Differences Explained: Life Coach Vs. Therapist

Updated October 25, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Both therapy and life coaching often involve a creative process and may be helpful in achieving personal goals. However, it can be challenging to discern the differences between a life coach and a therapist. When deciding between a life coach vs. therapist, there are some key differences to be aware of. Exploring the roles and their qualifications in more detail may help you choose the provider best suited to your needs.

There’s More Than One Path To Growth

What Is A Therapist?

Atherapist is a licensed provider that can help you with mental health conditions, stress, life challenges, diagnosis, and assessment.

Those living with mental health challenges often benefit from the guidance of a therapist. Licensed therapists can help treat mental health conditions through assessment, diagnosis, and talk therapy. Therapists may also provide direction in setting goals, finding your potential, and coming up with solutions to life’s challenges. 

Educated with a minimum of a master's degree in psychology or counseling and licensed in the states where they offer services, therapists complete 1,500-6,000 hours of supervised practice before earning licensure. Therapists are bound by legal and ethical codes that govern their conduct.

Licensed therapists can assist you using numerous research-backed methods like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), cognitive processing therapy, and many more. They may collaborate with clients to develop strength-based objectives, including improving reality testing, reframing, problem-solving, or communication skills. Therapists can also help you discover the roots of relationship problems, familial conflict, and career issues. Some therapists focus on helping clients heal from past trauma or overcome mental health challenges.

Generally speaking, therapy focuses on helping you improve your overall mental health and emotional well-being. While they are not doctors and thus cannot prescribe medication, therapists often coordinate with doctors and other healthcare professionals to provide referrals when necessary. 

What Is A Life Coach?

A life coach is a person who offers life coaching services. Generally speaking, life coaches focus on helping clients achieve personal growth and self-improvement. Coaching services can sometimes be beneficial for those who would like guidance in a particular area of life. However, unlike therapists, life coaches typically are not mental health professionals.

Life coaching is an unregulated profession, making it challenging for clients to properly vet life coaches. There are no state licensing boards or universally accepted standards of education or training for life coaches. Life coaches may or may not have been through training specifically related to mental health or counseling. 

A life coach may or may not hold a certificate in life coaching. While healthy life coaching training programs may exist, these programs often require fees and twelve months or more of study. The expense and extended learning times associated with these programs make certification unattainable for many who want to become life coaches. As a result, some people skip training and market themselves as life coaches to begin coaching clients. 

Life coaching sessions often do not adhere to the therapeutic standards that govern therapy sessions, including clinical, legal, and ethical standards. 

An ethical life coach will not work with mental health problems if they arise. Instead, they may refer you to a trained mental health counselor. Still, these professionals can help you with coaching around your present feelings, thoughts, and behaviors to improve performance, develop your potential, help you with solutions, provide direction, and assist you with goal setting. Often, coaching sessions focus on one specific area of concern such as career planning, relationship advice, or physical health and wellbeing. 

However, a licensed counselor, social worker, or therapist is more qualified to support you if you seek mental health treatment. 

Vetting The Professional: Life Coaches Vs. Therapists

Both life coaching and therapy can help you work toward your goals; but the success of each is often dependent, at least in part, on professional providing the services. Whether you choose a life coach vs. therapist, ensure they are qualified, meet your needs, and offer a price point within your budget. 

Vetting A Therapist 

Therapists are mental health professionals who will often have a psychology or counseling degree and a license issued by their state. You can verify a therapist's license with your state's licensing board. You can also talk with any potential therapist to inquire about their educational background, issues they work with, and special training or certifications they may have. You may also be able to read reviews and comments left by past and present clients.

Licensed therapists focus on mental health challenges by assessing your overall mental health. They may help you explore past trauma and develop a treatment plan with therapy sessions designed to teach you coping skills. 

Only a therapist can treat mental health conditions. Therapy focuses on learning how to manage symptoms of anxiety or depression, among other mental health conditions. However, you do not need to have a mental health condition to see a therapist. They can also offer life advice, guidance, and goal-setting support. 

