Counseling v. Life Coaching?

As a Life Coach, and college professor, I often find myself needing to explain my professional title and credentials.

For anyone seeking a professional for making life changes, it’s important to know the distinctions between the above mentioned professionals (including Licensed Social Workers *that’s my wife, Aye*, therapists, professional counselors and other specialized titles), so you can be best informed of these services and choose the one that is the right fit for you.

Do I need therapy, or coaching?

You should know there is a significant difference between therapy (also called counseling, or psychotherapy) and coaching.  However, there is an overlap of these services, and often difficult to tease apart.  But, the simplest way to think of it is that it’s about what the client needs.  If the client needs ‘treatment’ related to a diagnosed disorder (major depression anxiety, post traumatic stress, bipolar disorder, substance dependence, etc.), then psychotherapy with a licensed mental health professional is more appropriate.  If a client is functioning relatively well, and needs some guidance, support, with personal or professional development issues, then a coach is appropriate.

 The former is to help alleviate suffering, the latter is to help you achieve greater success and satisfaction in life.

Qualifications in the U.S.

Therapists and Counselors usually have a Master’s degree, and Psychologists have a doctorate (Ph.D. or Psy.D.).  These mental health professionals have clinical training experience typically in hospitals or clinics, working with patients/clients with diagnosed mental disorders with supervision for required number of hours.  Look for M.A., or Ph.D.s behind their name, but also LPC (licensed professional counselor, typically with a Master’s degree), which are fairly common, as well as LMSW/LCSW (Master’s Social Work), and all are very competent at providing psychotherapy and counseling.

A person can call themselves a Life Coach without any strict academic degrees or credentials. That’s where the profession is today, with no overarching licensing body. There are reputable programs that provide “certifications” or accreditations for coaches, and can be very effective, but coaches generally lack the depth of psychological theory of a counselor or Psychologist.  A coach’s work is forward focused, to move the client (not patient) to new heights of personal and professional success.

Is one more effective than the other?

It depends on your needs.  Some clients’ mental barriers are deeply rooted in past wounds, affecting their self esteem and self confidence.  For others, it’s fear of pursuing what they are passionate about, preferring to do what is tried and true, and safe.

In my role as a Life Coach, I use the foundations of psychological theory to assist my clients to achieve their life goals.  I believe that my skill set, educational background, and life experiences are quite unique and effective when working with my clients.

Illusion art taken at Art in Paradise Museum, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Illusion art taken at Art in Paradise Museum, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

For more information about my Life Coaching services, which are available to anyone worldwide, please visit the Life Coaching page.


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