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Life Coach or Therapist?


By Tiffany Mitchell, Administrative Assistant at Agape Counseling, Ltd.

Life can be challenging. Life can be tough. Many people are unhappy. They may need help dealing with their careers, personal relationships, self-esteem, or a multitude of other issues. It can be confusing to determine what sort of help you might need. People are often turning to life coaches as an alternative to therapy. While these two professions are similar in many ways, there are some significant differences. Both life coaches and therapists are helping professionals that provide deep listening and active communication to form a trusting, respectful relationship with clients/patients. However, the type and intensity of help, as well as the education required, differs greatly.

In therapy, counselors seek to heal emotional wounds. Therapists explore and examine unfinished emotional business from all stages of life. They explore the historical roots of the problems a person is having and focus on bringing the patient’s unconscious mind into awareness. They often ask, “Why?” to help resolve issues and help identify dysfunction. Therapists are medical professionals who can diagnose and provide professional expertise and guidelines. They develop a treatment plan to help keep the person on track and on the way to healing, although progress is usually slow and often painful. The goal is to bring patients from a dysfunctional state to a state of healthy functioning.

Life-coaching is appropriate for people who are emotionally and psychologically healthy, but are looking for help in setting goals and making positive changes in their careers or life satisfaction. Life coaching is less structured and is about discovering and advancing a person’s potential. Clients of life coaching should be healthy and striving to improve their circumstances. Progress is usually rapid and enjoyable. Rather than seeking to heal emotional wounds, life coaches focus on self-exploration, self-knowledge, professional development, performance enhancement, and better self-management. Life coaches regularly take an active, energetic approach, asking clients “What is next?” They often focus on the present and the future.

It’s important to know that there is an enormous difference between the education necessary to be a therapist versus a life coach. In fact, the life coaching profession does not require any professional credentials and their certification can be obtained from many different organizations — some that only require a weekend training or the completion of an online course. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is considered by many to be the gold standard when it comes to certification and training. These programs range from 125 hours to more than 300 hours, typically taking six to eighteen months to complete. If you are considering a life coach, be sure to interview several, get recommendations, and check out their experience and qualifications.

Education requirements and experience required to become a therapist is highly regulated and very rigorous. To start the process of becoming a licensed therapist, one must complete their master’s degree. Individuals must then take and pass a national examination; for Illinois, it is the National Board for Certified Counselors’ National Counselor Examination. To achieve higher licensing, they need to work under supervision for two years. A year of experience must include no less than 960 hours of face-to-face direct counseling with clients. The experience must be completed in no less than 48 weeks. Following this, they must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination to become a fully licensed therapist.

|While there are many differences among these two professional “helpers,” there are also many similarities. Both coaches and therapists wear a wide range of hats in their professions. They both work with their clients as a coach, teacher, facilitator, guide, consultant, counselor, process expert, content expert, analyst, orchestrator, and catalyst. The common goal is to create a trusting, respectful, client-centered, and collaborative partnership. This creates a working atmosphere where the client feels comfortable in participating in active communication and listening. These similar professionals also both use creative questions that raise personal awareness and personal insight that will help the client best find their own unique solutions to issues.

If you seek to resolve something you sense is wrong so that you can become a more normally functioning person, a therapist may be the better choice for you. If you feel fine, but want to improve or enhance something about yourself or your life, then a coach is likely the better choice. Just remember, if you need help — whether from a therapist or a life coach — don’t hesitate to take that first step and make that call to start your journey to a more happy and prosperous life!

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact Agape Counseling at 309-663-2229. They are a group of Christian counselors, social workers, psychologists, and support staff committed to a therapeutic process which ministers to the whole person. Their Bloomington office is located at 211 N. Veterans Parkway (next to Krispy Kreme). They also have offices in Peoria and Morton. Visit them online at