!

If you feel you are in a position where you feel you need help, err on the side of caution and seek out a mental health professional. On the other hand, if everything is rosy but you just can’t seem to get any traction in life, that’s the job for a life coach

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