Life Coach vs. Psychotherapist-What’s the Difference?

By Patricia Haddon

What’s the difference between therapy and life coaching? And, how do I know which one is right for me? Great questions! Both services are designed to support and guide you to experience a life with greater happiness and fulfillment. However, there are some differences in approach, training, credentialing, and costs. Let’s look at some of the similarities and the fundamental differences between therapy and life coaching to help you make your decision.

What is Therapy?

Psychotherapy has a long history that has evolved over the years. Some of the biggest misconceptions about therapy are stereotypes left over from the past. One welcomed change is the duration of treatment. Few of us today are willing (or need to) lie on a couch for the next 15 years and talk about Mom. There’s also a change in focus. Most people come to therapy with specific presenting problems that they’ve identified to address. Today’s therapy is more interactive. Therapists collaborate with clients to help them define and understand their problems with clarity. Together they create a treatment plan with goals and strategies for achievement. Before clients can tackle personal and professional goals, they may first need to do internal work to develop greater insight and self understanding. Clients feel safe and supported in the therapeutic environment to unpack emotions, internal issues, and past experiences that block them from healing or creating change.

What is Life Coaching?

A life coach also helps clients set and clarify goals and create a strategy for achievement. Life coaching is pragmatic with a focus on results through specific behavioral outcomes and goals. Goals tend to be concrete, clearly defined, and chunked down into achievable steps. Life coaching is helpful for goals that are related to career, business, finances, or achieving personal objectives such as, improved health and fitness or sports performance. Goals that are easy to operationally define and measure are compatible with the process of life coaching. Life coaching focuses more on individual actions and key performance indicators to measure results. A good life coach will motivate you, help you define clear goals, create a plan for achievement, develop the skill sets necessary to facilitate your plan, and measure your results.

Similarities and Differences

While therapy and life coaching do share some common characteristics and aims, fundamental differences exist between the provider’s roles and their approach. Therapy is designed to be non-directive. Your therapist alternates between taking your lead and in being your guide. Therapist never tell you what to do. They help you explore and understand your situation to identify your options. But, you are the expert in your life and you make your own decisions. Therapists are person-focused and they care deeply, but their professional role is to be objective with respect for your self-determination.

Life coaches have a more active approach in directing the process and your activities. Life coaches focus on the process of achieving results, and less so on inner work. Clients, who have great ideas but experience difficulty in transforming them to an actionable plan, will benefit from life coaching techniques. Life coaching is helpful if you have strong goals and need a blueprint to achieve your mission.

Training and Credentialing:

Therapists are healthcare professionals trained and licensed to diagnose and treat behavioral and mental health issues. Providers of psychotherapy can include; psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, mental health counselors, marriage and family counselors, etc. All have advanced degrees beyond the Bachelor level with post intern clinical hours and supervision requirements. After passing board exams, and background checks, they are eligible for licensing. In New York State, therapists are licensed under the Office of the Professions which can impose disciplinary actions, including the suspension or termination of licenses.

Life coaching is a non-regulated industry. There are no laws or state or federal agencies that govern the field. There are no degrees, accreditation, or licenses required to become a life coach. There are programs that provide training and certification. But, they are also unregulated and unaccredited. Having said that, one of the most influential people in my life was a remarkable life coach. But remember, anyone can call themselves a life coach and provide services without recourse.


Fees vary greatly for both therapists and life coaches. My life coach, as mentioned above, charged more than my therapist with a doctoral degree. Generally, psychotherapy fees vary by degree, specialty, and location. Reputation and popularity are factors, which is also true of life coaches. The cost of therapy may be significantly reduced with health insurance reimbursement. If you have insurance for behavioral health and you see a licensed therapist for reasons of medical necessity, your insurance may cover a portion of your treatment. Life coaches aren’t recognized by insurance for reimbursement and all costs are out of pocket.

So, Do I Need a Therapist or a Life Coach?

In summary, it’s the singer, not the song. Let me translate for anyone who didn’t live through the 60’s. It’s all about the person, the rest is secondary. The work is personal and you want to pick the right person who can take you where you want to go. But first, you need to know what you want to accomplish and identify the skills and characteristics that this person will need to guide you through your journey.

There is tremendous value in in both therapy and life coaching and we embrace both. I know some wonderful life coaches and I’m certified in life coaching myself. But, let me be transparent in my bias in favor of therapists, and particularly our therapists, because I know what they can do. What makes us different is our professional training, our eclectic approach, and our flexibility and drive to use whatever works! Many of the techniques and modalities of behavioral health, in which we’re professionally trained, are modeled by life coaches.

Our therapists can provide life coaching. Life coaches aren’t trained to do therapy.

We believe that you have the skills and talent to reach your goals. It’s the emotional blocks that get in the way and hold us back. If negative feelings, self doubt, past trauma, or false narratives about yourself surface, your therapist is trained and prepared to help you through it.

In conclusion, based on our professional training, that gives us the tools to take a wider more eclectic approach, licensing, credentialing, and costs considerations, I urge you to find a great therapist to join you on this journey. If you need help making this decision, feel free to contact us and we’ll be glad to assist you in making a choice that is right for you.

To Life on Your Terms!