Therapist or life coach, which one is right for me?

One of the most common misconceptions I see about life coaching is that it is low-key therapy. Which is not true and if it were, in most cases, would be done by unlicensed practitioners and that is a big no-no! 

So I’m hoping this article helps to clear up any confusion and offers you a few guideposts on how to determine who to hire if you’re in the market for some personal development help.  

I will also break down what the difference is between hiring a practitioner and leaning on a friend who is a practitioner.

Let’s start with therapists. 

Therapists, psychotherapy practitioners, psychologists, are all licensed, mental health counselors who work with you long-term on addressing past traumas, behavioral issues, mental illness, and helping you find ways to cope with various life challenges. 

In most cases, they can offer you a diagnosis and they are an amazing resource for:

  • Changing self-destructive habits
  • Working through chronic emotional pain
  • Resolving past issues to create a happier & healthier future

But doesn’t the past come up in coaching sessions?


The past does come up and having a full picture of what the individual has gone through can really help to understand where they might be blocked on present-day & future successes. 

Acknowledging & validating past painful experiences and working together to release some of that energy does not require licensing.

HOWEVER, unless the coach is also a licensed mental health counselor, they are not qualified to handle some of the heavier issues I previously mentioned. 

Infographic illustrating what a therapist does. What does a therapist do?

TRAINED coaches know how to identify those issues and when it is time to refer out. 

I emphasize trained because there are untrained coaches out there which I explain more later in this article.

There are times when people reach out to me and I refer them to therapy because what they truly need is for someone to listen & help them learn to cope, not necessarily set some goals and figure out how to become the best versions of themselves. I have even had a few clients who I’m willing to coach, IF and only if they are working with a therapist as well. 

If you’re asking yourself, “why on earth would someone want both?” 

Then, let’s dig into life coaching.

Although some areas of coaching and therapy may overlap, the work is not the same. Life coaching is an alliance or partnership between coach and client designed to motivate and inspire the client to fully live the life they want. 

We work together to identify what that looks like and map out what it takes to get there. At times, we explore things that may have happened in the past and are still creating blocks in the present but we will not be working to recover from past traumas.

Life coaching is more short-term, goal-oriented, and action-based.

It’s about moving forward and having accountability so you actually make the changes in your life that you’re looking to see, it’s about integrating what you’ve learned about yourself and the life you’ve designed. 

Personally, I chose to go for my life coaching certification over my master’s in psychology because I wanted to meet people at the “now what” spot in their lives. 

I love therapy! And I’ve worked with many therapists, but after trauma resolution and learning cognitive-behavioral techniques I continuously found myself at the “now what” spot, lost on how to integrate my learnings and actually thrive in life. What got me there was coaching!

Infographic illustrating what a life coach does. What does a life coach do?

But not all coaches are created equal. 

The same is true for therapists, honestly. It takes time to find the right coach or therapist in the same way it takes time to find the right life partner and bestie. 

What I mean by this is, the field of coaching is unregulated for the most part. When you hire a therapist you know they received a certain amount of training and licensing before they can practice – this doesn’t guarantee they are good but it does confirm that they have a code of ethics & standard practices at the least

Coaching, on the other hand, you can’t make assumptions. It’s best to ask IF they were trained; if their training program was approved by the International Coaching Federation which ensures they understand the industry code of ethics & standard practices at the least; if they received certification; and if they are engaged in continued education and growth in their field. 

In a nutshell, what is the difference between therapists and life coaches?

A therapist focuses on the past, whereas a life coach focuses on the present & future.

How are Therapy Sessions and Coaching Sessions Different?

A therapy session typically lasts 50 minutes (do not accept anything less & no, text therapy is not a substitute for actual talk therapy.) Sessions are typically booked week by week, the work is done during the session time. The focus is on emotional clearing, problem-solving, behavioral corrections, and heavy life challenges. 

Coaches typically work in packages with different meeting agreements based on the type of coaching you are receiving. Your agenda is at the center of each coaching session and the coach holds up a mirror for you to see the things about yourself that you are unwilling to see on your own. They keep you accountable and call you out in ways that your friends can’t always do because friendship is on the line. 

Me, as a coach.

Personally, as a coach, I am partnering with my clients on their goals & objectives. I am very invested in their success. I hold them accountable, send them resources, and collaborate with them on our meeting notes. Provide text & email support, and I am sometimes reading what they are reading or taking challenges they are taking. It just depends on the client and each scenario is different. 

I tell my clients that although we may only meet once a week, we are in a 3-month partnership!

How does that differ from calling me up as a friend?

Well, as a friend I can give you my opinion on that bozo you need to kick to the curb! I hold space for my best friends as they work through some things. Which might be over dinner or at the beach, it might end in a twerk off or a Netflix binge. We are not in a paid partnership and my coaching hat is off when I am with my friends! I would say the same is true for all other practitioners with their friends. 

Infographic showing the difference between therapists, life coaches, support groups, and friends.

Sometimes we need a therapist. Sometimes we need our bestie. Sometimes we need a support group. Sometimes, when we are ready to move the needle in life, we need a life coach! AND SOMETIMES WE NEED THEM ALL!! If you are generally looking for more ways to check out How to Cultivate More Self- Love, an article from the archives.