When researching the difference between therapy and life coaching it becomes clear that the two fields are competing for the same clientele. It’s impossible to get a clear picture of therapy when talking to a life coach and vice-versa. Coaching websites often depict therapy in outdated and classical terms: the client lying on the proverbial Freudian couch, with a therapist digging needlessly into their past.Therapists may describe life coaching as a therapy spin-off, a repackaging of psychological strategies that are then sold off as an alternative to paying for a qualified professional. One of the best ways to understand the difference between life coaching and therapy is to look at the training and education it requires to become a one or the other.
Credentialing for life coaches can be hard to understand since there are no standards required for practice. There are hundreds of independent, for-profit, life coach schools, to include programs offered by universities.
While some of these programs can take years to obtain, others can be completed in one weekend seminar. With no minimum standards to practice, anybody who wants to call themselves a life coach and start working in the field can do so at any time.
Coaching programs are so wide-ranging and diverse that the field has erected governing bodies to establish standards and ethics for practice. The three best-known governing bodies are The International Coach Federation (ICF), The International Association of Coaching (IAC), and The Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE). The highest credential, the gold-standard of life coach training, is the one offered by the International Coach Federation (ICF).
To achieve the ICF credential, the potential coach must complete coach-specific training, as well as a designated number of coaching experience hours. They are also required to work with a Mentor Coach and demonstrate an understanding and mastery of the practice. It takes just under a year to obtain the ICF credential, and on average, all coaching programs like the ICF take 6 to 8 months to complete.
There is a long-standing debate in the coaching industry as to whether coaches should be required to seek credentialing to practice, but increasingly coaches go ahead and get the credentialing, enrolling in a program on their own. But since coaching does not require credentials to practice, it can be a gamble for the consumer. The moral of the story is – buyer beware. It’s up to the consumer to ask their prospective coach about training and experience and credentialing.
A thick book in fine print could be written just to define and describe the letters that accumulate after a mental health professional’s name. There are numerous levels and specialty designations a consumer will find while shopping for a therapist. therapy is governed by state law, so credentialing can differ from state to state.
All states require at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university to practice therapy, though therapy agencies prefer to hire therapists with a master’s degree. This is because master’s degrees are required before professionals can get licensed or obtain advanced training in specific clinical areas.
Here is a breakdown of the general hierarchy of mental health professionals:
Doctorate level psychiatrists and psychologists
The mental health professionals with the most demanding credentials are psychiatrists or doctorate level psychologists. Both are physicians who can prescribe medications to clients. These professionals focus strictly on medication and generally do not offer talk therapy. They work closely with other professionals who do, however, offering their expertise as needed.
Master’s level psychologists and therapists
Master’s level psychologists are more inclined to offer therapy, but they are very strong in research and diagnoses. They are especially skilled at performing psychological evaluations that clarify the diagnosis and establish the most appropriate course of treatment.
Master’s level therapists are the professionals who provide the bulk of talk therapy to clients. With designations like MFT, MHP, LMFT, and LMHP after their names, they often have areas of expertise like family and marital, child mental health, or eating disorders. However, there are many in this category who are generalists, able to address a wide swath of mental health issues.
These practitioners can diagnose, offer counseling, and are trained in a wide range of therapeutic models. Those with an “L” in the designation after their name have completed licensure requirements which are demanded in most states.
To gain a license in therapy, professionals must obtain a master’s degree, pass a rigorous state exam, provide one to three thousand face-to-face hours to clients, and achieve approximately 100 hours of supervision with a board-certified supervisor.
A Brief History of Life Coaching
Life coaching was started in the 1980’s by a man named Thomas Leonard, an American financial planner. Generally regarded as the first person to provide coaching as a profession, he realized his financial clients needed more than just financial advice.
He decided that they needed help in organization and planning to achieve their goals and after developing a system, he wrote the book, The Portable Coach, coining the term “life-planning.” A decade later he founded a formal training program called Coach University and was instrumental in forming the International Coach Federation.
A Brief History of Psychology
By the end of the 1800s, most American communities had asylums or sanitariums for the mentally ill. and public hospitals for the mentally ill peaked in the 50s. Some patients improved in these hospitals and were released, but most did not, which brought scrutiny on the effectiveness of institutionalization. New answers were sought.
The revolution of pharmaceutical advancements enabled doctors to help their clients manage emotions and behaviors with medicine, significantly reducing the need for hospitalization. An outpatient model, weekly and biweekly visits to a therapist, along with medical check-ups, became the new normal.
Modern-Day Life Coaching
It’s helpful to review the general steps one can expect during the coaching process. The point of coaching protocols is to establish the coach/client bond, determine ground rules and to put things in place so contact between coach and client is seamless and easy. The steps are general and open to differing styles, so the life coach might mix them up depending on their personality and preferences.
Coaching begins with an initial face-to-face session with the goal of coach and client getting to know each other. The client can ask questions, clarify how the coaching process works, and provide information. The initial session in coaching is usually free of charge, and it can take up to an hour or more.
