• The Counseling Initiative

Therapy vs Life Coaching: What do I need?

When Therapy is the Right Choice

When people are feeling really bad, they are in “the hole.” They may be stru

ggling with self-doubt, anxiety, depression, negative core beliefs, trauma, unfinished business with the past, intense emotions, painful relationships, or addictive behaviors. (Sometimes even all at the same time). When you’re in this place it can be very difficult to take action and have it be successful.

Until you feel stronger emotionally, you may not be able to make major changes in your life. You might feel helpless, trapped, and have no idea how to help yourself feel better. Or the things you try don’t work, and just make you feel more hopeless.

The truth is that sometimes you have to heal, grow and get stronger on the inside before you can make changes on the outside.

When you are in “the hole” you really need the compassionate support of a highly trained therapist. Someone who is competent to help you climb out of the hole and back onto solid ground. Someone who can create a safe space for you to begin to heal and grow. The first stages of growth are often introspective, subtle, and happen more on the inside then on the outside.

Change is risky, and change is difficult. You have to feel strong, confident, and competent in order for changes to stick and carry you forward. If you’re not on this space, therapy will help you get there.

When Life Coaching is a Good Choice

People can begin growth work from different starting points. Sometimes, people feel generally okay, and are simply interested in changing their circumstances and improving their outcomes. They feel strong enough to start making changes, and begin “climbing the mountain” that leads them to greater success. The work of this stage involves designing their new life, and figuring out how to make their dreams a reality.

Some people arrive at this point after first doing supportive, growth-oriented therapy. Some start the process at this solid-ground point, and just want to improve their current circumstances and create success. If you’re truly ready for coaching you probably don’t need as much insight, emotional support, or healing. You just need to get clarity, make a plan, and take action. If you’re here, coaching will be much more useful to you than therapy, because it will help you get results.

A good coach will help you get clarity about what your mountain looks like, and all the actual day-by-day steps you need to take to get to the top. Then they’ll support and encourage you as you walk up it.

The Dark Side of Coaching

There is a serious problem with the coaching profession as a whole: They are serving as therapists and marriage counselors. This is entirely inappropriate, illegal, unethical, and dangerous. Coaches do not need to have any professional credentials, education, training, or experience and are forbidden from practicing counseling or therapy. But many do, anyway.

Due to the stigma linked to traditional therapy people in search of personal growth and emotional wellness may prefer to seek support from life coaches rather than highly trained professional therapists. This is even true for people who are seriously in the hole, and struggling with big issues. It can just feel better for them to say, “my coach” instead of “my therapist.”

Unfortunately, lots of life coaches may only have a few weeks or months of training before being certified. You can decide being a realtor just isn’t for you any more, become a life coach in a weekend seminar (or online), hang a shingle, and start seeing clients the next week.

In contrast, professional therapists devote years in Master’s degree or Doctoral programs learning about research based, evidence supported strategies to be instruments of change in people’s lives. In the personal growth world, it’s like choosing to put your life in the hands of a marginally educated medical assistant rather than a board-certified physician.