If you browse the internet, you are likely to find quite conflicting views on the difference between a life coach and a psychologist. The aim of this article is to provide a more objective view. To achieve this, I looked at what psychologists say about their approach, as well as their understanding of life coaching. I did the same with life coaching. As Master Life Coach being familiar with the scope of life coaching, it is easy to identify, clarify and correct misconceptions as far as coaching is concerned. Likewise, based on the account of psychologists, it’s possible to identify assumptions about psychology which cannot necessarily be generalised.
Like any other profession, there are people who are excellent at what they do and others who do more harm than good to the credibility of their profession. This is also true when it gets to life coaching and psychology. A good life coach is better than a bad psychologist and vice versa. Both approaches have merit and, in the end, you have to trust your gut in term of what YOU need!
To help you gain more clarity regarding the two approaches, I have decided to list some key similarities and difference. Let’s start with what good coaches and good psychologists have in common.
Similarities between life coaching and psychology
- Are good listeners who ask the right questions.
- Create a safe space of trust, support and non-judgement.
- Want to help you to improve your mental and emotional well-being and create a better life for yourself.
- Can help increase efficiency and productivity, and become more resilient.
- Empower you to make positive changes in your life and change your perspective.
- Promote personal growth and help you to actualise your potential.
- Can help you to overcome low-self-esteem.
- Help you heal and let go of negative emotions and trauma stemming from your past.
- Guide you towards finding your own answers through self-discovery.
- Can assist you in changing your perspective.
- Can help you identify patterns and limiting beliefs that are holding you back.
- Help you identify your core values and use it to realign your life accordingly.
- Can help you change habits and conquer addiction.
- Can assist you in moving forward in your professional and personal life, as well as in your relationships.
Considering the similarities above, cognitive behavioural psychology is the psychological approach with the closest link to life coaching.
Differences between life coaching and psychology
Here are some differences between coaching and psychology. I am generalising. Their approaches can overlap and therefore there aren’t characteristics which apply exclusively to the one or the other approach.
- Psychology typically stretches over a longer period. Coaching programmes are considerably shorter.
- Coaches refer to their customers as “clients”, while psychologists typically use the word “patients”.
- Coaches provide their clients with a roadmap of the coaching process and an indication of how long it will take to reach the desired outcomes. Although psychologists work according to a treatment plan, not all psychologists convey this to their patients. Also, the duration in often unspecified.
- Accountability is vital for successful coaching intervention. Cooperation is not a prerequisite for psychology.
- Coaching is hands-on and action orientated to help clients reach their potential. Psychology tends to be more coping orientated – helping their patients to be at peace with who they are and their life.
- A coach focuses on what a person thinks and how it impacts what they believe and feel. A psychologist on the other hand focuses more on how a person feels.
- Coaches are generally more direct in challenging their clients’ way of thinking and doing things. Psychologists tend to have a gentler approach.
- Coaching is future orientated providing their clients with tools, techniques and alternative insights to help them steer their life towards what they choose to get out of life. Coaches help their clients to adopt a better mindset, set goals and eliminate limiting beliefs, negative emotions, inner conflicts, etc. that stands in the way of their joy and success. Psychologists focus on dealing with the issue/s at hand. Having said this, some psychologists extend their approach to goal setting in order to reach a specific outcome.
- Psychologists are trained to clinically assess and diagnose depression, ADHD, and another mental health conditions. Coaches (especially master life coaches) can also help people who suffer from depression, anxiety and PTSD but would not typically sign-up a client with serious mental illness or who is on a number of psychiatric medicines.
- Trained coaches with the necessary certification can register with non-regulatory coaching boards; psychologists register with regulated boards like the HPCSA.
- Coaching is not covered by medical aids but is tax-deductible. Conversely, psychology is covered by medical aids subject to the medical plan. The reason for this is that psychologists also treat mental illness.
- Depending on where coaches got their training, training generally span over several days, weeks, or months. It includes theoretical and practical assessments as well as sufficient experience. A psychologist needs a degree in psychology and, if they wish to practice independently, a master’s degree in psychology. Just because coaching doesn’t require a degree, doesn’t mean coaches are not properly trained. It’s like comparing a degree to a diploma or a certificate. None of this matters if someone is unable to apply their knowledge.
Finding the right coach
Non-regulation is an ongoing challenge in coaching. There are many training providers that are not affiliated with a coaching board or that offer qualifications which are not accredited. Also, anyone can call themselves a “coach” without any formal training. Here are a couple of pointers for choosing the right coach:
- A Google rating of 4+ provides a good indication of a coach’s level of success.
- Coaches often have testimonials of their clients on their website (for examples, click here). See if you can find a testimonial that resonates with you – someone who overcame the same problems that you are facing.
- Coaching experience. NB: the number of coaching hours is more important than the number of years in business.
- The coach’s coaching qualification/s, training provider, accreditation and affiliation.
- Most coaches offer a free consultation (often called a “discovery” or “introductory” session). It is a good idea to book a free consultation to get an idea of the coach and ask them questions you might have.
- Very important: you must feel comfortable with the coach –your gut must say “yes, this is it!” If not, consider booking a free consultation with another coach.
I trust that this article shed some light on questions you might have had concerning the difference between a life coach and a psychologist. If you would like to find out more, you are welcome to contact me.
- Bader, M. 2009. The Difference Between Coaching and Therapy Is Greatly Overstated. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/blog/what-is-he-thinking/200904/the-difference-between-coaching-and-therapy-is-greatly-overstated (accessed 21st May 2021).
- Cherry, K. 2019. Perspectives in Modern Psychology. Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/perspectives-in-modern-psychology-2795595 (accessed 21st May 2021).
- Jacobson, S. 2017. What is the Difference between Coaching and Counselling? Available at: https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/coaching-and-counselling.htm (accessed 20th May 2021).
- Perkinson, R.R. 2007. Chemical Dependency Counseling: A Practical Guide, 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
- Robbins, T. 2021. Life Coach vs. Therapist. Available at: https://www.tonyrobbins.com/coaching/life-coach-vs-therapist/ (accessed 20th May 2021).
- Steinberg, D & O’Connor, W. 2021. Life Coach vs. Therapist: What’s The Difference? Available at: https://blog.zencare.co/life-coach-vs-therapist/ (accessed 21st May 2021).
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