Not too long ago, I listened to a segment on National Public Radio about the “explosion” of life coaches that has occurred in the last 10 years. The show explored some of the differences between coaches and therapists, including training, focus and credibility. In the end, there was little explanation of exactly what the difference is.
Here’s the bottom line. In the United States, a life coach does not necessarily have a degree of any kind, and no US state issues licenses or certification to them. Coaches can be certified through any number of private organizations, though not all are. Licensed therapists are ALL required by law to have a masters degree in a related field, to have completed classes with specific curricula, to have a period of supervised clinical experience in school, and to go through a lengthy apprentice period (generally two years) under a licensed clinician while obtaining their state licenses.
I am by no means saying that a coach cannot be helpful. I am personally familiar with coaches who do a wonderful job helping people. What I mean to make clear is that in the United States there is no government mandated standard for what a coach must know or how much training a coach must have. On the other hand, therapists are governed by state boards, and as such, are subject to investigation by that board if a complaint is filed against them. If you believe a therapist has taken advantage of you or has harmed you in some way, you have simple legal recourse. You have no such protection when you work with a coach.
Beyond these specific education and licensing issues, the differences between what coaches and therapists do becomes much more vague.
Cost is the same. Arguments are often made about who focuses more on past, present or future functioning and whether goal oriented work is the realm of coaching or therapy. But the fact of the matter is, research consistently shows that ultimately, no matter what type of therapy or “coaching” is used, it is the relationship that is responsible for change. Bottom line, it does not really matter who you choose.
That being said, remember this. All therapists receive education and training in the “core competencies” that any life coach certified by the largest and most well known coaching accreditation program learns. No coach receives the same education and training a therapist has unless they earn a degree from a graduate level program in a related field, and no coach will ever be subject to the scrutiny of a state board if you question their ethics or the legality of any of their actions.
You want coaching? I can give you coaching. You want therapy? I can give you therapy. Call it whatever you want. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Things getting to be too much? Call me. We’ll talk.