How Do You Decide Whether You Need A Therapist or A Life Coach? Here are 7 Questions To Help You Determine Which Is A Better Fit For You

Tricia Parido| July 18, 2019 |

Over the years I have dealt with many issues that presented me with the need for therapeutic intervention, support, and guidance to handle the depressive states, uncontrolled anxiety, addictions, eating disorders, and trauma. I engaged with counselors, therapists, and life coaches to obtain balance, mental health stability, and effective coping skills. For the most part, my interactions were beneficial, that is except for when I was leaning on the wrong professional for a specific need which at the time, I didn’t know could be a real thing. I thought a mental health provider, regardless of their title would be appropriate. What I know now that I have studied all three at great lengths is that there is a difference between the therapeutic model and the coaching model of care. The tricky part for most people is knowing who to seek for what situation.

To quote Sharon Saline, PsyD, who wrote What Your ADHD Child Wishes You Knew, “Therapy and coaching both facilitate change in people and assist them with gaining perspective on their problems.” She goes on to explain the similarities and differences as approaches and licensure requirements. What I found interesting is that she pointed out that therapists assess, diagnose, and treat DSM classified mental health conditions from a holistic perspective whereas coached take a more educational process using a wellness model. I describe the differences more as one (therapy) works more in the past leading up to now and the other (coaching) works more in the now going forward. But it is important to know that not all therapists or coaches have the same knowledge or skill sets. For example, I practice as a Nationally Certified Life Coach, but I hold nine other coaching credentials along with counseling and I have a degree in Psychology which may set me apart from another coach that solely focuses on career coaching.

I do a great deal of reading about the different approaches available and listen to the general populations’ confusion when it comes to choosing a provider. Here are the most frequently suggested questions to consider asking yourself during your selection process.

  1. What am I most concerned about, the future? Or do I need to spend more time in the past? Considering that Life coaching is a forward-moving, future-minded practice that motivates an individual to focus on doing what works and being effective to generate higher levels of functioning going forward and a therapist or counselor will sit with their clients in their past working on resolving deep emotional pain answering this question may provide you with an effective answer. For some of you, however, there may still be that uncertainty when there is a need for attention in both areas. I always suggest that consulting with a certified life coach first is effective, they can help you get unstuck and into positive motion. Once you are functioning you can then work on healing pain from the past a little at a time as presents to be necessary. But I make it a practice to not take on a client that is better suited for a higher level of care.
  2. Is there an active mental illness? Seeking to understand the level of severity you are experiencing is important. In cases of debilitating depression, severe trauma, true bipolar disorder, episodes involving assault, any level of suicidal thoughts will be more appropriately suited for the work done with a therapist specializing in those areas. You can, however, benefit greatly from working with a coach throughout the process so that as you and your therapist begin to resolve and or stabilize issues and symptoms the coach will teach you how to develop new coping skills and guide you toward incorporating them into your daily life.
  3. Are you able to function? This one is pretty easy. If you are looking to improve the quality of life you are experiencing, then a coach is the way to go. However, if you are unable to do normal activities of daily living or engage in relationships you would be better served by seeking a therapeutic relationship to first help you sort out what the underlying causes are.
  4. Can you identify what you feel you are missing? Therapy is for specific issues. Working with a trained life coach will actually help you investigate that sense of something missing and figure out what to do about it rather than remaining stuck where you are.
  5. Are you ready to receive advice that is actionable? If you want someone to listen to how you are feeling and guide you toward discovering your own breakthrough moment no matter how long it takes you, see a therapist. If you want someone to tell you why you are where you are, how to correct the issue, and hold you accountable for making the necessary life improvements get yourself a life coach.
  6. What is the, or is there a specific part of your life you would like help with? Certified Life Coaches generally have specialties that they focus in and stay within. They are not typically broad in nature. If you need career, financial, relationship or even recovery advise you will find a coach who can help you get on the path you desire. Therapists while specialized stay more holistic and focus mainly on the internal/emotional pieces.
  7. Do you have a specific goal or aspiration you would like to achieve? Again, ask yourself what severity level am I in? Dealing with depression, trauma and the like as I mentioned before your prudent decision is a therapist, at least to start the stabilization process. But if there are specific life functioning items such as avoidance, social anxiety, being better at managing a balanced lifestyle. Your match for success will be found through working with the right professional coach.

I can’t express enough how life-changing and empowering engaging in mental health and life improvement can be, regardless of what type of a provider you ultimately need to seek out. Just be open, honest, and genuine. The time has long past when shame and guilt are attached to needing support.

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