When I first tell people that I’m a life coach, one of the most common questions I get asked is: “so, is that like a counsellor, or a therapist, or something?”
The short answer to that is: “no.”
The long answer? Well, that’s a bit more involved.
Counsellor or therapist?
Therapist and counsellor are two terms that are often interchangeable in everyday use. While some would have you believe that therapist in this context is short for psychotherapist, in fact the word describes someone who is administering therapy. Many counsellors are qualified psychotherapists, while many therapists have their training in a difference discipline.
What does a therapist do?
The role of the therapist is to help patients deal with a range of mental or emotional issues that they feel are holding them back. They utilise various methods to determine client’s individual behaviour patterns as well as any underlying causes of their problem. These methods may include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), psychoanalysis, art therapy, or more. The goal is for the individual to come to terms with the challenges they are facing, be it a specific mental health condition, trauma, bereavement, PTSD, or many other conditions.
What does a life coach do?
A life coach takes a look at their client’s life now and discusses where and who that person wants to be in the future. They then coach that individual in how to achieve that goal. Life coaching involves taking a realistic approach to their current situation and recognising their potential for change. A large part of the process is setting realistic short, medium, and long-term goals that are not only rewarding but attainable, with coaching and confidence.
What is the difference between the two roles?
At its most basic, the difference between a therapist and a life coach is one of approach.
Therapists help their clients in the present by examining their past. This helps them to understand how previous experiences and behaviours are impacting on their current lives. Identifying those behaviours and experiences allows them to develop new coping mechanisms that can help them to move forward.
Life coaches on the other hand help our clients in the present by focussing on the future. While we don’t dismiss a person’s earlier experiences, we aim to direct them towards attainable goals, be they personal or professional. By creating new behaviours we look to increase a person’s motivation and confidence to achieve what they want to achieve.
Therapist or life coach?
Of course, there are many similarities between these two roles and choosing the right discipline is important. If you feel you need to resolve something in your past before you can move on, then a therapist may be the ideal choice. If you want to change the way you are today to improve your chances for the future, maybe life coaching is more appropriate.