For people wanting to work with someone to achieve greater emotional, psychological, or spiritual well-being, the choice of life coach vs. therapist may be a difficult one to make, simply because the difference between life coaching and therapy is not very clear.

In this piece, we clarify the distinction between the two focusing on ‘Therapy vs Life Coaching FAQs’ like: Do I need therapy or a life coach? How do life coaching regulations differ from those for therapists? How are life coaching areas of focus different (and similar) to the scope of practice of therapists? And is life coaching covered by insurance?

Therapy vs Life Coaching FAQs 

Do I need therapy or a life coach?

Life coaching is for people who want to learn and grow in specific areas of their lives and are not currently experiencing any significant emotional or psychological problems. Although people who fit this description may also receive psychotherapy, professional therapists’ scope of practice is broader and includes people suffering from significant mental health problems. 

So, if what you’re experiencing inside is making it hard to live fully and get things done, then a professional therapist or counselor is probably the best fit for you. On the other hand, if you are generally getting along okay in life and just want to learn how to be your best self, then you might consider life coaching.  

How are life coaching regulations different from those imposed on professional therapists and counselors?

Of course, the difference between life coaching and therapy goes beyond the severity of client problems being addressed. It is also important to know that (in the United States and other parts of the world) the practice of life coaching is not regulated as strictly as professional therapeutic services, like psychotherapy or psychological counseling.  

Although many professional therapists also work as life coaches to expand their practice, people offering life coaching services have a broad range of credentials and experience. And it is possible for someone with little to no relevant education or experience to offer services as a life coach due to the current lack of life coaching regulations.  

So when selecting a life coach, make sure that s/he has training and experience that is relevant to the issues that you’re facing. 

How are life coaching areas of focus different (and similar) to therapy?

Often life coaches will specialize in niche areas (e.g., building self confidence, leadership skills, or resilience to stress) that they have established some expertise in based on their education, training, professional achievements, or other life experiences. Not too unlike life coaches, professional therapists and counselors often specialize in working with specific groups (e.g., adults/children) or types of problems (e.g., eating disorders, depression, or post-traumatic stress). 

However, licensed professionals have also received broad training to address a range of psychological problems, which may involve concerns about one’s past, present, or future. In contrast, life coaching tends to focus more narrowly on specific ‘here-and-now’ problems, goals, and solutions.   

Is life coaching covered by insurance?

Life coaching services are typically not covered by insurance in the United States. Although therapy or counseling sessions may be covered by insurance, professional therapists vary in their willingness to accept insurance. Some actively seek clients with insurance; whereas, others focus solely on self-pay clients.   

The Bottom Line

The differences between life coaching and therapy may seem subtle, but they have important implications for potential clients searching for the ‘right’ person to help them become their best self. 

Life coaching is best suited for clients who:

  • Are not experiencing significant psychological distress
  • Have specific problems and goals that they’d like to work on
  • Would like to have the flexibility of working with coaches that have a range of educational backgrounds and experiences
  • Are able to pay for sessions without insurance reimbursement   

Professional psychotherapy and psychological counseling are best suited for clients who:

  • Are experiencing substantial distress due to an emotional or behavioral problem. 
  • Have experienced impairment in their day-to-day life (e.g., school, work, family) because of a psychological issue.
  • Would like to work with a trained and licensed mental health professional 

Read Related: