Life Coaching & Therapy: Huge Difference!

Life Coach

What is Life Coaching?

Life coaching is designed to help ambitious people proactively get more done. By addressing personal and professional problems, life coaches are able to clarify goals and focus on breaking patterns that are causing their clients to get stuck on their paths to success. Both will help to define goals, but there are some fundamental differences between a life coach and a therapist.

A Life Coach:

  • Improves Performance
  • Develops Potential
  • Is Solution Oriented
  • Gives Direction

A Therapist:

  • Values Healing
  • Is Problem Oriented
  • Focuses on the Past
  • Diagnoses the Problem

Fundamental Differences

One of the most common misconceptions about life coaching is that it is therapy in disguise – or worse yet –therapy from an unlicensed practitioner. In reality, life coaching is truly its own unique service designed to help ambitious achievers meet the outcomes that will bring them success and fulfillment in any and all areas of life.

Therapists and Life Coaches share some overlap in that they both build trust and rapport, and both have excellent communications skills, but therapists will represent themselves as therapists whereas a life coach will not. Therapists require a Master’s degree or Ph.D/PsyD in their field to diagnose the people they work with and determine illnesses and pathologies so their patients can be clinically treated. A life coach’s academic background varies. My degrees, for instance, are in Semiotics (Symbolism & Communication) and Eastern Philosophy. A life coach always seeks the client’s cooperation whereas a therapist may treat with or without cooperation. A therapist may be able to prescribe medication whereas a life coach is not involved in either diagnosis or treatment of psycho-physiological disorders. Both generally tend to engage in active listening. In North America there are currently around 16,000 registered life coaches compared to the roughly 107,000 registered psychologists.

Therapy VS. Coaching

Therapy, also known as counseling or psychotherapy, is a long-term process in which a client works with a healthcare professional to diagnose and resolve problematic beliefs, behaviors, relationship issues, feelings and physical responses by focusing on past traumas and/or issues to change self-destructive habits, repair and improve relationships and work through painful feelings. Therapy focuses on the past and on introspection and analysis, with the hope of resolving past issues and creating a happier, more stable future.

In life coaching, a client works with a coach to clarify goals and identify challenges, obstacles and problematic behaviors in order to create action plans to achieve desired results. The life coach begins work at the client’s current starting point and is more action-based from that point onward. A life coach enables the client to take control of their life and take action to steer it toward their goals by identifying the client’s untapped potential and resources as well as providing new tools to move forward with.

Different Focuses

Although this is by no means all-inclusive, briefly, life coaches identify and describe current problematic behaviors so the client can work to modify them, while therapists analyze their client’s past as a tool for understanding present behaviors. And while motivation is integral to understanding behavior, therapists are more often as ‘why’ oriented as the life coach is ‘how’ oriented. The life coach wants to show you ‘how’ to get from point A to point B, while the therapist wants to help you understand why you’ve arrived at point A in the first place and perhaps rework it, with a secondary mission of perhaps moving on to a point B.

Therapy will focus on how the past has informed your present. Life coaching may also touch on these concepts as you learn to identify and overcome limiting beliefs and clarify your life blueprint, but the main focus is always on the dynamics of the present and the client’s personal vision of the future.

Conscious, Subconscious, Intention & Motivation

Therapy helps a client explore the subconscious and unconscious mind. This is the world of Shadow Work and deep psychoanalysis and can be a lifelong project, or at least take years of intense introspection to gain maximum clarity and benefit. The goal is to reach a deep understanding of behavior with an aim to overall abiding mental health. This is why therapy is supportive of issues like anxiety and depression.

Life Coaching on the other hand exists to help you get ‘unstuck’ through action and results. Coaching relies on KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and specific outcomes, assisting you in the creation of SMART goals while making sure that you own and are accountable for your actions and your wins.

Therapists and life coaches are both professionals which use conversational tools in varied approaches to specific goals. A therapy session is often unstructured and is guided by the flow of the client as well as the particular therapeutic approach. Life coaching sessions are guided by identifiable frameworks and marked by strategic implementation and most often immediate growth.


Although it varies, therapy tends to be long term. I remember my dad being in therapy for a good portion of his life. A coach, however, empowers clients with the tools they need to eventually be able to coach themselves! Life coaching isn’t meant to be forever.

There’s a bit of overlap. Both therapists and life coaches help the client set goals and enable them to make positive changes, but while a therapist will approach from a healthcare perspective, a life coach may approach from a philosophical, business or even artistic angle depending on the results that the client is seeking.

What Kind of Support Do You Need?

The decision to enlist the support of a therapist or life coach can be life-altering. For instance, if you’re getting ready to climb the Himalayas, you might consider hiring a Sherpa to guide you up the mountain, or a doctor. Which one is going to offer you the most support during your specific journey? If your health isn’t up to the task of climbing, then the Sherpa might not do you any good because your health needs to achieve a baseline of integrity before attempting a climb like that. In this case you might want to engage the doctor for a body-mind strategy, before the Sherpa who is going to help with the climbing strategy, tools, maps and guidance over challenges and obstacles on the way up to the summit.

Therapy and coaching is similar. A therapist will help get you well enough to take on the major challenges of life by exploring your psycho-physical well-being. The coach is like the Sherpa with expert knowledge of your path and climb to the next level of your mission.

A Life Coach Helps:

  • Clarify and Achieve Personal & Professional Goals
  • Create Business Plans & Achieve Financial Independence and Security
  • Illuminate and Polish Communication Skills
  • Achieve Work/Life Balance
  • Enhance and Augment Skill-sets for Conscious Implementation to Achieve a Vision

A Therapist Helps:

  • Trauma Recovery
  • Exploration of Relationships
  • Work through Disabling Conditions like Depression and Anxiety
  • Overcome Grief and Suffering from Loss

It’s crucial to know the difference between these two fields of professional expertise. Which service is going to support your needs best? Remember, life coaching is more than a watered-down version of therapy. It is a dynamic discipline designed to inspire you to achieve more than you might currently think possible, and enable and empower you with the proper tools to create a life in alignment with your personal vision of joy.

If you’d like to have a conversation about how life coaching might support you, don’t hesitate to contact me and find out if we’re a good fit to work together to bring your vision to fulfilment.