Do You Need a Life Coach—or a Therapist?

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There’s power in a good rant session. You know the ones, when you’re in a coffee shop or on the phone with your best friend telling her your worries, hopes, dreams, questions about the future, and she just gets it and assures you everything will work out. You will be fine. And suddenly those fears and big monsters eating at your conscience are gone. Now, it could have been the wine you were simultaneously sipping with her but really just talking everything through feels amazing.

The fact is, research shows that verbalizing feelings can have a therapeutic effect on the brain. Getting worries out, no matter how insignificant or silly you think they are, contributes to a healthy well-being. But if your best friend is half a world away or your worries are more than what you’d like to discuss with her, who can you turn to? Life coaches and therapists are trained to help individuals work through their concerns but they qualify in discussing different specialities. Before you sign up for either, know which is right for what you want to discuss.

Life coach

A life coach offers a unique short- or long-term service designed to help ambitious individuals meet the goals that will bring them success and fulfillment. Unlike a therapist, a life coach is not a healthcare professional and is not required to hold a degree. Instead, they are encouraged to obtain certification through an accredited program.

When working with a life coach, clients are asked to identify obstacles or problematic behaviors that are hindering their success. Then, they work with the coach to create action plans to set goals and achieve the desired results. They look at your current starting point and use that as a base to take action, rather than looking back at past mistakes or decisions.

Common guidance may come in the form of creating business plans, improving communication skills, achieving financial independence or security, managing work-life balance, and starting or growing a business. Bottom line: Life coaches work to motivate, give emotional support and boost confidence in their clients all while centered around that individual’s professional goals, rather than a person’s mental or emotional health.

Therapist

On the other hand, a therapist offers long-term counseling service to help resolve problematic behaviors, beliefs, relationship issues, feelings and self-destructive habits. A therapist is classified as a psychologist or counselor and is required to have a master’s or doctorate degree and be licensed in the state they practice. The main idea is to help those cope with past experiences or traumas through self-introspection and analysis.

While therapy is commonly used as a source to recover from destructive relationships, anxiety, depression, addictions, divorce or the death of a loved one, you don’t have to have experienced a traumatic event to benefit from it. A therapist can also help an individual establish better emotional wellness. Talking with a trained professional can help you get a sense of how you appear to others, give you insight on your feelings and explain how your emotions are affecting your everyday life. Where a life coach mainly focuses on professional growth, a therapist can offer advice surrounding your past, present and future to better your own self.

The winner

Society might spin a negative connotation on working with a therapist or life coach, but achieving a positive image of yourself helps not only your mental health but also transcends to your emotional and physical well-being. Anyone should be open to seeking professional guidance, no matter how small or large a concern might seem. We’re social creatures and need to talk issues through with others.

A life coach does not diagnose, whereas a therapist can determine illnesses or pathologies that can be treated clinically. Therapists also look toward a client’s past as a way to understand problematic behaviors or issues with the goal of having a deep understanding of why a person might be exhibiting a certain feeling. Life coaches assess and identify a person’s current problems and use that as a launching pad to modify future actions and accomplish professional goals. Therapists focus more on the “why” while coaches work on the “how.”

But they don’t differ completely. Both aim to help their clients make positive changes in their lives to become more productive individuals. Therapists can diagnose from a healthcare perspective, but that doesn’t mean everyone they work with is mentally ill or battling an addiction. Many people turn toward professionals to better their lives and forge new paths.

Emily is a recent graduate and proud Midwesterner who just moved to the big city to start her career in magazine journalism. When she isn't commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan, she enjoys browsing bookstores for her next read, sipping chai tea lattes at local coffee shops, and playing tourist in the city she always dreamed of living in.