Life Coach Vs. Therapist: Which Is Better For Me?
Updated May 11, 2020
Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
You might have heard that therapists can help people and figure that you could use some help. You may have also heard of life coaching and be aware they help with some things too. It may be confusing to determine which to choose.
What's The Difference?
Before we get into whether it's a life coach or a therapist that is right for you, let's talk about some of the differences between those options.
A therapist can help you with mental health difficulties, diagnosis and assessment. Therapists can also help you to develop potential, find solutions, provide direction, and help you set goals. Therapists are educated with a minimum of a master's degree in psychology or counseling, and are licensed in the states they offer services in. Therapists complete 3,000 hours of supervised practice and are bound by ethical codes that govern their conduct. If a therapist behaves inappropriately or makes a mistake, there is recourse through filing a complaint with the state licensing board.
They can assist you using hundreds of science and research-proven methods like cognitive behavior therapy, motivational interviewing, dialectical behavior therapy, and cognitive processing therapy, just to name a few. Therapists collaborate with clients to develop strengths-based objectives, and in providing skill building for communication, reality testing, problem-solving, and reframing. Therapists can also help you probe relationship and career issues with counseling and coaching.
Therapists are well-versed in coordinating with doctors when necessary and work with other professionals they can refer you to when needed. Therapists are also bound by ethics and state and federal law to maintain your privacy and confidentiality.
Life coaches are an unregulated profession. At present, there are no state licensing boards or universally accepted standards of education or training for life coaches. A life coach may or may not hold an advanced degree or any certificate in life coaching. Because life coaching is unregulated, it is not a profession with a minimum acceptable standard of ongoing education or training for its members. Life coaches can't be paneled with health insurance companies, and so the cost of life coaching is up to the client. Life coaches can't work with mental health problems, should one arise, but they can help you with coaching thought to improve performance, develop your potential, help you with solutions, provide direction, and with assistance in goal setting.
Whether you decide to go with a therapist or a life coach, you'll want to make sure that they know what they're doing.
As mentioned above, therapists will have psychology or counseling degree as well as a license issued by their state. You can verify a therapist's license with your state's counseling licensing board. You can also talk with any potential therapist to inquire about their education 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 their past and present clients.
Vetting life coaches on your own can be harder because, as mentioned above, they may or may not have any kind of certification. You can inquire or research about their educational background by doing an online search or speaking with them.
Whether you are vetting a therapist or life coach, punching their names into your favorite search engine to see if they have written or contributed to any publications or if they have any professional websites can be helpful.
Pricing (and paying) can differ drastically between therapists and life coaches. Therapists tend to charge by the hour. Some people see their therapist once or twice each month while others may see their therapist once or more each week depending on the issue and the severity. Therapists are more likely to be covered by your health plan, especially if you have a referral from your healthcare provider.
Online therapy may be beneficial when it comes to cost concerns. With many online therapy providers, the contact can include live sessions via phone, video or text in addition to messages between sessions like emails. This may mean that you get more for what you spend. Before meeting with one, be sure to understand how their pay structure works.
Life coaches aren't covered by insurance plans because they are unregulated and not able to treat mental health or other health conditions. You may or may not meet with them at an office regularly as you would with a therapist, and they may or may not charge by the hour or amount of time spent with them. Before you start working with a life coach, make sure that you understand what services a life coach provides and how they charge for those services before getting involved.
What Services Do They Provide?
As mentioned above, therapists provide a health service and are trained to do so, but they also provide all the same services that life coaches do. If you have an emotional or mental health problem - especially ones like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder that can put you at a greater risk of other health concerns - a therapist will be able to help you in a way that a life coach simply can't. Therapists are trained to help with the same issues coaches may be trained to. It isn't necessary to have a mental health problem to talk with a licensed therapist.
However, if you don't have any concerns about potential mental health matters, you may not need a therapist. That may mean a life coach may be able to provide the service that you need. This is similar in some ways to regular healthcare providers - the fact that you don't need your regular physician doesn't mean that you couldn't benefit from another healthcare provider like a dietician, or personal trainer. Essentially, if you have a clean bill of health but still feel like life has gotten away from you, a life coach may be able to help.
How BetterHelp Can Help
BetterHelp is a group that tries to make therapy more available and affordable by connecting individuals with educated, qualified, and licensed online therapists. You can also access a wide variety of blog articles like this one to help you navigate your mental health decisions, whether you end up using our services or not.
For more information on BetterHelp's online therapy services, visit https://BetterHelp.com/online-therapy/ .
Whether you decide to go with a therapist online or in person or with a life coach, understanding your options is important. All three of these options can be beneficial but a combination of factors including what you need, where you are, and what you can afford to make one of these options best for you.