As a life coach, I often get the question— “I know I need help changing my life, but do I need a life coach or a therapist?”

While many life coaches will tell you that therapists only focus on past events or take a slower approach, this is simply untrue for all therapists. On the other hand, some therapists claim that because coaching is an unlicensed profession, life coaches have less skill. This is also untrue for all life coaches.

Whether you’d be better off with a life coach or a therapist really depends on your individual needs. In this article, I’ll share several questions to help you answer the question— Do I need a life coach or a therapist?

1. What are your goals?

The first question to ask yourself when answering the question— Do I need a life coach or a therapist —is this: What are your challenges? And, the second is: What solution are you seeking? Whether you need a life coach or a therapist depends on what you’re hoping to get out of the relationship.

Perhaps you’re struggling with your health, and you need to create healthier habits. Maybe your relationships are suffering, or you need to improve your communication skills. Or, perhaps, you feel stuck in your current career, and you want to find a new job or make a bigger impact.

Coaches often help clients achieve work-related goals such as career change (career coaches) and becoming more effective at work (leadership and executive coaches). Therapists often do not have this expertise. That said, this is a generalization, and some therapists can be very helpful with work-related issues. I encourage you to interview potential therapists or life coaches about their specialty before deciding who to hire.

2. Are your problems in the past or the future?

In general, therapists help their clients resolve past problems, while life coaches help high-achievers reach their future goals. If you feel as though you need to heal from past hurts, you’d probably be best served by a therapist. On the other hand, if you feel stuck on the path towards reaching your vision, you may be better off with a coach. That said, many talented therapists do help their clients work towards creating a life they love. And, many life coaches help clients identify past events which may impact their current success.

3. Are you suffering from the effects of significant trauma?

According to the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice, “The word ‘trauma’ is used to describe experiences or situations that are emotionally painful and distressing, and that overwhelm people’s ability to cope, leaving them powerless… In addition to terrifying events such as violence and assault, we suggest that relatively more subtle and insidious forms of trauma—such as discrimination, racism, oppression, and poverty—are pervasive and, when experienced chronically, have a cumulative impact that can be fundamentally life-altering.”

Most therapists have more experience than life coaches in resolving past trauma, and healing trauma is rarely the focus of life coaching. For example, I often support clients through challenging emotions when they arise in a session. However, recovering from trauma is never the primary focus of my ongoing work with clients. That said, some life coaches use trauma-informed practice, while some therapists do not.

Because trauma lives in the body, you may also want to consider working with a trauma-informed hands-on healing practitioner such as a craniosacral therapist, acupuncturist, or massage therapist.

4. Do you have a mental health diagnosis?

If you need support with a mental health disability or diagnosis, you’re probably in better hands with a skilled therapist. For example, as a life coach, I don’t have training to support clients with chronic depression, addiction, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or mental illness. While I sometimes take clients with chronic depression or ADD, I make sure my clients are receiving any additional support they need. I’ve had many clients who see both me (as their life coach) and a therapist.

5. How much are you able to invest?

One of the challenges with hiring a life coach is that they cannot take insurance, whereas, many therapists do. The costs of coaching vary between $100 and $500 per hour. If you cannot pay for coaching, you may be better off with a skilled therapist who can take your insurance. If your challenges are work-related, you may also ask if your employer or organization will pay for coaching.

6. What support is available in your area?

Depending on where you live, you may not have local access to therapists who take a future-focused approach (like coaching) or to many life coaches. In most states, therapists must work with clients in person if they take insurance.  In this case, you may want to consider hiring an online life coach.

Finally, answering the question— Do I need a life coach or a therapist?

If you still feel confused about whether you need a life coach or a therapist, that’s completely understandable. The answer depends on your personal needs.

I recommend sitting down with the questions above.  Be as honest with yourself as possible. Once you know your needs, set up an initial consultation with a few therapists or life coaches who resonate with you. Ask them specific questions about your specific needs.

And, finally, if you’re curious about life coaching with me, I invite you to apply for a free, one-hour discovery session. Whatever path you choose, I wish you all the best on your healing journey!

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