What’s the difference between therapy and coaching? And what’s the difference between a life mentor and a life coach?
I’ve been hearing these questions a good bit lately and I think they are important to address, because…
- Sometimes people want to hire me as their life coach when what they really need is therapy.
- Sometimes people who want to hire me are not sure if they want mentoring or if they want coaching.
- Sometimes people who seek therapy could really benefit from coaching either instead of or in addition to therapy.
So what’s the difference between a therapist, a life mentor, and a life coach? And when would you seek the services of each?
Therapist Vs Life Mentor Vs Life Coach
What is therapy?
According to the Mayo Clinic:
“Psychotherapy is a general term for treating mental health problems by talking with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health provider. During psychotherapy, you learn about your condition and your moods, feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Psychotherapy helps you learn how to take control of your life and respond to challenging situations with healthy coping skills.”
Therapy is mainly used to diagnose and treat mental health problems, like anxiety disorders, mood disorders, addictions, and eating disorders, although sometimes people without a diagnosable condition also seek therapy to deal with stressful events.
There are many different types of therapy. Psychology Today has a comprehensive listing with helpful descriptions.
Who is therapy for?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the following are signs that you could benefit from therapy…
- You feel an overwhelming, prolonged sense of helplessness and sadness.
- Your problems fail to resolve or improve despite your efforts and help from family and friends.
- You find it difficult to concentrate on work assignments or conduct everyday activities.
- You worry excessively, expect the worst, or remain constantly on edge.
- Your actions, such as drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, or being aggressive, harm yourself or others.
If you imagine yourself on your life path, a therapist may be able to help you when you are feeling so hopeless or immobilized that you no longer have the capacity to move forward. A therapist’s goal is to help you heal so that you can return to functioning.
What Is Life Mentoring?
A life mentor is someone who gives advice based on their own experience. Typically, a life mentor has developed expertise in a particular life area to the point that others can potentially benefit.
Who Is Life Mentoring For?
Life mentoring is for anyone who is facing a particular circumstance, problem, or decision and wanting to learn from the experience of someone else who has gone through a similar situation.
If you imagine yourself moving forward on your life path, a life mentor who has travelled a similar path may be able to share information and advice about skillfully navigating that path and about overcoming any obstacles along the way.
What Is Life Coaching?
The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
The purpose of coaching is to help clients make changes and reach their goals. Making changes can have a positive impact on one’s overall quality of life and on one’s mental health, but that’s considered a pleasant side effect or one potential outcome of coaching – not the purpose. The purpose is to achieve whatever changes the client is interested in pursuing.
Who Is Life Coaching For?
According to Feroshia Knight, a coach trainer and a Master Certified Coach, you may benefit from the support of a professionally certified coach if…
- You feel lost or confused about your purpose or next steps in life.
- You are afraid to try something new (even though it’s something you’re genuinely interested in).
- You feel constant stress, self-doubt and succumb to the “you shoulds” imposed by family and friends.
- Your happiness and forward momentum are constantly derailed by limiting beliefs, old patterns, and self-sabotage.
- You have a goal or vision but lack the focus, organization, and clarity necessary to form an action plan.
- You want to make changes to your personal or professional life such as improvements to health and wellness, personal relationships, spirituality, career, time management, or work/life balance.
- You procrastinate or have difficulty completing tasks from start to finish.
- You are facing or currently going through a major life transition.
Although coaching clients are typically feeling a little stuck in a specific life area, they are still assumed to be fully functional and capable of taking action.
If you imagine yourself moving forward on your life path, a coach may be able to help you if you want someone to shine a light so you can see:
- who you are
- the resources you are already carrying within
- the potential paths you could take
And once you select a path, a coach can walk along with you for a time to support you on your journey as you face and overcome any challenges that stand in your way.
The Bottom Line
So here’s the quick summary:
- If you are not functional and you need healing –> Seek a therapist
- If you are functional but you want advice –> Seek a life mentor
- If you are functional and want support for setting and reaching goals –> Seek a life coach
With that being said, these distinctions are not always crystal clear in the real world.
A therapist might also coach their clients to make changes. A coach might also throw in some mentoring.
And it’s also very much possible for a person to need therapy and healing in one life area, but to be functional enough to benefit from coaching in another life area.
So where does that leave YOU?
Well, what I’d really like for you to take away from this article is that all these resources exist. And I hope you feel empowered to seek whichever kind of support is the best match for your needs right now!