Home » Therapist vs. Life Coach: What Are The 4 Emerging Differences?

Therapist vs. Life Coach: What Are The 4 Emerging Differences?

Therapist vs. life coach. What’s the difference? If you’ve ever researched coaching, you’ve probably come across the term therapist and asked, what’s the difference between a therapist and a life coach? Four key factors separate the two, but regardless of what differentiates a therapist from a life coach, both industries are far from shrinking.

In 2020, the American Psychological Association reported significantly more patients were seeking therapy services. Therapists are no longer limited to in-person clients. Online therapy sessions and therapy via text message are high in demand.

With the rising need for therapy, it likely won’t surprise you that IBISWorld reported business coaching is worth roughly $10 billion. Because the demand for therapists and life coaches has increased one has to wonder the following:

  • How is coaching different than therapy?
  • Is a life coach better than a therapist?

Reportedly, both industries are growing, yet there are significant differences between the two.

life coach vs. therapist CTA

What Is A Therapist?

Before getting into more specifics, the vital question is, what is therapy? To be even more precise, what exactly is a therapist, and what do they do? Let’s dive into these differences in a little more depth.

According to Tony Robbins, therapy focuses on the past and involves introspection and analysis, to resolve past issues. The goal of this retrospection is to create a happier, more stable future. If individuals pursue therapy, they likely have a general understanding of how their past impacts their current reality.

Therapists must be qualified for their work because: First, there’s the delicate nature of walking someone through their past and into a hopeful future. Second, many individuals suffer mental health issues due to their pasts.

The therapist is a certified individual responsible for guiding their clients toward this end goal. Sessions are flexible, and since the COVID-19 pandemic, a rise in online therapy has become a norm.

Therapists must go through significant training before they are legally qualified to conduct therapy sessions with individuals. However, many therapists’ qualifications reach the doctoral level due to the type of mental illnesses they work with.

Due to their training, therapists can treat mental health, provide mental health care, and work with debilitating mental health conditions.

What Is a Life Coach?

A life coach is an individual who works with clients to aid them in clarifying their dreams (long or short term), identifies behaviors that will hinder these dreams, and creates action plans to achieve desired results.

Unlike healthcare professionals, life coaches focus more on present issues or difficult circumstances. They then use these issues to emphasize a specific goal or aspiration. Life coaches frequently take their clients through a generalized framework. The coach likely developed this framework from personal experience and expertise, and while they may fine-tune it a bit for each coachee, coaching is usually more generalized than therapy.

Coaches offer long-term and short-term coaching sessions and can work with clients individually or in a group. Coachees often see personal growth and positive behavioral patterns changes due to their sessions.

What’s the Difference Between A Therapist And A Life Coach?

While life coaching and therapy have similarities, there are a few key differences between the two practices:
Therapist Lifecoach
  • Therapists are licensed mental health professionals.
  • Therapists take specific steps to pursue their vocation, and therefore, their road to their goal is unique to their occupation.
  • A therapist begins sessions at a different starting point than life coaches.
  • Life coaches do not need healthcare status or professional certification.
  • Life coaches also have a particular way of reaching their end goal, but they focus more on niche audiences than certifications.
  • While a therapist starts at the beginning of a client’s life, a coach usually begins in the present and works toward an end goal.
Let’s dive into the differentiation between these two.

1. Healthcare Status

A therapist is a licensed professional you can trust: They possess health care status. . Whether you work with a licensed therapist or a pre-licensed therapist, you work with someone professionally trained in therapy and ready to help you at a healthcare level.

Life coaches, on the other hand, are not required to obtain health care licenses. If a therapist has earned healthcare status and a life coach does not have this expertise, it’s critical to discuss the following question: What is a life coach not allowed to do?

Because life coaches do not have healthcare status, they are not allowed to bill their services to life insurance companies. In fact, according to Good Therapy, coaches do not necessarily need the following to offer their services:

therapist credential requirements

Appropriate training or education

therapist credential requirements

Oversight by a regulatory body

therapist credential requirements

Obligation to comply with HIPAA

therapist credential requirements

Mandatory reporting requirements

therapist credential requirements

Clinical experience

The type of mentorship you need may not require someone with the above certifications. Simply because a coach is not obligated to earn a specific certification does not mean they have no qualifications in other areas. However, a coach is likely to obtain certification before business. They may earn health and wellness, leadership, or another type of training credibility.

