Life Coach vs Therapist: What’s the difference?


Life coaching and therapy have many things in common, but there are important differences, too. Although a common misconception is that coaching is simply watered-down therapy, this isn’t true. Coaching and therapy are two different services meant for different audiences. 

Dr. Ditzell Psychiatry offers both therapy and life coaching. Which is right for you depends on a number of factors. Here, we look at the similarities and differences between the two, along with who can benefit from each.


Both life coaching and individual or family therapy are designed to help people improve their lives, achieve their goals, and realize authentic happiness, but they go about it in necessarily different ways.

Coaching specifically helps people design and achieve their goals, whether professional or personal. Coaching draws on clients’ creativity and resources to lead them to develop solutions and strategies for growth that draw on, support, and enhance their skills. Coaches listen to and observe their clients and help them maximize their potential through practical strategies like creating structure, setting goals, and staying mindful. 

The coach-client relationship is more casual than the therapist-patient relationship. They serve as a sort of mentor and collaborator, and they focus more on the present and future than the past. They also offer encouragement and support while they help you:

  • Define your aspirations.
  •  Identify values, skills, and strengths.
  • Set actionable, manageable goals.
  • Develop a plan that draws on your talents.
  • Create structure and map out details.
  • Stay accountable to achieving your goals.
  • Learn healthy ways to navigate life.
  • Maximize energy and motivation.
  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Life coaching helps people tackle big goals, navigate important life changes, and become more happy and productive in their career and personal life. 

However, some people need more than a life coach to achieve happiness and success. Unless a coach is also a licensed therapist, they aren’t equipped to address more serious, deeper issues that their clients may face. For example, if someone seeks out life coaching to help them overcome hurdles in their life, but the hurdles are rooted in anxiety or depression, substance abuse, personality disorder, or past trauma, that person needs therapy not coaching.

Therapists diagnose mental health disorders and use their skills and knowledge to help clients recover from them. Therapy helps people identify problematic patterns of thought and behavior and outdated beliefs that have led to dysfunction in one or more areas of their life. It helps people resolve emotional pain, develop skills to cope with negative thoughts and emotions, and change unhealthy ways of thinking and behaving. Through therapy, people:

  • Address old, painful issues that have affected their happiness and success.
  • Examine and evaluate their thoughts and beliefs.
  • Learn to love and accept themselves.
  • Set appropriate boundaries and develop greater assertiveness.
  • Repair and strengthen relationships.
  • Manage stress and symptoms of mental illness.
  • Explore life meaning and find purpose in life.

When it all boils down to generalizations, coaching is for people who enjoy good mental health but need help getting focused and motivated to take the actions they need to realize their goals. Therapy is for people who are suffering due to unresolved issues or an unaddressed mental illness. A high-quality, reputable coach will know the difference and will refer clients to therapy as needed. 

Therapists vs. Life Coaches: Education and Licensing

While therapists must have a degree from an accredited institution in order to get a license to practice, there are no enforceable educational or licensing requirements for life coaches. This means that many life coaches are unqualified or under-qualified, which can lead to a lot of wasted time and money. But when a coach is skilled and well-trained, coaching can help you reinvent your future and transform your life. 

The International Coach Federation, or ICF, is a worldwide coaching credentialing and support organization. ICF accreditation is voluntary, but an accredited coach will have completed a certain amount of education and experience in the field. ICF sets standards for professional and ethical coaching behavior and offers three levels of accreditation for coaches:

  • Associate Certified Coaches engage in 60 hours of coaching training and 100 hours of coaching experience with at least eight clients.
  • Professional Certified Coaches are required to have 120 hours of coaching training and 750 hours of practical experience with at least 25 clients.
  • Master Certified Coaches need 200 hours of coaching training and 2,500 hours of experience with at least 35 clients.

Whether you need a life coach or a therapist, choosing one who’s licensed, accredited, and reputable will help ensure you get the most benefit from therapy or coaching. Life coaching and therapy through Dr. Ditzell Psychiatry can help you improve your life on all fronts. If you strive for better relationships, greater professional success, or a happier personal life, contact us today, and let us help you achieve your life goals.

Leave A Comment