Coaching vs. Therapy – What’s The Difference?

I was having a conversation with a prospective client recently, and she expressed to me that she never considered hiring a life coach, because to her, life coaching was like a watered down version of therapy.  And that got me wondering, how many people out there share this view?

So I want to take a moment to share a few big differences between therapy and life coaching, from my perspective, as someone who: (1)  is a life coach, (2) has several coaches, and (3) has also seen a therapist or two in her lifetime.

There is no doubt that both psychotherapy and life coaching have the potential to add value to your life.  However, I would argue that the biggest difference between the two is that life coaching deals with the present and focuses on moving forward with clarity, purpose and intention, while psychotherapy deals with resolving the past and focuses on pathologizing emotions and behaviors.

And if you’ve ever been in therapy, you probably  noticed how in psychotherapy, the assumption is that there is something wrong that gets in the way of a person’s functioning; that the individual needs  fixing. And as a consequence, there is always a need to pathologize or diagnose the individual’s emotional state and behavior.  In instances where they can’t promote healing, a therapist will prescribe some type of drug as a coping mechanism…  maybe even at the client’s request.

And by the way, it is precisely this specific aspect of psychotherapy that requires that therapists be state licensed – because in order to medicate (if necessary), therapists have to have permission from the State.  And what we see is that psychotherapy primarily follows a ‘healthare’ or clinical model of care.

In theraphy, the therapist is ALWAYS considered to be the expert and the one that provides all of the answers in the client/therapist relationship.  Often times, progress usually involves dwelling on the past, as the client is made to go back and relive a traumatic event or negative experience from the past, over and over again. 

With therapy, results and progress can be slow and even painful and this is why sometimes an individual may go to therapy for years without any significant shift.  However, there is no doubt that many benefit from therapy, so there is definitely a time and place for it. 

In coaching, the assumption is ALWAYS that nothing is wrong with the client, but the client chooses to seek out a coach because  they want an even better life experience.

As a life coach, diagnosing, healing or fixing you is never my objective.  Because from my perspective, ALL of your emotions are normal and you do not need to be fixed.

My focus is in every aspect of the client’s life, including their health, their relationships, their career, their spiritualility, and how it all fits together holistically.

Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player  to ever play the game and for his entire career, he had a coach.  Just imagine if he had decided  that because he was the best, he no longer needed the help of someone else.

And he is not the only one.

Athletes recognize that regardless of how great their talent or ability, it is their coaches who help them reach their potential by motivating them and bringing the best out of them.

Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, musicians, actors, artists, business moguls…

Every single one of them has had a coach – whether it’s  a sports coach, a business coach or a life coach.

Coaches help people become better in a certain area of their life, by doing two things:

First, they expose them to RESOURCES and INFORMATION that they might not necessarily have had access to prior to the coaching, and secondly, they provide a source of motivation for helping people to stay on track.

And I know you may be thinking to yourself… “I don’t need a life coach… I can do it on my own… I can get to where I want to go by reading self-help books, or listening to some podcasts… I can figure it out”.  But the truth is that just having the information is  only part of the process.

We all know that eating healthy and exercising several days a week will give us the body that we want, right?  Yet billions of people around the world spend billions of dollars each year looking for ways and HELP from a coach in order to lose weight.

The reason for this is simple.  We have the information, but what we are lacking is the MOTIVATION to actually put that information to use, and take CONSISTENT ACTION.

Think about it, how many times have YOU undertaken a diet, only to lose your motivation and quit after the second or third week into your diet. 

How long did it take before you lost your MOTIVATION when you made that  new year’s resolution back in January.  Or … maybe it was that BIG plan to get rid of that limiting mindset or that negative behavior?

You know, last summer my husband  set up a gym in our garage.  He wanted to get back in shape so he went out and bought a bunch weights, an exercise bike, and even a bow flex machine.  You see, his goal was to get fit.  He started off really well, exercising every day for an entire week.  But after the first week,  he was only exercising twice a week.  Then it went down to once a week, until he totally gave up.

And this is what happens with most people.  An individual may know that they want to change SOMETHING in their lives that is limiting them, but because they do not understand how their brain works – how their primitive brain is wired and how to actually communicate WITH  the part of the brain that does their bidding – they quickly get discouraged at the lack of results and quit.  And the cycle in their lives of feeling stuck continues.

And that is precisely WHY the people who DO want to reach their potential choose to work with a coach.   They KNOW that they can reach their goals more effectively with them, than without them.

As a life coach I simply act as your partner; and together we focus on where you are NOW – on the PRESENT – in order to create the future you want.  We do not focus on your past.  And because the focus is on finding a solution and not on WHY the problem exists, progress often tends to be quick and  even enjoyable.  

When I was in my late 20s, I was saw several therapists. I was going to them for over a year,  without any meaningful results.  I actually stopped going to them, because the last therapist that I saw (during the dissolution of my first marriage) told me that I didn’t really need him.  He felt bad taking my money and suggested that I was just going through a difficult time but that I was totally capable of handling it.  To this day, I think he was an exceptional therapist.  However, I  know NOW that what I needed at the time was a life coach.

When you work with me, if you are at CAUSE – meaning, if you are ready to take responsibility for your life and create the change you want – you will experience a change rather quickly.

Another difference between therapy and life coaching is that licensing standards do not apply for coaches because coaches don’t diagnose or treat anyone. As I mentioned before, the state requires licensing if you are going to be medicating or treating someone.  It’s important to know this, because some take exception to this and feel that only someone that is ‘state licensed’ should be allowed to help individuals this capacity. 

What I will tell you is that I, along with most coaches I know, take this calling to serve others very seriously. I am not only certified as a coach, but as such, I am required – much like a doctor, a nurse, or a lawyer – to continue my education in several modalities, so that I am up to date in my certification, and can serve my clients. 

In fact, I go above and beyond what my  continued education requires of me, because I want to have as many tools as possible available  to help you get past your limiting blocks. 

So if you have been wondering what exactly can a life coach do for you, I hope this helped you gain some clarity.  

Again, coaching does NOT focus on dysfunction, it does not diagnose, and it does not focus on the past, because you do not need fixting and you are NOT broken. 

Coaching is designed to empower you as the expert in your life and as the author of that new story you want to create.

And if you are not sure whether you need a life coach or a therapist, ask yourself:

1) How distressed am I currently?  Am I dealing with an emotional crisis that requires a licensed professional?

2) Do I want  someone else to take responsibility for my progress?

3)  Do I want to be responsible for my life… for creating my own experience.. and  just want a someone to support and help facilitate my greatness?

And if you have been working with a therapist but don’t like you’ve gotten anywhere and are willing to try a different more empowering way of getting to where you want to be, then reach out to me. 

If you are open minded and are willing to invest an hour of your time, I am willing to  give you an hour of mine FREE OF CHARGE, and when we are done with our chat, you will walk away with clarity and a sense of direction to tackle whatever challenge you are facing.

And always remember … YOU have the ability  to shift and create the version of you  you have been dreaming of. 

No one else!


xo Arianna


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