2. Professional Certification

While a therapist must meet educational requirements, a life coach will likely earn professional certification. If you’re someone who works with a coach, you probably noticed that both therapists and life coaches can meet certain qualifications, but only therapists obtain them in the healthcare field.

That said, a coach can take steps to become an expert in their field and even conduct original, evidence-based research to aid in their efforts. For example, if you want to become a life coach, there are four key steps you can take to do:

  • Find your niche.
  • Build your personal brand
  • Establish credibility
  • Get started and find a mentor

The final differentiating questions are also essential to ask:

Are life coaches covered by insurance?

Are life coaches covered by insurance?

Are life coaches licensed?

Are life coaches licensed?

Life coaches are not typically covered by insurance, while therapists usually are. And while life coaches may be licensed in some areas (such as health or wellness), they are not licensed in healthcare. On the other hand, therapists are state-licensed professionals who undergo rigorous training to earn their certification.

3. Starting Ground: Past or Present?

Therapists focus on the past to move forward, while coaches use the present as a starting point. Both beginnings can benefit the individuals coached or in therapy, but what’s best for you depends on your personal goals.

Clients will often pursue therapy rather than coaching if they need to heal from past wounds or trauma. Because of this desire, therapists usually go backward to move forward well. However, to fully understand their client and contributing factors to current or future issues, a therapist wants to start at the very beginning.

On the other hand, life coaches usually fixate on a future goal and start with the present. In coaching, the coachee likely has external goals such as:

  • Health or fitness
  • Starting a business
  • Positive mindset

This strategy to start in the current moment allows coaches to work with their clients to help them reach the dreams they desire in a timely and focused way. Coaches work with what their client currently has and where they are and use both to help them move forward.

4. Focus and Duration of Sessions

The focus of a therapist session versus that of a life coaching session varies quite dramatically. While a coaching session focuses on and directs toward a specific goal, sessions with a therapist have less structure.

Yes, sessions with therapists can and should have goals, but usually, they are more open-ended and geared toward the needs of the one helped. Of course, there are therapists who also focus on specific coping methods or niche therapy such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). However, regardless of niche certifications, many therapists are open to various clientele and equipped to help individuals from various backgrounds.

Life coaches usually base their clientele around a niche audience comprised of the coach’s strong points. For example, if the coach started a business and is certified in entrepreneurship, they will likely target coaches who need coaching for their organization. Because coaching centers so much on outside growth, typically, coaches need a specific set of skills and proven experience.

Empowering Life Coach Or Therapist? How To Choose What’s Right For You.

Choosing between a life coach and a therapist must be made based on your specific needs. There are several factors to consider when deciding what’s best for your particular situation:
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What Type Of Goal Are You Working Toward?

First, the goal you work toward is a significant factor in your decision. Life coach sessions usually are short-term and help you through a specific point in your life. Coaching time usually centers around reaching a personal growth goal.

Therapy sessions are typically more long-term and focus on your life, where you’ve been, are, and going. Remember, coaches usually focus on a niche audience and may apply their coaching framework to each client.

Therapy is individualized for the specific needs of the individual and focuses on emotional processing, coping mechanisms, understanding your responses to outside stimuli, mental health, etc. If you work with a psychiatrist, they may prescribe medication. However, a life coach is not a health care professional and cannot prescribe medication.

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How Much Do You Want To Invest?

Second, ask yourself how much you are willing to invest in your journey. Therapists usually take insurance. It’s unlikely your session fees will be entirely out of pocket.

Coaches, however, cannot bill their fees to insurance companies. Therefore, life coaching could fall under employee development depending on your employer and goals, and your employer could subsidize the coaching fee.

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What Is Your Core Pain Point?

Third, and perhaps most important, if past trauma affects your vocational dreams, you may want to start with therapy before transitioning into life coaching.

Neither a life coach nor a therapist outranks each other—they simply present different ways to help their clients. Take the time to assess where you’re at and what you need, and then move forward in confidence.

Both therapists and life coaches spend time uniquely equipping themselves to help you reach your personal goals.


Sarah Rexford
Content Writer
Joelle Cullimore
Marketing Content Manager

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