• Life Coaching vs. Counseling and Therapy

    Life Coaching vs. Counseling and Therapy

    Many people attribute their life’s successes to a mentor. Usually, a mentor isn’t someone you hire. Instead, he or she was usually an adult family friend, a professor or someone you met through an internship. It was a unique and usually long-term relationship where the mentor would often share their experiences to help guide the younger person.

    A mentor and a life coach carry the same concept. In place of a casual relationship with a mentor, one can hire a life coach to work through certain issues or seek personal development. Life coaches, however, are more structured than mentors, usually meeting with their clients during set appointments. They also provide support on a broader range of topics and focus and defining very specific goals. Frequently, a life coach acts as a temporary, strictly professional mentor focused on a specific task.

    In some ways, the role of a life coach may sound like that of a counselor or a therapist. Despite the blurred lines between these disciplines, however, there are significant differences worth considering when deciding on which type of help to seek.

    The Differences

    What’s in a Name?

    • Counselors are also referred to as therapists and work with “patients.”
    • Life coaches work with “clients.”


    • Counselors or therapists are primarily licensed by the states and require a minimum of a master’s degree and often an advanced degree such as a PhD. In addition, numerous hours of supervised training along with specific national exams are frequently required to become a counselor.
    • Coaching is a much less regulated industry. In some states certification or a special license may be required. But for the most part, Life Coaches are not required to meet any specific education requirements.

    Past or Present?

    • Counselors emphasize the past and are concerned with how previous life experiences and dysfunction may influence a patient’s current behavior.
    • Life coaches concentrate on the present and accomplishing clear goals.

    Slow & Steady or Future-Oriented & Focused?

    • Counseling is often a slower process and attempts to identify life history or sources affecting behavior and heal the past for a better future.
    • In contrast, coaching aims on pointing the client in a direction with a positive future without much work on the past.

    Purpose and Objectives

    • Counselors assist their patients in identifying new strategies to deal with problems that may cause emotional distress or unwanted actions. They identify obstacles that may keep an individual “stuck” in negative behavior.
    • Life Coaches are focused on clear goals. Coaching leads their client in reaching their ultimate professional and personal objectives.

    Making a Decision

    Determining whether you would benefit more from a Counselor/Therapist or a Life Coach is a crucial step. Consider these situations when you are making this important decision:

    • Do you frequently experience uncontrolled and intense negative emotions? Do you frequently become defensive? A therapist is more prepared than a coach to investigate the root of these feelings and identify a better approach to handling them in a variety of settings
    • Are you unable to make progress on the same issues and stay stuck in the past? A counselor is more equipped to uncover the origins of these circumstances and help you move forward. In facing these types of obstacles, therapy can help find the likely link to your past. Counseling is more useful than coaching in situations such as grieving over the passing of a loved one that continues for a prolonged length of time, or when abuse has occurred but has never been dealt with consciously
    • Do you find yourself less assertive and convincing of your skills at work or in an interview than you want to be? A Life Coach can provide valuable methods in interacting effectively with others in a professional setting
    • Are you involved in a successful relationship and have satisfaction in your career, but want to accelerate your progress? A qualified Life Coach will help provide direction to increase your progress and assist you in reaching your highest level of personal satisfaction

    Resolution and the ability to move forward in life is the primary reason for working with a counselor or therapist. On the other hand, if your chief motivation is to improve a your outlook, design a clear-cut path to success or improving a specific set of characteristics, then consulting with a life coach may be right for you.

    The desire to improve yourself is a noble and positive ambition. Take the time to choose the proper resources to give you the best opportunity to live a healthy, happy and passionate life.

    Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

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