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Therapist vs Life Coach...Know the Difference

I’m sure by now you have heard of people referring to themselves as “life coaches”. Some might believe people identifying as life coaches are psychotherapists which is far from reality. I know quite a few therapists who absolutely despise the whole concept of life coaching. I don’t share that extreme view on life coaching, but I also don’t necessarily see them as being that valuable when mental health is the focus. I will highlight some of the key differences between psychotherapy and life coaching below:

  1. What’s the point? Where is the focus? I view the difference here as psychotherapy focuses on mental health and emotional regulation. Life coaching should focus on personal goal setting and achievement. Psychotherapy is used to diagnose and treat mental health conditions using evidence based techniques. 

  2. Education and training. This is a huge difference legally and ethically. Psychotherapists have at least a masters degree in a mental health related field like counseling or social work. This coursework plus the year and a half internship gives psychotherapists the advanced clinical training and education to legally and ethically provide therapy. Post graduation, psychotherapists also have to complete 3,000 hours of direct clinical work with clients under the supervision of an advanced clinicians, psychologist, or psychiatrist before they can be fully licensed by the state in which they practice. Psychotherapists also have to renew their license every other year upon completing 30 hours of approved continuing education within those 2 years. Psychotherapists typically start and obtain their training hours in settings that provide mental health care to a variety of conditions. Most outpatient therapists have to have  several years of experience in these more intense work environments before being able to provide individual therapy. Life coaches aren’t required to have any education, supervision, license, experience, or training. Life coaches can choose to do some types of training, but it’s not required to identify or advertise yourself as a “life coach”. 

  3. Cost. An average cost of an hour long session with a psychotherapist is $150 in the state of Wisconsin. Psychotherapy is covered under most insurance plans. An average life coach session is $120 in the state of Wisconsin, and is not covered by insurance companies. Life coaches don’t meet the requirements set by insurance companies for any type of reimbursement. This is because of the education, experience, and professional licensing differences already discussed. Along with those differences, psychotherapists are required to have malpractice and liability insurance, and life coaches aren’t required to have any type of insurance. Another important cost difference is psychotherapists legally have to provide each client a transparent estimate of the cost of services. Life coaches don’t have to be transparent with fees and costs. 

  4. Skills. Psychotherapists have official training on many approaches and modalities of treatment. Life coaches typically don’t have the official training required to legally and ethically evaluate and use therapy techniques. Psychotherapists can diagnose clients and make medication recommendations. Life coaches can’t diagnose and have no formal education about psychopathology and psychopharmacology. Psychotherapists are mandated reporters and trained to handle crises with safety concerns. Life coaches do not have legal or ethical standards and are not qualified to treat anything safety related. Psychotherapists are skilled at looking in the past, present, and future of their clients life to heal, accept, and grow. Life coaches are more present and short term future orientated in what they can work on. 

Overall, life coaching could be beneficial to people who have situations or problems that are situational in nature or more focused on personal development. Psychotherapy is beneficial to mental health treatment and healing. People with mental health needs like depression, anxiety, trauma, substance use, eating disorders, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts should be seen by a psychotherapist. So there you have it! Those are my thoughts on life coaches. Share your thoughts below!

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