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Coach vs. Therapist: What’s The Difference?

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

When seeking professional help for emotional wellbeing and personal growth, the default option you may think of is therapy; but recently, you may have also heard people talk about working with a life coach.

Executive Coaches and Life Coaches are professionals who help you achieve personal or professional goals. While approaches to coaching vary, most focus on personal empowerment, motivation, and strategies to define and reach your dreams.

Sound similar to therapy? Here are key differences between life coaching and therapy, and how to choose one over another.

1. Topics: Therapy focuses on mental health; life coaching focuses on goals

The major difference between therapy and coaching is the focus of the work: therapy focuses on mental health and emotional healing, while life coaching focuses on setting and achieving goals.

2. Skills: Therapy helps you learn to heal; coaching empowers you to achieve goals

Coaching teaches you how to achieve big dreams and/or break free if you feel stuck On the other hand, most life coaching focuses on helping you pursue your passions, or break free of stagnation or “stuckness.”

3. Tense: Therapy is rooted in the past and present; coaching focuses on the future

Coaching focuses on improving the “here and now” Coaches (including therapists who practice coaching) will absolutely be interested in what some of their clients’ “source material” is, and will want to know what life experiences have brought you to where you are. That said, the goal in coaching is not to necessarily go back and address it, or to heal it, or to change it. Instead, it’s just referenced.

4. Structure: The format of therapy sessions depend on the modality; coaching sessions often clear structures

Coaching sessions are structured to facilitate progress Coaches also often begin with a longer initial session to gather information about the client’s life goals, obstacles that have gotten in the way, mindset, and behaviors that have been helpful or harmful to the client. The point of coaching is constant progress, so sessions are geared to nurture your strengths and use that learning to get you forward in an effective, practical way.

5. Duration: Whereas therapy is not usually time-limited, coaching is often short-term with clear, time-limited goals.

We need to be detailed in what we want in life so we know what we are working towards. Time limited goals serve purpose in multiple ways. The key to it is accountability. If you genuinely care on a personal level this will matter to you. If you are all in this mind, body, and soul this will matter! Accountability to yourself is what matters. Time limited goals take out constraints on you. Challenge you. Motivate you. And test your will and how serious and determined you are.

6. Fit: When assessing fit with a therapist, prioritize your comfort level and their expertise; for life coaches, seek inspiration

Make sure to seek a coach who has the following qualities: Someone who inspires you and gets you excited about living your best life. Someone who has experience working on the exact issues you are seeking help with. Someone who uses effective strategies proven to improve your life. Someone with who you can feel comfortable being vulnerable and open with.

This truth applies even at different points of your own life: Whereas in the past, you might have thrived under the holistic lens that therapy provides, now you’d benefit more from a little nudge here and there. Or vice versa: Maybe you’ve never sought therapy before, but your situation or health has changed, and you find yourself needing the full-on support that therapy affords.

No matter your incentive for seeking help, it’s helpful to understand where the roles of a life coach and a therapist splinter, so you can make an informed decision on which is right for you!

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