Life Coach vs Therapist: Understanding the Key Differences

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Life Coach vs Therapist: Understanding the Key Differences

Hey there, coach! Ever caught yourself wondering what really sets a life coach apart from a therapist? Whether you’re shaping your own coaching path or helping clients navigate their lives, understanding this difference is key.

We’re here to break down the “life coach vs therapist” topic, so you can fine-tune your approach and really empower those around you.

In this blog post, we’re going to lay out all the basics, making it super clear how these roles differ. Get ready to boost your know-how and sharpen your coaching skills.

By the way, we’re Cass and Tee, the energetic duo behind Lovely Impact – your go-to resource for all things coaching. With our years of experience, we’re excited to share insights that light up your coaching path. Let’s get started and unravel these differences to supercharge your coaching journey!


We see ads on social media promoting therapy and life coaching all the time. As these services become mainstream, it’s no longer a taboo subject to seek outside help.

The industry is growing because people LOVE having someone to work with them and help them achieve personal and professional goals.

Life is no longer a solo venture and people are starting to normalize support.

That might get you wondering. 

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What’s the difference between life coach vs therapist?

When people are seeking help it’s important they’re informed about the differences. While there is a talk-it-out aspect to both types of profession, don’t confuse the two. 

Both have different purposes, structures, and goals. 

The Role of a Life Coach

One thing we love to emphasize about coaching is the unique role you play. In a coach-client relationship, you’re an equal partnership, a dynamic duo, and evenly balanced collaborators.

You refrain from giving out advice and telling your client what to do. You’re all about empowering your client and driving their self-discovery. This is a life coach vs therapist difference worthy to be noted. 

Defining Life Coaching

Life coaching helps people live intentionally. When people are ready to elevate themselves, and accomplish personal and professional goals, they come to you for guidance. From there the two of you embark on a self-reflective journey for personal growth. 

You dig deep into the root of your client’s obstacles. You challenge them to grow, and overcome bumps in the road. You sail with them in stormy seas, channel high motivation and positive energy, and re-strategize if needed. 

When clients reach their goals, you’re there to do a victory dance, uncork the champagne, and celebrate with them to keep their transformation going. 

You’re on a journey with clients every step of the way. 

In the exploration of life coach vs therapist, one thing to make mention of is the innate and purposeful action of celebrating with clients when goals are completed. 

It’s one of our favorite parts of this profession!

Life Coach Responsibilities

There are professional attributes that will make you successful as a life coach. 

Here are a handful you’ll find are essential to your role as a life coach.

  • First is listening to understand in a judgment free way. It can be nerve-wracking for clients to share their turbulent innerworkings. It’s your responsibility to help clients feel safe and comfortable to share. 
  • Next is goal setting. You are responsible for ensuring that clients have the support to set goals that are big enough to scare them, but realistic enough to kindle their soul and spur their ambitious spirit. 
  • Problem solving is another key responsibility. When things don’t go as planned, you orchestrate a smooth alternate plan of attack while providing accountability. 
  • Accountability is essential in the coach-client relationship. Oftentimes it’s only you a client has for support. You’re the partner a client can be sure will push them towards progress. Even during tough times. 
  • Growth happens through challenges. It’s vital that you help your client step out of their regular thinking patterns and challenge them with personal development homework, tasks, or assignments. Get them to take on their fears and obstacles head on — all while providing support, of course!
  • Along the way you’ll also want to take coaching notes. Be detailed about what your clients tell you so you can refer back to them later or use them to gauge progress. 
  • Finally there’s guidance. Just as the holidays are not quite complete without mouthwatering food, the coach-client relationship is not quite complete without it. As we mentioned before, guidance comes from an equal and symmetric partnership.  

The Role of a Therapist

Therapists help unravel client’s past experiences so they can find freedom, and start from a clean slate. Something therapists also specialize in is diagnosing disorders or mental health conditions — another key thing to note for the life coach vs therapist debate.  

Defining Therapy

Therapy is healing carried out by an expert mental health provider. It’s based on a health model where clients are diagnosed, treated, and receive adjustments in treatment as needed. 

The purpose of therapy is to improve mental and emotional well-being. This is done by uncovering and resolving past traumas and healing them with science-back therapeutic interventions. 

Clients benefit from being able to get treatment for things like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar disorder. 

Think of it as professionals that work in different areas of the timeline. Therapists clear mental blocks from the past, while life coaches shape the future and tackle present obstacles.  

Clients can work with both, or maybe they just need to focus on one part of their personal timeline. 

Life Coach vs Therapist: Understanding the Key Differences

Therapist Responsibilities

Because therapy is based on a health model it is government regulated. Therapists are licensed health professionals that have to keep up-to-date with licensing requirements.

Another responsibility therapists have is diagnosing. They use talk therapy, psychological evaluation, and may order tests to diagnose mental health conditions. 

