There are very few people on the planet who can honestly say they have nothing about their life they wish were better. Whether it’s stress at work or in their personal lives, being in an unsatisfying relationship or even just looking for better work-life balance, everyone has, at some point wanted to improve some aspect of their lives.
Americans are some of the most likely in the world to seek out professional help with their mental health and wellness and while therapists are a popular option, there are other options out there to help someone get a better grasp on their lives.
One of those options is working with a life coach. Another is a therapist. While both can help, they do differ a great deal. How do you know if you should be looking for a therapist or a life coach? That’s an important question but it depends on your individual needs. Let’s break down the important differences between the two.
Key Differences Between counselling and Coaching
Picking the right option for you is essential to meeting your long-term goals, whatever they are. Figuring out what those goals are before you make your choice between a therapist and a coach is critical.
Research shows that identifying and setting goals for what you’re looking for in treatment helps to filter out the signal from the noise and get more out of your treatment. Studies have also shown that those who think ahead about their goals and monitor progress along the way, have a higher likelihood of accomplishing those goals.
“Monitoring goal progress is a crucial process that comes into play between setting and attaining a goal, ensuring that the goals are translated into action,” said lead author Benjamin Harkin, PhD, of the University of Sheffield.
Basically, working with a coach is like having someone assist you in reaching those long-term goals. With its roots planted firmly in psychotherapy, coaching is designed for shorter-term, less emotionally-intensive work than therapy. Think of it as therapy is emotional and foundational while coaching is pragmatic and behavioural.
Typically, coaching is the go-to option for those not suffering from a mental illness, or trauma, or the effects of life-long dysfunctional behaviours it is more focused on issues like clarifying and refining personal goals, improving communication skills with loved ones and colleagues, looking for better work-life balance, stepping out of your comfort zone and personal development.
Coaching usually comes about in two different sub-categories, targeted life coaching and transformative life coaching. Let’s break down each one.
Targeted Life Coaching
Targeted life coaching focuses on goal-setting, ultimately helping people hone in on their desired outcomes without too much emotional work. Coaching helps you plan out strategies and develop tools to holding yourself accountable.
Coaches offer tips and suggestions to their clients. One suggestion a coach might give to someone worried about their health and future is to work out with a partner, something studies have shown to increase how long someone works out.
This is a method that puts a laser focus on your own mentality and approach to problems, giving you all the tools to do what’s needed. Then, they’ll be there to support you while you put those tools to use. Coaches are guides with tool belts.
Transformative Life Coaching
This coaching method looks inward, helping you think deeply about who you are at your core and help you tweak those aspects to improve your life. Countless studies have shown how important self-awareness and self-reflection is to personal growth and transformative life coaching is just that.
With a client-centric approach, this is a method that invites you to think about how your inner world impacts the outer world around you, which helps you work towards making changes to live a more fulfilling, insightful and mindful life.
This type of coaching works well for those looking towards their own recovery, safety and functioning mental health, asking you to dare to live more than just a “good” life.
When Coaching May not Be Enough
While research has shown that coaching is a viable form of treatment that helps quality of life and handling life and work stresses, it’s important to emphasize that coaching is by no means a viable alternative to mental health therapy, especially if someone is struggling with a diagnosable mental illness like clinical depression, anxiety disorders or bipolar disorder, or suffering with the impact and effects of a traumatic event or a lifetime of chronic dysfunction.
Those type of issues should be handled by master’s level social workers, clinical therapists and psychologists, people with the therapeutic skills and education to properly guide you into and help you heal treat those illnesses conditions.
As good as coaching is, you wouldn’t get a blood transfusion to fix a broken leg. You need to get the right treatment for the illness condition and symptoms you need treated by professionals trained to give you the proper care.
Therapy is the right option for people seeking mental health treatment and support, anyone struggling with depression and/or anxiety, those looking to develop coping skills to deal with those issues, individuals looking to recover from a past or recent traumatic experience, people engaging in self-destructive behavior patterns and wish to gain insight about these patterns as well as anyone having thoughts of hurting themselves or others.
In the end, deciding whether you need a coach or a therapist is a deeply personal matter that requires a lot of soul searching and consideration. Are you looking for support with your mental health or are you looking to develop goal-oriented, life and wellness tools and strategies? That’s the key question you need to ask yourself.
If you’re really struggling with deciding between the two, why not try both? There’s no reason someone can’t go to a therapist while working with a coach, and one might even be able to refer you to the other.
As long as you’re taking the right steps to reach your goals, this is a deeply personal process that depends on you and your needs.