The conversation around mental health has really opened up in the last few years, moving us closer to normalizing getting help. And not only just getting help, but seeking a better understanding of yourself. Both coaching and therapy can be avenues to learn more about yourself and tackle any problems you’re experiencing. So how do you choose which one is right for you? What is the difference? If you’re stuck wondering if you need a therapist or a life coach, this article is for you!
WHERE TO BEGIN?
The first step in determining whether or not your situation is better suited towards a life coach or a licensed therapist is to know the difference between the two. In general, “psychotherapists direct the course of therapy by planning treatment and case management” and “coaches facilitate the client’s accountability in authoring the goals and action steps”, according to an article from the National Library of Medicine. Basically, life coaches can help you make action plans for specific goals and guide you through the process. They focus more on the “how” instead of the “why”.
This can be extremely helpful if you’re looking for help in a specific area. We’ve all experienced times of uncertainty, especially in our careers. Maybe you’re a 20-something that knows the direction you want to head but need a manageable, structured way to get there. Or maybe you don’t know what you want to do at all! A life coach that specializes in careers will help you explore your strengths and set achievable goals to build your confidence. If you’re seeking help with accountability and would like to create a structured plan tailored to you, a life coach might be the way to go!
If you’d like to learn more about coaching, you also might want to check out Carrie Ann’s interview with her own personal ADHD coach, Jane Massengill. Even if you don’t have ADHD it’s a great source for understanding what coaching looks like.
Here’s a list of just a few of the types of life coaches out there:
- Business / Executive
- Learning Disorders (ADHD, Dyslexia, etc.)
- Health & Wellness
If you are finding that the difficulty with making changes in your life is “due to underlying emotional or relational problems” seeing a therapist might be more effective. Especially if you are experiencing “symptoms, somatic and/or psychological, driven by past experience” (Livingstone, National Library of Medicine). If there’s more to the situation than needing an action plan, or you’d like to explore yourself further, a licensed therapist can help to unravel anything holding you back.
Just like coaches, counselors also have specialties in the way that they approach therapy and treat patients. A therapist can pretty much do all the things a life coach can do, but can also dig deeper into more complex problems. Maybe you need some guidance in your career, but you know that anxiety is an underlying issue that could be affecting your growth. In this case, a therapist might be more beneficial than a life coach. They will be able to give you surefire tools to manage your anxiety while planning a course of action.
A good therapist can generally treat a very wide variety of issues, but some may have specialized training in certain areas. Below are just a few:
- PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)
- OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)
- Eating disorders
- EMDR therapy for trauma (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing)
SAY WHAT? THE JARGON
Before you get into the search process, it’s important to understand the types of professional designations in therapy and coaching. Formal training is a big factor in differentiating therapists and coaches, and if you don’t know the jargon it can make the process that much more overwhelming. Looking up what every single acronym means is time consuming and can feel like a job! Luckily we’ve rounded up the terms you’re likely to see over and over again so the information you need is all in one place. Here’s a quick rundown of the most common types of therapists you can expect to find during your search:
Psychiatrist – A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor. They can diagnose psychological conditions and prescribe medication for them, as well as provide psychotherapy.
Psychologist – Some psychologists are research based and stay within the academic field. However, many specialize in counseling and go the route of treating patients. “A clinical or counseling psychologist is a mental health professional who attended graduate school and earned a doctoral degree in clinical psychology or counseling psychology. These degrees are followed by a clinical internship which is then followed by passing national and state exams and, finally, licensure by state” (Forbes).
LMFT – Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists generally treat a wide array of people, but specialize in marriage, relationships, and family dynamics. “Licensure as an LMFT requires a graduate degree, a period of supervised practice, and a two stage examination process” (mft-license.org)
LCSW – Licensed Clinical Social Workers “hold masters degrees and work with individuals and groups to solve mental health and social problems, marshalling skills in both therapy and the traditional practical solutions that social services provide” (humanservicesedu.org).
Life coaches do not require licensing by the state, and therefore do not have a centralized set of standards. However, many life coaches get their designations from the International Coaching Federation (ICF). The highest designation is a Master Certified Coach (MCC). According to the ICF, they “are highly trained (200+ hours) and experienced (2,500+ hours) coaches. They have demonstrated knowledge and highly proficient application of the ICF Core Competencies, Code of Ethics, and definition of coaching”.
Finding a coach that is either an MCC or on the path to achieving an MCC designation seems to be the best bet in terms of confirming that the person helping you has undergone rigorous training and upheld a certain standard of practice.
THE SEARCH BEGINS
Now that you’ve determined whether or not you’d like to see a life coach or therapist, it’s time to start the search for one. It can be a daunting task, and is what stops a lot of people from getting help. This is especially true if you’re on the younger side and are laser focused on getting to a point where you are financially stable. Who has time for a therapist? I’ll think about it later when I have a house and a dog. That’s very important, but it doesn’t mean that your self development has to suffer. This is the time to explore, try new things, and get to know yourself. Easier said than done, but it’s all about taking one step at a time.
Below are amazing resources that make finding help as easy as the click of a button.
Psychology Today – This website has it all. Besides being a great resource for learning more about the field of psychology in general, the site has a search tool that allows you find therapists in your zip code. Beyond that, the search engine has a detailed filtering system, so you can narrow down results through specialties, gender, and insurance.
International Coaching Federation – The IFC website has its own database of coaches that all have credentials. If an MCC is too expensive, you can filter to find Associate and Professional Certified Coaches. They may have less professional hours than an MCC but that does not mean that they aren’t skilled at what they do!
Psychologist Locator by the American Psychological Association – If you have decided that you’d like to see a psychologist, this database is a surefire way to find one with amazing credentials.
Many people also find therapists and coaches through word of mouth. If you have a friend that raves about their therapist, ask if they’d be willing to give you their information. One of the great things about therapy and coaching becoming more mainstream is that it’s so much easier to talk about with your friends. But, don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel a connection with the person they recommend. Sometimes finding the right person takes more than one session, and there’s no “right” way to find help. Hopefully this article gave you the information you need to make an informed decision that is best for your wellbeing. You deserve nothing but the best!