We get this question a lot – and for good reason. Isn’t a life coach just a watered down (read: less educated, unregulated) version of a counsellor?
Our answer: Maybe! Lol.
To be completely transparent, the life coaching industry is completely unregulated. Anyone can hang their shingle out and say they are a life coach – so there is a responsibility on the client to do their homework to research the coach.
And, there is a HUGE responsibility of the Life Coach to make sure they provide the most professional, ethical, and quality coaching, because no one is policing. Yes, there are accreditations for life coaches – but really that means nothing. I did an accredited program in 2014 (meaning it is affiliated with a group of coaching schools and programs) and it was an “ok” program. However, Heather and I then went on to get certified with the Life Coach School and although it is not affiliated or accredited with any outside organization, the program is truly phenomenal – really top notch. We both have Masters degrees from top schools (McGill and University of Toronto) and can honestly say the training we got at the Life Coach School was high quality. More importantly, the skills that they taught us were the ones that we both have used to make amazing changes in our lives – and I have seen and continue to see amazing changes in the lives of those we work with.
The proof is in the pudding and the pudding is just SO GOOD.
Next, to clarify the difference between therapy /counselling and life coaching.
I first want to say, that I think therapy is great.
I have been to therapy at multiple times in my life. Regardless of the required level of education and regulations setting the standards, I have had great success, and I have had terrible results. Although I firmly believe results are always up to the client, therapists differ in the kind of tools they offer, their ability to explain those tools, the techniques they use, their experience and the awareness of their own biases. So, not all therapists are created equal:) If you have not had success, it may not just be you.
Life coaching, is similar. The results you have are up to you. However, the tools, techniques, communication abilities, experience and awareness also play a role. So that takes us back to: do your homework. It is helpful to get an idea of the kind of coaching the coach offers. Ask them!
Either way, you need to also feel connected to whoever you choose. It is actually crazy how much the connection and relationship you build with your therapist OR coach impacts what you get out of it! Again, you own the results (and if you are not invested the best therapist or best coach can not help you), but if you are invested, the relationship counts.
FOCUS: PAST OR FUTURE
Therapy is often very past focused – they will dig deep into your childhood if necessary, uncover hidden things, or process traumas etc. This is important because you need to take care of any active or unresolved trauma. But once it is processed, you may just want to move on. It can be unproductive if you just keep retelling the same story over and over as this can keep you stuck.
Life coaching, on the other hand, is very future focused. We may explore a bit of your past, we may help you re-author parts of it to help it serve you better, and we may use it as a springboard to move you forward. But the point of coaching is to move you past the past. When you feel that the past has been the driver of your life for enough time and are ready to have it move to the back seat, coaching may be just for you. Coaching focuses on the present, what is missing in your life, what is happening right now, and most importantly, what you want in the future. It is very results oriented: what kind of future do you want to create? Let’s go there.
FUNCTIONING: WHERE ARE YOU ON THE NUMBER SCALE?
In therapy, people are often in the position where they are not functioning very well. Again, people may have some issues from the past to resolve, they may need (or have) a diagnosis, or need a very specific treatment. And so it is important to get that! It’s kind of like they are on a number scale and therapy takes place when the person is in the negative numbers and struggling to get to zero. Sometimes you feel like you are in a very dark hole, and there is nothing to stand on. Therapy and sometimes medical management may be needed help you create a floor to stand on.
Coaching is where the person is functioning, maybe not awesome, maybe they are at a -1or 2, often hovering at the zero mark – but they want to get into the pluses – + 5 or + 10 – but they want help doing it. They may start and stop but are looking to get some guidance. They have a floor, they are standing and now they are ready to move forward.
ROLE: DO YOU NEED A PHYSIO OR A PERSONAL TRAINER?
Another way of looking at it is if you get a sports injury – you likely want to go to a doctor or a physiotherapist to get it taken care of. They will assess, diagnoses and treat – but it will be from the perspective and model of injury/illness – that “something is wrong and needs fixing”. That is therapy.
But after a while, the physio usually says you are ready to work with a personal trainer .You don’t need to keep focusing on the injury – rather you now can focus on your whole body and becoming stronger. That is coaching – it is the personal trainer for your mind. (Notice how we have gotten pretty good at taking care of our bodies – we go to the gym, hire trainers, have private memberships, take classes, join groups to help us follow certain diets, and yet we are not investing the same way in our brains. Life coaching is that investment – that is why it is becoming so popular because we are understanding that if we don’t take care of our mind – we don’t have our health.)
Since Heather and I are also Speech Language Pathologists, we also need to distinguish between coaching and what we do as SLPs. We both work in the area of cognitive communication – which means we work a lot with clients on their ability to communicate (including listening, speaking, reading and writing), their way of thinking (executive functioning skills, attention skills, memory etc.) and how all these things impact their relationships, and of course their life overall. Speech Language Pathology is a heavily regulated industry, so it is important for us to distinguish that when we work as Life Coaches, we are not providing SLP services or cognitive communication therapy.
Hopefully that gives you some clarity or maybe it muddies the water even more for you. Either way, it’s a good place to be in choosing between a therapist or a life coach as it shows how you value your mind. (We actually also work with many people who do both! Wanting to tackle both the past and the future at the same time. It can work perfectly together, side by side.)
Still not sure? Reach out and we can chat more about it…