Psychotherapy and life coaching have a special relationship, a bit like stepsisters. They are very close, because both have the same goal – to help people feel good, and some of their methods overlap. Most therapists and coaches believe they are not in direct competition and can partner to help clients. Personally, I work with a life coach who is trained and certified in the USA by the International Life Coaching Association.
When my client is stabilized and the focus of counseling shifts to techniques for succeeding at work and developing potential, I often advise the client to combine therapy with life coaching. For example, to alternate them in order to be able to make maximum use of the techniques from both spheres. At the same time, if the life coach encounters a client with a serious mental problem, for example, the presence of suicidal thoughts, psychosis, addictions, etc., he refers him to me. In this way, we have accepted that we work for the maximum benefit of our customers.
The idea of coaching is to offer a specialized service: to help people reach their goals and create a new, healthier lifestyle. According to some coaches, psychotherapy spends a lot of time in the past, while coaches are focused on the present and the future. The truth is that it depends a lot on the style of the professionals. The therapeutic relationship in psychotherapy is different from the more friendly relationship that is created in coaching. In psychotherapy, the atmosphere needs to be structured and avoid double bonds, while in coaching you can work more fragmented, with a large part of the work being over the Internet through tests, questionnaires, and video conversations.
Many psychotherapists believe that they can implement all the coaching methods and theories and that clients can use their therapist as a life coach. My point is that ultimately during their education, clinical psychotherapists emphasize learning proper diagnosis, clinical protocols, writing clinical notes, recognizing psychoses, and of course theories and methods for dealing with anxiety, depression, and so-called
On the other hand, the life coach, who has gone through a complete accredited several-year program, completes his training in techniques, methods, and tests for the personal development of functional clients. For example, in the US, to be a licensed psychotherapist, you only need to complete one more career development course (on top of a master’s degree for higher education in psychology – ed.), whereas life coaches emphasize much more in this area. Of course, many therapists continue to study such methods, but they also need to spend time studying methods related to more severe cases of clinical depression and serious mental disorders.
A therapist and a life coach can be wonderful partners. It is important for customers to do their due diligence before choosing who to target. Just as there are family and child therapists, there are life coaches who have different expertise such as career development or healthy living. A client may need to meet with several coaches until they find one. Due to the mandatory condition that the coach and the client like each other as individuals, many specialists offer their first session for free.
The main danger in coaching comes from self-styled specialists who are not adequately prepared and trained for this role. A life coach is not made with a few seminars or self-study. A person who is not trained in the correct ethical rules and boundaries and fails to recognize a serious mental problem can have a detrimental effect. Therefore, it is extremely important that clients inquire about the professional accrediting institutions in the country where the relevant specialist completed his studies, what classes he took, what the reputation of the university or institution is, etc.
The International Coach Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest accrediting organization for coaches and defines life coaching as “partnering with clients through a creative and thought-provoking process to inspire them to reach their personal and professional potential”. Professional coaches provide a partnership, which aims to help clients achieve maximum results in their personal and professional lives.
Coaches are trained to listen, observe, and create an individual approach to the client’s needs, reaching solutions and strategies together. Of course, this is also one of the main goals of the psychotherapist, but life coaching is a relatively new phenomenon that has gained momentum in recent years, and its definition and distinction from therapy are still being developed.
What are the differences?
The difference between psychotherapy and life coaching comes from the needs of the client. Psychotherapy focuses on helping clients move from dysfunction to function, while life coaching focuses on helping normally functioning people achieve their personal and professional goals.
Of course, the right psychotherapist can take on both functions, but they don’t always have enough strategies, the brokenness and freedom of the life coaching process. The latter may include, for example, intrusion into the client’s private life in the form of visiting the workplace, for example. Some types of therapeutic interventions, such as positive psychology and Solution-focused therapy (short-term therapy that does not focus on the past, but includes quick methods oriented on the client’s current problems) approach and even overlap with the goals of life coaching.
Good life coaches refer clients with serious mental and emotional problems, which include addictions, personality disorders, and clinical depression, to therapists. They agree to begin work after the client is stabilized through psychotherapy. There are other differences – therapy is often slow, and painful, while with coaching the results are often quick and the process can be slow. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions. I have had many clients who get quick results in therapy, but it all depends on their needs and level of functionality. Most people who seek coaching are not suffering from severe emotional pain and dysfunction. After all, therapists have additional education to work with clients who are feeling down. For many people, going to a psychotherapist is still taboo and seen as a weakness. Sometimes it’s easier for them to seek out a life coach, but that’s not a good idea if they need clinical help.
A life coach is a type of mentor, but it has its limitations. There have always been such people, even in the past – spiritual leaders, shamans, and leaders in a given community. At some point, rules and regulations are created in society, and so is psychotherapy. Perhaps, life coaching fills the need for something more basic and free.
I would advise that if you feel a problem with carrying out your usual daily activities due to emotional stress, experience severe depression, or suffer from any kind of disconnection from reality or addictions, you should consider seeking a psychotherapist. If you want to deal with psychological trauma or get family therapy, as well as child therapy – the specialist should be a psychotherapist. If you’re a functioning person who wants help reaching your maximum potential, you can include both life coaches and therapists in your preliminary research before making your choice.