The Difference Between A Therapist and a Life Coach, 
and When To See Whom

Article by Chelsea Nielsen HainesPhoto by rawpixel on Unsplash

I believe in the power of therapy and even more-so I believe in the power of self accountability.
Webster's Dictionary defines a Therapist as "a health-care professional trained in methods of treatment and rehabilitation other than the use of drugs or surgery." Webster's defines a Life Coach as "an advisor who helps people make decisions, set and reach goals, or deal with problems."
The beauty of both the professions of a therapist and a coach, is that the end goal is the same; to live a happy, empowered and fulfilled life. The major differences between the two are our schooling and thus the techniques that we use to help people move towards their most fulfilled life.
In my discussion about What Exactly a Health Coach Is I mentioned that there are always two people living inside of us: the us we are being and the us we aspire to be.
The person that we are being is living behind veils of imprinted values and trapped within limiting beliefs that were passed down to us, typically, from our familial or tribal unit. We must break through these boundaries in order to easily become the person we aspire to be.
In order to work through these beliefs, we must first become aware of them. In a safe and controlled environment, a therapist will help us work through past traumas and circumstances that may be effecting our ability to show up fully in our daily life. The only way through emotions is by going straight through them. Which can be scary, harmful and very challenging without the help of someone to bring us out of them. This is why it is imperative that each individual seek the appropriately trained professional for their unique circumstance. This also leads to a much deeper conversation about our broad spectrum of emotions that I talk more in depth about in another article, How False Positivity Can Lead To Darker Times, and What To Do About It.
Similar to a therapist, a coach will also create a safe and controlled environment. However, a coach's intention behind the questioning is to find out what might be stopping you, or holding you back, from living the life you know you are capable of living. Naturally, historical beliefs and experiences will come up as our whole life plays a bigger role in who are are right now. A coach will act as a mirror and allow the client to bring forth any self-sabotaging habits in order to instill practices and new habits that encourage letting go of outdated beliefs and creating new ones that are more in alignment with who you are now and who you are becoming. When we rewrite the script we can then take measurable steps towards changing the course of the future.
Where a therapist helps us navigate the past, a coach helps us to map our future.
A therapist will establish a "doctor-patient" relationship in order to come to a diagnosis required by insurance companies. A coach will seek to create a symbiotic relationship with their client, in which the client is the main active player in how action plans are setup and followed through on. According to the International Coach Federation (ICF), the largest coaching credentialing and support organization in the world, "The coach’s job is to provide support to enhance the skills, resources and creativity that the client already has."
Both experiences are valid, helpful and powerful.
The second step in working through limiting beliefs, after acknowledging them, is to take action to rewrite them. We can sit together and talk about our experiences, beliefs, triggers and limitations all day, but if we don't encourage action to change them, we will continue to get more of the same result. This can and will be done by both a therapist and a coach, which is why it is imperative that one must research to best decide who they will work with.
We must do things differently in order to get different results.
I can only speak on behalf of my own experience. Because of this strict boundary between therapist and clients, my PERSONAL experience is that there is minimal to no communication between sessions. (This may be different for you, of course.) Typically, this is not the case with a coach and, for me, has been the most impactful missing link that I personally needed in order to make big changes in my life.
If we don't have someone there to hold us to our highest self, it is too easy to be blinded by our deeply rooted beliefs and once again become lost in the downward spirals of comparing, despairing and choosing fear over love. Having a symbiotic and team-like relationship with my own coaches and clients has created a web of support that is paramount to both the success of myself and my community.
It takes a village.
If you are debating whether to see a therapist or a coach, it is important to explore all means of help and typically, working with BOTH a therapist and a coach will be beneficial. There are some questions that could be helpful for you explore which option is best for you.
Have you experienced a life trauma that is bringing up emotions that are hindering your ability to manage triggers and your daily life experience? A psychologist will help you work through those emotions with very powerful techniques, including and not limited to, EMDR and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Are you feeling confident in your digestion and processing of prior experiences, yet feel stuck behind limiting beliefs that are keeping you in self-sabotaging habits or preventing you from fully experiencing life the way you know you could be living it? A health coach will use different techniques such as functional nutrition and mindset coaching as bridges to long term habit change.
Additionally, as with anytime you choose to seek help, PLEASE do your research on the person you are seeking. Your therapist or coach should have valid and strong accreditations and ideally they will be working in the field that you are primarily needing help with. You are about to get real and vulnerable, you definitely want to be sure that you are doing this with someone you trust!
We must become aware of our limitations in order to break through them. Similar to our own specific journey to physical health, when it comes to mental health there is not one path that we all 'should' take and not all paths work for everyone. Whichever means of help you need to see that through is completely valid and perfect. I highly encourage you to seek out all methods of help and make an educated decision on if working with a therapist, a coach, or even both is the best path for you!
With the right support, system, and accountability anything is possible. We always know what it is that we need, sometimes we just need help seeing it through.
*Disclaimer: This is a biased opinion written based on my own personal experiences and is NOT intended to persuade, diagnose or effect anyone's state of mental health. Always seek council from a doctor.*
Chelsea Nielsen Haines is a certified Health and Life Coach with a BS in Psychology as well as a Registered Yoga Teacher. She helps people worldwide take ownership of themselves and become empowered to make big changes. By making mindful choices, she believes you now have the permission and freedom to live the most meaningful and fulfilled life you always knew you could. She can be reached by visting her website or via email at

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