April 12

Life Coach vs. Therapist: Which Career Suits You?


If you've ever wondered which one is your calling–guiding people toward achieving their dreams or helping them navigate through their struggles and heal–you're in the right place. 

In this blog, we'll take a close look at two fulfilling career paths: becoming a life coach vs. a therapist. Whether you see yourself helping someone achieve their dreams or offering support through tough times, understanding these roles better could help you make your choice.

a worried woman talking to a therapist

Difference Between Life Coaches vs Therapists

When people need help with personal challenges or want to grow, they might consider seeing a therapist or a life coach. Both offer support, but they do so in different ways.

Methodologies and Approaches

The first difference we examine is their methodologies and approaches.

When people see a therapist

Therapists are trained to provide mental health treatment and help people over a long time, often working on deep emotional issues. Their goal is to help clients understand and solve these problems.

People visit mental health professionals if they're:

  • Feeling overwhelmed by intense emotions.
  • Experiencing persistent sadness or emptiness.
  • Facing major life changes (loss, job change, moving).
  • Having harmful thoughts or engaging in self-destructive behaviors.
  • Struggling with relationship problems.
  • Coping with the aftermath of trauma.
  • Suffering physical symptoms linked to stress or mental health.
  • Feeling stuck or lacking direction in life.
  • Difficulty managing daily tasks due to mental health disorders.

When people see a life coach

Life coaches focus on helping people set and reach specific goals. They might use ideas from psychology but don't treat mental health concerns. Life coaches aren't required to have specific training or certification, but some choose to get certified.

People see a life coach if they feel like:

  • Seeking clarity on personal or professional goals.
  • Desiring a more fulfilling career path.
  • Wanting to improve time management or productivity.
  • Starting life transitions (career change, retirement).
  • Looking to enhance relationships or communication skills.
  • Needing motivation and accountability to achieve goals.
  • Pursuing personal development or self-improvement.
  • Feeling generally well but seeking to optimize life satisfaction.
  • Wanting to break through barriers to success.

Skills in Healing vs. Achieving

When thinking about improving someone's life, figuring out whether you need to be a therapist or life coach might feel confusing. Both paths offer support, one leaning more towards healing and the other towards achieving. 

Here's a closer look to help you make sense of which path might be right for you.

Therapy is a Space for Healing

Think of therapy as a quiet room where clients can lay out all their worries and fears on you without judgment. It allows you to look inward, understand their feelings, and start to heal from past hurts.

Therapists guide people through their own stories, helping them find peace with the past and make sense of the present. This is helpful if someone is feeling stuck or if past troubles cast shadows on their happiness.

Coaching Helps in Moving Forward

On the other hand, life coaching is for clients who are generally okay but feel like they could be doing so much more, like chasing a dream job, improving their daily habits, or just finding more joy in life. 

A coach is there to set them on the right path, cheer them on, and help them overcome the hurdles along the way.

Time Focus

When it comes to getting guidance through life's twists and turns, people might wonder whether to reflect on what's behind them or focus on the path ahead.

Therapy Reflects on Journey

Therapy combines past experiences and current feelings to understand a client's self better. Therapists help make sense of these experiences, not to linger in them, but to learn from them and heal. 

This journey is about finding peace with the past so it doesn't block the way forward.

Coaching Looks Ahead with Purpose

Life coaching is great when the client is eager to set goals and chase dreams. Coaches act as guides and supporters and help sketch out the route to where they want to be. 

They keep them focused on what's coming and offer that extra push and strategy to help move forward.

Session Structure

These are the different session structures:

Therapy is Customized for You

There's no one-size-fits-all in therapy; some sessions might feel like a deep chat where clients get to talk about their mental health issues or whatever is on their minds. 

While others might have a bit more direction from the therapist, depending on what they're going through.

Coaching Keeps You Clear and Direct

Clients work with the coach to set clear targets, plan to reach them, and check in regularly on the progress. 

This structure can be helpful if you like your clients to have a clear plan and enjoy ticking off milestones as they move closer to their goals.


When deciding between therapy and coaching, how long clients might stick with either is something to consider. Each has its own pace and expected duration, which could influence the decision.

Therapy is Open-ended

Therapy is flexible, allowing clients to explore their thoughts and feelings as deeply as needed without feeling hurried. Some might find a few months right, while others continue for much longer. 

Think of it as a journey without a fixed endpoint, focusing on healing and understanding at a person's own speed.

Coaching is a Short-term Focus

Life coaching tends to have a more defined timeframe, often designed to last a few weeks to a few months. It's ideal if clients have clear goals to achieve in a certain area of their life, like career and personal growth or lifestyle changes.

Exceptions to this include more structured approaches, such as strictly followed cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and premarital counseling sessions.

Choosing the Right Fit

Finally, which one is the right fit for you?

Therapy for Comfort and Expertise

With a therapist, clients can open up but with professional skills to guide them through tougher times. 

