top of page

Therapy vs. Coaching

Nowadays, clients have a wealth of options when it comes to seeking support from a professional.

From yoga classes to massage therapists to personal trainers to acupuncturists, there's no limit to the ways you can look to decrease your stress and increase your personal wellness.

However, sometimes it can be confusing to figure out exactly what you're looking for, or even what the difference is between two options. For all of you who are trying to choose between connecting with a therapist or working with a life coach, here are some of the high-level similarities and differences.

What's the same?

Let's start with what's similar. Both therapists and life coaches are professionals who are interested in helping to increase your wellness. However, their focus and the way in which they do that will differ. Neither mental health counselors nor coaches will provide clients with the "answer" or tell them specifically what to do.

How do they differ?

1. Focus/Goals + Training

Mental health counselors are licensed professionals who have gone through the required educational requirements (typically a 60-credit Masters program) and at least 3,000 hours of supervised clinical work under a provisional license. They work with clients either one-on-one, through couples therapy, or in groups to help clients manage negative patterns (thought or behavior), identify and address maladaptive coping mechanisms, build healthier habits and strategies, and heal from past trauma. Mental health counselors can diagnose mental health illnesses or disorders.

Professional coaches are focused on helping clients become "unstuck" from various life obstacles. They may provide guidance, strategy, and support while clients navigate transitions or help clients reach specific personal or professional goals. There are no official qualifications to become a professional coach, although there are a number of different training and credentialing programs.

2. Time frame of interest

Mental health counselors are typically focused on a client's past and present. They help a client work through past trauma that may be affecting their current lives and wellbeing. You can think of it as helping clients figure out the "why" behind certain parts of their stories.

Coaches will often have a present and future oriented time focus. They may assess the client's current state as a neutral place and focus mostly on how to help them thrive in the future. Much of their work is collaborating with clients on the "how" to help them figure out ways to achieve their goals.

3. Structure

Mental health counselors are governed and influenced by their specific training and theoretical orientation. Sessions may be more unstructured, with clients bringing in whatever topics they want to focus on. Mental health clients will help guide sessions by asking relevant questions, pointing on patterns, or noting inconsistent narratives or limiting beliefs. Depending on the therapist's modality, they may also incorporate techniques like role-playing, meditation/mindfulness, or homework. Clients generally will work with mental health counselors for at least 12-24 sessions, and may continue working with them for years.

Life coaches generally have more structured sessions, governed by the clients goals. Goals are typically created in conjunction with the client and then sessions are spent on discussing strategies to reach those goals, progress towards them, and any adaptations or pivots that arise. Sessions are usually more time-limited, depending on the client's specific goals.

4. Payment

If the mental health counselor or psychologist accepts the client's insurance, then depending on the client's individual health plan, insurance may be available to pay for the majority of the cost of sessions. Clients may still need to pay a portion of each session cost, or may need to first meet a deductible.

Life coaching is typically not covered by insurance. Clients interested in working with a coach will usually need to pay for services out-of-pocket but can inquire if coaches provide sliding scales to make coaching more accessible.


bottom of page