Based on the diagnoses, therapists are responsible for creating, and guiding clients through a treatment plan. 

Life coach vs therapist planning follows two different paths. Therapists create treatment plans, while life coaches collaborate with clients to create an action plan. 

Additionally, treatment plans follow evidence-based interventions.

Here are a handful of examples:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) 
  • Mindfulness techniques
  • Group therapy
  • Exposure therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) 
  • Emotion focused therapy (EFT)
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) 

That’s a lot of avenues for healing! 

It’s not all talk therapy like we see in the movies, is it?

Therapists are the experts responsible for guiding clients through one or a few of these therapies to improve mental and emotional well-being.

Life Coaches vs Therapists: Key Differences

We’ve unpacked a lot of sciency deets about therapy, so let’s turn our attention to the bigger picture. What are the key differences between a life coach vs therapist?

Educational Background and Licensing

The first thing we want to demystify in the life coach vs therapist puzzle is education. Therapists start their careers by taking the college route. They earn master’s or doctoral degrees in mental health counseling or behavioral science.

A master’s degree is the minimum educational requirement for becoming a therapist. If there are certain areas a therapist wants to specialize in, this requires more education. 

After completing the rigors of academia and getting their degrees, therapists enter a phase where they receive supervised experience.

Once the required number of supervised hours are completed (hours depend on state requirements), they take a test to be credentialed by a governing body or state licensure.  

Finally, they can start working as a therapist. 

Life coach vs therapist education differs vastly. 

Here’s why.

Life coaches don’t have any educational requirements. Neither do you need to be credentialed by a governing body. 

You can breathe a sigh of relief here.

However, listen close, coach!

Without regulations in place, it’s your duty to make sure you have the skills, knowledge, background, experiences, and talent for undertaking this rewarding career. 

This is a topic we don’t take lightly!

We highly recommended doing competency based training and getting certified by a reputable company. This way you’ll be unshakeable with confidence. 

➡️ A good place to start exploring is our blog The Best Affordable Life Coach Certification in 2024. Check out their range of courses to enhance your skills and deepen your understanding of how to effectively guide your clients.

Life Coach vs Therapist: Scopes of Practice

Another key difference between life coach vs therapist are the mental pathways they work on. 

Therapists help people who are suffering from mental health issues such as depression, or anxiety. They are trained to examine a client’s past and facilitate healing from traumas. 

Life coaches work with individuals who are healthy and have good mental well-being. This is the starting point for clients who want to focus on personal growth and goal achievement. 

Approach to Client Work

Life coach vs therapist approaches to client work come in two distinct flavors. 

In life coaching, clients are the pilots of the program. They drive goal setting and desired outcomes. Your role is to work with them to set realistic goals, and provide accountability. 

The progress that is made is primarily through client self discovery. 

On the other hand, therapists unearth past experiences to resolve mental suffering. If there are diagnoses, they treat them with science-backed therapies.

Therapists are positioned as the experts who drive positive results through clinically indicated treatments.  

Therapy is typically long-term and can last for many years whereas life coaching programs run anywhere from a few months to a year.  

Choosing Between Becoming a Life Coach vs Therapist

We’ve separated the bits and pieces of the life coach vs therapist conundrum. Now, let’s sift through some further considerations between the life coach and therapist career paths. 

Which one is right for you?

When to Consider Becoming a Life Coach

Let’s go beyond the “you have to be a good listener to be a life coach” platitude. 

What really sets people on a life coaching path?

  1. You’re a planner. Life coaches live for the futures their clients envision. This takes planning. 
  2. You’re a stickler for habits. You know building good daily habits is what brings success. 
  3. Your motivation is contagious. Even through choppy waters, you keep your client’s motivation high and maintain a positive attitude. 
  4. You have marketing prowess. If you dream of scaling your business, you’ll take the time to learn to market your coaching talent. 
  5. You’ve got the passion. You see your past self in your clients, and want to help the ordinary become exceptional. 

➡️ Golden Nugget: Check out our Maryann website template, perfect for life coaches.

When to Consider Becoming a Therapist

If dissecting the complex inner workings of the human mind compels you, becoming a therapist might be suitable for you. 

When it comes to life coach vs therapist, here’s what might set you on the path to becoming a therapist.

  1. You appreciate the college grind. Therapists are licensed and have completed higher education. The world of academia must intrigue you. 
  2. You have a deep interest in mental health. Your clientele will be mostly clients with mental health issues. You must be fascinated with human behavior. 
  3. You’re analytically inclined. You love piecing together a health puzzle, paying attention to the details and character traits of your clients.
  4. You know when to dish out tough love. You’ll be helping people face some hard truths. You’ll know when to press forward and when to ease up a bit. 
  5. You truly care. Empathy and the drive to relieve people’s suffering must run deep in your veins. 

Combining Life Coaching and Therapy Skills

We’ve talked about life coach vs therapist key differences. But what if we combined the two?

