If you are considering working with a life coach, and certainly if you are interested in becoming a life coach, it is important to examine the differences between a life coach and a therapist. While the two job titles may seem similar on the surface, understanding the difference will help you choose between life coaching and counseling, whether as a potential client or future career path.

What is a Life Coach?

According to a recent article on CNBC, a life coach is a person with training and experience to “guide you through all aspects of your life, from your romantic relationships to your finances and beyond, and help you plan for the future and make decisions.” Different life coaches may have strengths in particular areas, like career coaching, health and wellness, or life planning. But generally, the work is the same: setting goals that allow for growth and positive change into the future.

What is a Therapist?

A therapist is a little different. Unlike a life coach, therapists are certified and registered healthcare professionals. CNBC describes a therapist’s job as “to help you understand your own internal emotional and psychological workings that contribute to your behavior patterns, or get in the way of moving toward your goals.” As life coach Tony Robbins explains, “therapy focuses on the past and on introspection and analysis, with the hope of resolving past issues and creating a happier, more stable future.”

Life Coach vs. Therapist: Similarities

As you can see, the work that a life coach does has some similarities to the work of a therapist.

  • Both a life coach and a therapist are focused on improving your life.
  • Both a life coach and a therapist can help you identify your strengths and needs.
  • Both a life coach and a therapist are going to talk through problems and potential solutions.

In reality, though, these roles have more differences than similarities.

Therapist vs. Life Coach: Differences

It’s best to think of these two jobs in terms of their primary focus. A therapist is generally concerned with helping you to identify psychological issues (past trauma, for example) that may be causing you trouble in the present. A life coach will want to understand your present situation in order to help you plan for the future. 

Tony Robbins explains the key differences between the work of a life coach and a therapist as being tied to 2 key factors:

  • The focus of the problem: it’s about current behaviors and future goals for the life coach, versus a therapist’s focus on the underlying psychological causes for present behaviors and feelings.
  • The goals of the program: a therapist will focus on a client’s mental health, with an ultimate goal of progress towards wellness. A life coach is about actionable goals to help a client move forward from their current situation. 

When comparing a life coach vs. a therapist, it’s easy to see that they are both designed to meet different outcomes. 

Another key difference between a life coach and a therapist is the training that each job requires. Becoming a therapist requires years of specialized training after college, as well as state licensure. The training required to become a life coach can vary widely, ranging from very little to full mastery certification.

Can a Therapist Act as a Life Coach?

While a therapist can offer the same types of advice as a life coach, the scope of the work being done in life coaching vs counseling is usually different in nature. This forces another complex question for those in need of guidance and help to manage their present and prepare for the future: which one do you need?

Do I Need Life Coaching or Counseling?

The specific answer to that question is entirely dependent upon your needs. Life coaches and therapists provide different ways of looking at your life and work on different problems. If you are having a mental health crisis, seek help from a therapist immediately. But even if you are not encountering an emergent problem, you may find massive benefit from working through things with a therapist. As Esther Boykin puts it on CNBC, “if you’re wondering whether or not you should see a therapist, you should probably go see a therapist.”

In reality, however, the decision to visit a life coach vs. a therapist is a little misleading. When trying to decide between a life coach or therapist, keep this in mind: most people would best benefit from BOTH!

Become a Life and Wellness Coach and Help Counsel Clients

Dual Health and Life Coach Certification in 6 Months with HCI

Coaching is a great career that you can help others, while also learning how to help your own personal growth. Health Coach Institute’s dual health and life coaching certification program is designed to accommodate your schedule. Join our Become a Health Coach program and begin coaching in 6 months! If you are already a coach and want to advance your skills, check out HCI’s Coach Mastery program. Feel free to get in touch with with one of our clarity coaches directly, by calling 1-800-303-2399.

If you are interested in a career as a life coach, and in learning more, Health Coach Institute would love to talk to you. Follow this link to learn more about pricing!


Health Coach Institute provides aspiring Health and Life Coaches with the tools, training, and support to make a great living transforming lives.