Vetting A Life Coach 

Vetting life coaches on your own could be more challenging because they may not have certification or training in giving advice. However, many coaches are licensed through various organizations; for example, those who provide career coaching can obtain the Certified Professional Career Coach designation. You can inquire about or research a life coach's educational background by doing an online search or speaking with them directly. However, you may be unable to verify that what they tell you is accurate. 

Whether you are vetting a life coach vs. therapist, keying their names into a search engine to see if they have written or contributed to any publications or if they have any professional websites could be valuable.

Life Coach Vs. Therapist: Pricing Differences

Pricing can differ between a life coach vs. therapist. Therapists often charge by the hour, and Forbes states the average in-person therapy appointment will cost $100-$200 within the US. Some people may see their therapist once or twice each month, while others see them once or more each week, depending on the issue and the severity. Your health plan might also cover therapists if you have a referral from your healthcare provider or are covered for mental health services. 

Online therapy may be beneficial when it comes to cost concerns. With many online therapy providers, mental health care services can include live sessions via phone, video, or chat in addition to messages between sessions. Before meeting with a therapist, learn more about their pay structure, including any cancellation or late fees they might charge. 

Health Insurance Considerations

Insurance plans don't cover life coaches because they are unregulated and not qualified to treat mental health or other health conditions. A life coach may take health insurance for therapy if licensed as a therapist. However, life coaching as a career is not an area of mental health treatment.  

You may regularly meet with a life coach at an office as you would with a therapist, and the life coach might charge by the hour or amount of time spent with them. Often, coaches cost more than therapists. Before you start working with a life coach, it can be helpful to understand what services they provide and how they charge for those services. 

Life Coaches vs Therapist: Which Should I Choose? 

Weighing the differences between a life coach vs. therapist can be challenging. Both life coaches and therapists can provide specific benefits, and your decision will often depend on your goals, concerns (e.g., a mental health condition, career challenges), and preferences. Therapists provide a health service and are trained to do so, but they may also provide the same services as life coaches. If you have an emotional or mental health problem, a therapist may be able to help you in a way that a life coach is not qualified to. Therapists are often trained to use proven modalities (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy) to address mental health concerns. Therapy often helps clients living with a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, or chronic stress. It isn't necessary to have a mental health challenge to talk with a licensed therapist though. If you want to become more self-aware, consider talking to a therapist who focuses on personal growth.

There’s More Than One Path To Growth

You may want to find a life coach if you don't have any concerns about potential mental health matters. Seeing a life coach and a therapist simultaneously can also be possible. Like with a medical doctor, if you have a primary care physician, you might also reach out to other providers like a dietician or personal trainer. If you have a clean bill of health but still feel like life is getting the best of you, a life coach may be able to support you. 

Counseling Options 

Reaching out to an in-person therapist may be challenging. Some individuals might feel the urge to reach out to a life coach because of their remote service options. In these cases, online therapy may provide a feasible alternative. This type of therapy can also be more flexible, as you can make appointments whenever your schedule allows. Research has also confirmed that online therapy can be effective for people experiencing various mental health conditions. For instance, a recent study found an online therapy program—which utilized principles from cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy— it beneficial for those with depression and anxiety. 

If you're interested in trying life counseling services over life coaching, you can consider signing up for an online platform like BetterHelp, which matches you with one of 30,000 providers. You can also choose between phone, video, and live chat sessions and receive worksheets, resources, and webinar options.


Choosing between a therapist or a life coach can feel tricky. If you're unsure, consider researching what each provider offers and the cost of their services. Depending on your goals, history, and areas of concern, both life coaching and therapy can be helpful. But, For those with mental health concerns, therapy may be the best option to consider. Often, online therapy can be a rewarding alternative to life coaching, as it offers a remote format and can be offered at affordable rates. If you're interested in getting started, reach out to a therapist to learn more about what they provide and receive further guidance.

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