It can be done.

Like mac n’ cheese or donuts and coffee, when these two professions are combined you get something pretty amazing. 

With this combo you get to be the farmer AND the chef. You produce fine ingredients as a therapist. Then, as a life coach, you use the fresh ingredients to whip up a scrumptious Michelin grade dish.

In other words, your ability to support clients with a wide range of needs is expanded. You get to be there every step of the way to witness a full transformation and profound personal growth. 

Tapping into your clinical and educational background you can use therapies to get client’s primed and overcome past traumas and mental illness. Then, when they have accomplished their goals, you can unlock their full potential as a life coach. 

HELPFUL TIP: If you feel a calling to specialize in these two career paths, please note that they need to be two completely separate practices. Therapy comes with a set of regulations and potential conflicts of interest when working with clients. Another way to combine these two professions is to partner up. As a life coach, you can partner with a therapist or vice versa.

Start thinking past the “life coach vs therapist debate” and start thinking “life coach AND therapist combo.” You’ll find they richly complement each other and you’ll have more mastery in the art of personal growth. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Life Coach vs Therapist

Got questions about the nitty-gritty differences between life coaching and therapy? You’re not alone! Here, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions to clear the air and help you better understand where a life coach fits versus a therapist.

What is the difference between a life coach and a therapist?

A life coach is like your strategic partner, focusing on setting goals, creating outcomes, and managing personal changes. They hold space for you to envision your future and map out how to get there, using techniques that drive forward momentum. Unlike therapists, life coaches don’t diagnose or treat mental health issues. Instead, they motivate you to harness your full potential in personal or professional realms. Therapists, on the other hand, delve into emotional resolutions and healing, often looking at past traumas and issues to improve psychological well-being. Their work is essential for emotional healing and mental health management.

What is the difference between a clinical psychologist and a life coach?

Clinical psychologists and life coaches often serve very different roles, but both aim to improve an individual’s quality of life. Clinical psychologists are trained mental health professionals who diagnose and treat mental health conditions. They work from a therapeutic standpoint, helping clients understand and overcome psychological issues. Life coaches, meanwhile, are more like cheerleaders for your personal and professional goals. They are not equipped to handle deep-seated psychological disorders but are excellent for providing guidance, accountability, and empowerment to achieve specific outcomes in life.

What is the difference between a life coach and a mentor?

While both mentors and life coaches aim to guide and support, their approaches differ significantly. Mentors typically provide advice and guidance based on their professional experiences, acting as a role model in a particular industry or career path. Life coaches, however, focus more broadly on your overall growth, encouraging self-discovery and offering tools to navigate personal or career challenges and transitions. Unlike mentors, life coaches do not necessarily draw from their personal paths but rather facilitate a process that helps you uncover your own answers.

What type of person needs a life coach?

If you’re someone who’s looking to make a change but not sure where to start, a life coach might be just what you need! Ideal for individuals who are seeking clarity in their careers, relationships, or personal life, life coaches excel in helping you set realistic goals and outline actionable steps to achieve them. Whether you’re feeling stuck, contemplating a big life decision, or simply want to grow and improve, a life coach can provide the structure and motivation to propel you forward. Perfect for those who are generally well-adjusted but looking to enhance their life in specific areas.

Armed with these insights, you can now navigate the exciting worlds of life coaching and therapy with confidence. Remember, whether it’s steering through life’s challenges or healing from past wounds, choosing the right support makes all the difference!

Final Thoughts

We hope this exploration into the “Life Coach vs Therapist” distinctions has illuminated the unique roles each professional plays in personal development and mental health.

To sum up, we’ve traversed the definitions and roles of life coaches and therapists, identifying key differences and how each can uniquely support your journey. From goal-setting with life coaches to deep emotional healing with therapists, understanding these paths helps you choose the right support for yourself or your clients.

Now we’d like to turn it over to you:

Which insight about the life coach vs therapist roles do you find most enlightening? 

Is there a particular difference that could influence how you seek support or provide it in your coaching?

Perhaps you have a story to share about how distinguishing between these roles has impacted your coaching practice or personal growth journey.

Whatever your thoughts or questions, drop a comment below—we’d love to hear from you and continue this engaging conversation!

Don’t forget to share this blog with fellow coaches and anyone who might benefit from clarifying the impactful roles of life coaches and therapists. Let’s spread the knowledge and support each other in our respective journeys!

About The Author

Hey! I’m Cass, a brand coach and the Co-Founder & Chief Brand Officer at Lovely Impact, a website template shop for coaches. I help coaches elevate their businesses with beautiful branding and websites. Here on our blog, my content focuses on branding, web design, and storytelling.

Hey! I’m Tee, a brand and marketing coach and the Co-Founder & CMO at Lovely Impact, a website template shop for coaches. I help coaches grow their coaching businesses digitally. Here on our blog, my content focuses on web design, marketing, business, and social media strategy.

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