What Is The Difference Between A Therapist & A Life Coach?



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Perhaps you’re at a fork in the road in your career and you’re wondering which path to pursue next? Or, maybe you’re looking to rekindle your relationship with your partner after a period of turbulence and turmoil?

When you decide you need guidance in your personal or professional life, it can be difficult to navigate what route you should take and what type of service you should seek. 

If you are stressed about a family dynamic, work, or a relationship, and don’t feel comfortable seeking the advice of a friend or family member, then you might wonder whether therapy or a life coach is the best move for you. In fact, the two are incredibly different and serve well defined purposes, with the latter very much not a replacement for the former.

We’re here to explore the distinctions today. Here are some of the key differences between a therapist and a life coach.

What Is Therapy?

There are a few different types of mental health professional who operate under the bracket of therapy or provide counselling services.

Different professionals offer different services and opportunities, but in general, when we think of a ‘therapist’, we’re typically thinking of an individual who falls into one of these main three categories:

Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are trained to help medicate you (if need be) based on your challenges. You can think of psychiatrists as a sort of blend between psychologists and a traditional doctor; not only do they understand the intricacies of mental health, but they also understand how to utilise medical technique to address it.

Psychologists: Psychologists are usually trained to help investigate your feelings and help you navigate your emotions and relationships, but in the UK, they cannot prescribe medicine for any mental health issues. 

Licensed Professional Mental Health Counsellor: These professionals may have different educational backgrounds or training than their counterparts in the profession, but they are still legally licensed to provide therapeutic care and are knowledgeable about a range of holistic measures to cope with various presenting issues.

There are also therapists who specialise in substance abuse counselling, and therapists who specialise in family counselling or couples counselling. If you are in need of someone who can walk you through the more emotional aspect of life, a therapist can do that with you. 

Why Do People Seek Therapy?

Unfortunately, therapy is sometimes still stigmatised. But, the view of seeking help has certainly made significant progress in recent years; what was once a taboo topic is now becoming more normalised as people become aware of the importance of practising self-love, self-compassion, and personal growth. 

It’s often said that the more work you put into therapy, the more you will likely get out of it. Therapists can help you identify negative behavioural or thought patterns, give advice on managing stress and emotions, and continuously help you evolve as an individual.

Talking therapies are available on the NHS, provided by accredited NHS practitioners. You can find an NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT) here, though it should be noted that waiting lists are currently lengthy. You will need to be registered with a GP to gain access to such therapies. These are intended to help with a variety of issues, including:

  • depression
  • generalised anxiety
  • social anxiety
  • panic and agoraphobia
  • other phobias
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • body dysmorphic disorder

Alternatively, you can seek access to talking therapies privately. The cost of a private counselling session varies hugely, ranging from £10 to £70. Always make sure that the therapist you are considering has been accredited by the Professional Standards Agency – you can search their register on their website.

Some charities may also be able to help facilitate and cover the cost of your access to therapy. These include Cruse Bereavement Care, Rape Crisis England & Wales, Relate, Samaritans and Victim Support.

What Is A Life Coach?

A life coach is arguably centred around less of the emotional parts of life and more on literal life choices, particularly regarding your career. 

For instance, a life coach might help you figure out what you want to do professionally. They might provide career counselling while you are pivoting careers, interviewing, or exploring your passions. 

Rather than focusing on the past, like most therapists, a life coach will likely encourage you towards the future. They can help you map out what you would like to accomplish and help you set goals for how to succeed. 

A life coach might also come in the form of a fitness coach. They help you reach milestones that you have been aspiring towards. 

Another emerging area within life coaching is soul counselling. This type of coaching delves deeper into aligning your life choices with your inner values and spiritual beliefs. Soul counselling can help you find a sense of purpose and fulfilment by connecting your professional and personal goals with your core self.

A life coach is also more likely to tell you their opinion of what you should do whereas a therapist will likely take a more hands-off approach when necessary to help you reach the conclusion you needed to reach on your own. As such, it’s unethical for life coaches to provide guidance on any aspects of your life which fall under a medical or mental health remit.

Life coaches aren’t regulated by any official, NHS-approved bodies, though they do have groups of accreditation bodies that carry with them a code of ethics and conduct, and an established complaints procedure.

Check out the Life Coach Directory to find out more about these bodies, and should you be considering enlisting the services of a life coach, always ensure they are on this directory.

Why These Relationships Matter

Truth be told, the relationship to your counsellor or coach is one of the most important factors in your wellbeing and therapeutic success.

That is why working with the right person who can guide you through your struggles without judgement is imperative. 

If you do not think your therapist or life coach is the right fit for you, try working with someone else before you give it up entirely. Don’t worry about seeming rude or ungrateful in any way; these professionals work with many individuals and often understand just how crucial it is to find someone who actually works well with you.

The Bottom Line

Depending on what sort of insight you’re looking to access, a therapist, life coach, or even a combination of the two might be an appropriate choice to take control of various aspects of your life.

*This article is not intended to replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment given by a qualified mental health professional. Instead, this article only provides information, not advice. For any medical enquiries, always consult your GP first*

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