By Susanne Johnson, MA  |  FEBRUARY 18, 2015

How to choose between life coaching and therapy

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Some people have asked me ‘What is the difference between life coaching and therapy’. There are some significant differences you should keep in mind when deciding what kind of help you are looking for. Fred Phillips, a life coach, has identified several differences between the two that I find relevant in my own coaching practice.

The main difference is life coaching is geared toward the present and future, while therapy is oriented toward the past. Life coaching takes lessons from the client’s past and applies them to the present and future, but not much time is spent on past events. Life coaching recognizes and utilizes strengths to put into action. There are forms of therapy very similar to Life Coaching, such as, Strengths Based Therapy and Solution Focused Brief Therapy, but in general, therapy draws on resolving the past.

To better understand the difference between the two, here are a few examples of when therapy works best and a few examples of when life coaching is the best choice.

Therapy works best:
For people in abusive relationships who need support and assistance
For individuals with unresolved childhood issues or trauma
For people battling addictions
For people suffering from severe depression
For individuals who live on an emotional roller coaster
For people who have diagnosed mental conditions
Therapy uses the medical model to focus on discovering and resolving childhood trauma issues of attachment, abandonment, or for support with a mental illness. The intent is to cure mental illness and therapists often bill insurance companies for their services.

Life coaching works best:
For people who may feel as if they are stuck in an unpleasant situation or relationship
For individuals who are poised to move to the next level in life but unsure how to get there
For people who want to learn how to take action
For individuals who are ready to make changes in life to improve their current position
For people who want to find meaning and purpose in life
For individuals who want to improve a specific aspect of their lives – career, wellness, relationships, spirituality, etc.

Life coaching is about creating mental wellness and finding a path forward. It is goal oriented, and often more short term than therapy. It is about weight loss or how to be a more effective parent or supportive spouse – how to improve the quality of the client’s life. Life coaches do not bill insurance companies for their services.

When considering life coaching, it is best to have already done some inner work on yourself so you can bring that awareness to your coaching sessions. The more you understand yourself, the better you will be able to listen to what’s true for you.

Susanne Johnson, MA, has fifteen plus years of experience as a therapist. As a life coach she has a great deal of understanding about how we can get stuck and what we need to do to get unstuck. She can be reached at 623-340-2342 or via email