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Coaching or Psychotherapy: Which is Right for Me?

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

This is a question that I have been seeing more and more lately. In my perspective, if you're feeling that something isn't right in your life or emotions, both coaching and/or therapy will probably be helpful! However, time is precious and we want to engage in the most effective use of our time, so we can start feeling better as soon as possible! So first, lets talk about what defines coaching and therapy, how they are similar, how they are different, and what are the benefits and risks of both - so you can make your most informed decision.

Defining Life Coaching and Psychotherapy

The fastest way to distinguish life coaching from psychotherapy is the needs of the client. Life coaching is a profession that helps clients with reaching specific goals in their behavior. A life coach's primary focus is the present and immediate future - such as obtaining better work life balance, or improving one's daily routine. Psychotherapists on the other hand, help clients identify, manage, and heal mental illnesses - such as depression, anxiety, or trauma. Therapists are trained and licensed in their state to treat mental illness, and treatment can many times deal with healing past wounds that affect the client today.

Similarities and Differences

Whether you choose to get a life coach or a therapist, both experiences will involve working with a supportive professional who is looking to encourage you and help you improve your life. Both life coaches and therapists charge for their services, and both usually have informed consent processes, keep your information confidential, and provide you with a neutral 3rd party perspective to your life.

One big difference between life coaches and therapists are the formalities and legalities of the care you receive. Life coaches are not required to be trained, accredited, or licensed. While coaches often commit to providing a professional and systematic type of support, they are not required by law to keep your information confidential, provide any paperwork, or adhere to any code of ethics. Therapists are required by their state to provide you information about your treatment via paperwork, to keep all of your information confidential, and to adhere to legal and ethical standards of conduct. Therapists are also required to complete hundreds of hours of classwork and clinical experience before obtaining their license, while coaches do not have these educational and experiential requirements.

Benefits and Risks

With life coaching, the benefits include possible increased flexibility in the way you work with the coach. Depending on the goal you are working on, the coach can meet with you in an office, virtually via video or telephone, or sometimes in a different location that is safe and appropriate for you both, such as a park or gym. Life coaches can keep you accountable on the specific goals you are working on, and can provide guidance and direction towards that goal. The risks involved with getting a life coach include not being able to delve deeper into the reasons behind your current struggles. You might be working towards a goal in your life, but if you find yourself struggling to meet the goal, your coach might not be able to explore the reasons underneath with you. Also, a life coach's methods might not be evidence-based, or they might not have the expertise in your specific needs to help you. Another risk, or possibly-negative aspect of getting a life coach is that their fees are not covered by health insurance, so you would have to pay out of pocket for any life-coaching services.

In regards to psychotherapy, the benefits include the legal and ethical responsibilities of the therapist - you can expect a higher level of professionalism and commitment from a therapist. Therapists are also trained to be more non-directive in their approach - meaning they don't give you direct guidance and recommendations - they help you find your own answers. Therapists can also help you explore deep rooted issues that have been contributing to the patterns of thinking and acting in your life. Another benefit is that therapy is usually covered by many types of health insurance, so there is the possibility that this more intensive treatment could cost less for you out of pocket. A risk of therapy is that you might experience more emotional turbulence from the therapy experience, because you are exploring more personal and intense aspects of yourself, which can be draining at times. Another possibly negative-aspect of therapy is that the therapist cannot encourage and push you outside of the therapy session, in the way that a coach might be willing to do.

Final Thoughts

If you're still unsure about whether to pursue life coaching or psychotherapy, it may be helpful to speak to a few professionals and let them know what you're seeking help for. Most coaches and therapists will provide free consultations before taking you on as a client - this would be a great opportunity for you to tell them what is going on and ask them if they believe your needs would be best served by a coach or a therapist. Please keep in mind that a therapist can do some forms of coaching in their treatment approach (if their style allows for it, and if it is within ethical boundaries), but a coach cannot conduct therapy in their services. If you notice that you are dealing with strong emotions, negative behaviors, worried about harming yourself or others, or trouble in your relationships, therapy would probably be the best route for you.

Where does ALIGN 22:39™ fit?

As both a licensed psychotherapist and a certified health coach, I could provide either service to my clients. However, at this time I am devoting all of my extra availability to life coaching. If a coaching client presents with goals that would be better served in therapy, I will encourage them to contact their insurance for therapist referrals, and/or might refer some therapists that I know who might be of help to them. I actually believe that having both a life coach and a therapist for a time could be the best route for many. With the ALIGN 22:39™ program I encourage my clients to see a therapist as well as meet with other clinicians and professionals (such as their PCPs, personal trainers, mentors, etc.) within the first 6 months of starting life coaching, in order to "tune up" in all important areas of their life.


Disclaimer: ALIGN 22:39, and the information provided by Corrine Limas, is solely intended for informational and entertainment purposes and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment regarding medical or mental health conditions. This blog does not constitute a provider-patient relationship. Although Corrine Limas is a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified health coach, and certified personal trainer, the views expressed on this site or any related content should not be taken for medical or psychiatric advice. Always consult your physician before making any decisions related to your physical or mental health.

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