Therapist v. Life Coach – What’s the Diff?

What is the Difference?

Not too long ago, I listened to a segment on National Public Radio. It was 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. Additionally, no US state issues licenses or certification to them. However, coaches can be certified through any number of private organizations. Though not all coaches are certified.

Licensed therapists are ALL required by law to have:

  • A master’s degree in a related field.
  • Completed classes with specific curricula.
  • Supervised clinical experience in school for a specified duration.
  • Completed a lengthy apprentice period (generally two years) under a licensed clinician while obtaining their state licenses.
  • Maintain licensure by completing 30 hours of continuing education units every 2 years (varies per state).

How That Affects You

I am by no means saying that a coach cannot be helpful. Quite the contrary, 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. In contrast, you have no such protection when you work with a coach.

Beyond this 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.

Relationship Quality is the Key

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 if you choose a therapist or a life coach. What matters is the quality of the relationship you have with this person.

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. However, 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.

If things are getting to be too much, call me. We’ll talk.

Leah Benson Therapy icon

Contact me now to set up your free 15-minute phone consultation.



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