Life Coaching vs Therapy

(How do I know when to see a Life Coach versus a Psychotherapist?) By Donna Holland Barnes 

Coaching focuses on visioning success. Therefore, the present state of a person is recognized and what is emphasized is moving forward into the future. You want to improve your performance and learn about any barriers you may have that keep  you from being motivated and moving ahead. 

Therapy, on the other hand, helps you manage any emotional disorders or  dysfunctions that keep you from moving forward, such as, any phobias, major  depressive disorders, PTSD, or anxiety to name a few. Therapy helps you delve into the past to understand the future and to manage your emotions. 

As an analogy, a life coach is like an athletic trainer while a therapist is like a  medical doctor specializing in certain areas. Both draw from a shared body of  knowledge. There are times when a coach may explore the past, family life, or  

emotions of their client to better understand the client’s origin of the stories being  told about the present and future. 

When your emotions interfere with daily operations, and your health status  interrupt with everyday functioning – professionally, personally, or socially, you  should seek the help of a therapist – especially if personal self-care is compromised  such as eating, grooming, household management or taking time for leisure. When  any of the above is compromised, always consider duration (how long), frequency  (how often) and intensity (how forceful). Help from a professional therapist is  warranted when the issue last for 2 weeks or more and again, affects daily  functioning. 

Common mental health issues include: 

• Anxiety 

• Depression 

• Eating disorders 

• Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 

• Substance abuse or addiction 

• Suicidal ideation  

• Thought disorder

In summary, coaching is not therapy. Coaches do not work on mental health issues  or dig into the past. Coaching clients are considered balanced and completely  functional and want to do better. They look at where you are today and will help  you remove any obstacles that keep you from moving further and not getting stuck. Coaches help you set personal goals and take action to create the life you desire. 


Hullinger, A. M. and DiGirolamo, J. A. (2018). Referring a client to therapy: A set of guidelines. Retrieved from International Coach Federation website: Referral.pdf. 


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