It's not just about the qualifications (though those matter, too) but also about feeling understood and safe when clients share thoughts and mental health challenges.

Coaching for Inspiration and Credentials

Yes, coaches' experience and credentials are important, but clients look for that energy they bring, making them feel like they can take on anything after talking to you. 

Life coaches are the ones who leave clients buzzing with excitement and belief in themselves after every session.

A Typical Session With a Mental Health Therapist

Before the session, clients might feel a bit nervous or eager. Some therapists might ask clients to fill out forms beforehand to get to know them. 

Sessions usually last 50 to 60 minutes. The therapist might begin by setting the scene, explaining confidentiality, and ensuring the client feels comfortable and informed.

During the session, therapists might use specific strategies or exercises during the chat, like breathing techniques for stress or thought exercises if clients are working on changing negative patterns.

As the session ends, therapists summarize what they have discussed with clients. It's normal to feel a mix of emotions after a session. Some people find it helpful to take a moment to relax or think over.

a therapist and her client

What Clients Can Expect During a Session With a Life Coach

Life coaching sessions typically last about an hour. Life coaches kick things off by establishing a focused, positive space for the conversation. They may recap the last session or start fresh if it's the first meeting.

During the conversation, they discuss where the clients are, where they want to be, and what's standing in their way. A big part of coaching is setting clear, achievable goals. A life coach will help break down the larger ambitions into smaller, actionable steps and may help outline a plan.

They may suggest strategies or small changes to help individuals move forward, whether it's better time management or adjusting their mindset. Also, they will wrap up by going over the main points, setting up any tasks for clients, and planning the next session.

a life coach and her client

Can a Life Coach Specialize in a Particular Area?

Yes, a life coach can specialize in a particular area, and many do. Specializing allows life coaches to focus on specific personal or professional development aspects, catering to clients with particular goals or challenges.

Here are some common areas of specialization:

  • Career Coaching
  • Relationship Coaching
  • Health and Wellness Coaching
  • Financial Coaching
  • Executive Coaching
  • Life Transition Coaching

Differences in Academic Requirements and Professional Credentials

If you're considering a career as either a mental health therapist or a life coach, you'll find that each path has its own training and credential requirements.

For those aiming to become mental health therapists, it typically includes earning a master's degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field. Afterward, therapists must pass a licensing exam in their state, which often requires accumulating hours of supervised clinical practice. 

Therapists also engage in ongoing education to keep their licenses active and might take additional courses to focus on specific therapy areas.

Life coaches, on the other hand, have a more varied educational journey. There's no specific degree needed to start coaching, but many opt for training programs, some of which are recognized by professional bodies like the International Coaching Federation (ICF).

Start Your Journey As A Life Coach

While not always required, getting a certification from such organizations can help a coach stand out. The Coach Training Academy offers a detailed 24-week program for those new to coaching that is aligned with ICF standards and uses weekly online classes.

This thorough approach to training underlines the importance of high-quality coaching skills. For those keen on a quicker start, their 2-Day Fast Track Program provides intense, immediate training to get coaches up and running.

The Coach Training Academy, founded by experts with over 25 years of experience, emphasizes the importance of continuing to learn as a coach. The academy makes training more accessible with scholarships and payment plans between $100 and $250 a month.

Coaches looking to focus on areas like career or wellness might need more training, and the Academy's programs are designed to help with that. Their success is seen in their graduates' achievements, including one who now leads a local ICF chapter in Texas.

Earn Your Life Coach Certification with The Coach Training Academy!

If you'd like to take an accredited life coach course, visit these coach training programs and inquire if this is the right path for you.

View our coach training program scholarships here.


Looking at the differences between life coaches and therapists, each role offers a special way to help others. Your choice between pursuing a life coach or therapist career depends on what feels right for you and how you'd like to support people.

Life coaching could be up your alley if you get excited about setting goals with others, cheering them on, and helping them plan their way to success. But if you like to treat mental health conditions and the emotional side of things, then becoming a therapist might be more your speed.

Just go with what feels right for you, and you'll find your way to provide personal and professional development in the lives of others!

FAQs About Life Coach vs. Therapist

Can I switch between being a life coach and a therapist?

Switching careers is possible, but moving from life coaching to therapy requires additional education and licensure. Transitioning from therapy to life coaching may be smoother, as your background in mental health can complement your coaching practice.

Can you focus on a specific area in these careers?

Yes! Therapists can choose to focus on certain problems or groups of people, making their help more specific. Life coaches can also pick areas like careers, relationships, or health to specialize in. This lets both therapists and life coaches become experts in specific areas to support their clients better.

How do I start my career as a life coach or therapist?

For therapy, start with the required educational path, followed by obtaining licensure in your state to treat mental health disorders. Consider enrolling in a certified training program and gaining experience through practice for life coaching. Continuous learning and specialization can also enhance your career in both fields.


You may also like

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Get in touch

0 of 350