Afterward, the coach helps the client establish goals, the client can then schedule for weekly phone calls, which make up the bulk of the ongoing contact with the coach weekly scheduled phone calls can be some 30 minutes or more, but it depends on the coach. In addition to the longer calls, the client can expect the occasional brief check-in call. Coaches then offer endless email support
Like with life coaching, there are easily identifiable steps to the counseling process. Steps include assessment, diagnosis, treatment planning, treatment, and monitoring progress
In the initial interview, therapists begin what is called an assessment. It can take anywhere from a few hours to several weeks depending on the format. The assessment requires the therapist to collect a great deal of what may seem like unnecessary information, which can be frustrating as initial visits can seem more like question-and-answer sessions rather than therapy.
DiagnosisThe assessment provides what clinicians call a “diagnostic picture,” which helps determine a diagnosis from the DSM-V. The DSM is used to diagnose [disorders] but also other issues that do not necessarily involve mental illness, like grief, stress, or life adjustments.
Getting the correct diagnosis is a very important part of therapy because it determines the course of treatment. Every disorder has its own treatment protocols. Two disorders can have the exact same set of symptoms and still require entirely different. [treatments] so diagnosis is key.
Treatment planning, treatment, and monitoring progress
The remaining steps of therapy can look exactly like life coaching once certain problems are ruled out and a diagnosis is determined. Clients are helped to focus, develop goals, and therapists support them along the way and monitor progress.
Modern Day Therapy: Pros And Cons
For the consumer, the field of counseling or psychology can seem like a giant supercenter, where one can find just about anything they’re looking for. Too many options, however, can become an obstacle in and of itself, as it can be difficult to find what one needs with such a wide array of choices available, such as behavioral, cognitive-behavioral, psychanalysis, Rapid Eye Movement, Mindfulness training, and models based on attachment theory, to name a few. Each modality approaches problems differently.
Therapy can be aimed at resolving unhelpful belief systems and increasing insight, or it can be an educational, scientific process designed to address unwanted behaviors.
Relationship issues are often a focus of therapy, as are overwhelming feelings and sometimes physical symptoms that manifest because of stress or depression. Some therapies focus strictly on past trauma, and others surpass all of that and focus on self-talk, self-destructive habits, and the mind/body connection.
Therapists can help clients gain insight into their experiences by exploring and better understanding their subconscious thoughts and impulses, but they can also provide life coaching, spending focused time on immediate results.
Who is the expert on the problem?
Therapy has its disadvantages, and some stem from the level of education and training a therapist has to have. Theorists have long tried to solve the “expert” problem. Inherent in the therapist/client relationship is the key to making therapy work and therapists are highly trained in listening and minimizing relational difficulties that stunt the process.
But the fact remains that the practitioner in therapy is, in fact, the “expert” on mental health, and has a vast education on the topic. The discrepancy between what the therapist knows and what the client knows can inadvertently disempower the client.
Therapists seek ways to guard against posturing that disempowers their clients, careful to avoid overwhelming them with superior knowledge and psychobabble. They must be careful to include clients in their own treatment as well as avoiding meeting the client’s needs in a way that fosters dependency.
Conversely, life coaching is inherently sensitive to client empowerment and strongly emphasizes that the coach is no “expert” on the client, but rather an expert in the coaching process. Limitations to coaching can come up when mental illness interacts with a performance oriented, narrow process designed to get fast results.
The line between mental illness and the baseline mental health one needs to get benefits from coaching can get a little blurry, and it’s possible for coaches to begin the process with someone who has issues that go beyond what a coach is equipped to handle. In such a case, clients may find coaching to be pressured, insensitive, and overly focused on results, and thus grow impatient with the process.
As the coaching process begins to feel increasingly impatient with lack of motivation or emotional reactivity, the client may begin to feel hopeless and less empowered than if they’d gone to see a therapist in the first place. Coaching does not have the long view as therapy does, or the desire to sit with problems for too long, nor was it designed to do so.
Coaching and therapy can look the same, but therapy can veer off into numerous other directions and take a more in-depth look at problems. Therapy can provide life coaching, but the same is not true the other way around. coaches have no standard for practice, while therapy has a high standard for practice in most states.
But therapy isn’t necessarily needed for all goals and can be expensive compared to life coaching. Therapy can feel like a doctor’s visit where the patient goes to the “expert,” while coaches do not have any expertise aside from their understanding of the coaching process, coming at the process like a coach or “spotter” assisting unobtrusively and without unwarranted knowledge.
This can make the experience more empowering, but less thorough, and it cannot address mental illness or underlying and unresolved trauma issues. One good rule of thumb is to avoid life coaches if problems can lead to violence or self-harm.
When function – going to work, getting out of bed, making relationships work, and the like – is in question it is best to see a mental health professional, for at least an assessment to make sure a life coach has enough training to address the issues at hand.
“White Boarding”, Courtesy of Rawpixel, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Paperwork”, Courtesy of Rawpixel, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Counseling”, Courtesy of Tiyowprasetyo, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Goal Achieved”, Courtesy of PublicCo, Pixabay.com, CC0 License