A couch

Should you see a therapist or could you use a life coach?

***If your thought patterns and behaviours are causing you distress, interfering with your day to day life or causing harm, you must seek help from a professional therapist via your doctor.***

Putting mental health disorders aside (OCD, panic attacks, eating disorders, emotional trauma, phobias), sometimes it’s not clear whether therapy or coaching is the best route to go. There is some overlap. And some therapists now offer coaching as a separate service.

What therapy and coaching have in common

Both therapy and coaching have the same objective: improvement of quality of life

  • They are both therapeutic processes
  • Therapists and coaches are neutral and non-judgemental
  • You get undivided attention from someone who is truly listening to you
  • You get a chance to formulate your thinking and gain clarity by talking to someone who listens and asks the right questions
  • Both therapists and coaches are invested in your success

No one needs a life coach, but you might need a therapist.

Life coaching is for people whose lives are stable, but they feel unhappy or frustrated because their career, relationships or health are not where they could be, or they feel they are not living the life they were meant for. It’s for people who want to take their lives to the next level or change them in some way.

Whereas a therapist is for those whose suffering is interfering with their ability to function day-to-day. A therapist will help you create coping strategies, or in the case of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) work on changing the destructive or irrational thought patterns causing your symptoms.

Therapy may involve looking into your past experiences or childhood to discover what might be the root cause of the problem. Therapy can help you make sense of the past, and deal with ‘unfinished business’.

Whereas life coaching is all about creating a future scenario and helping you work towards it.

There are some cases where you could see a therapist or a life coach. For example, if you’re suffering from overwhelm, stress or lack of work/life balance. If you’re generally unhappy or feel stuck in life, a coach or a therapist could help.

What makes coaching different from therapy?

With life coaching:

  • You get to realise ideas, dreams and desires
  • The emphasis is on action
  • You are actively working towards a future outcome
  • You can maximise your strengths and realise your potential
  • Your progress is measured
  • Your coach motivates you
  • Accountability is built-in to the process

The coaching process of creating a future aim makes dealing with issues really efficient. It helps you prioritise what needs to be done, which means you stop feeling overwhelmed, confused and in a tangle. Working towards an aim means you deal with issues as they arise on the journey. This is what sets coaching apart from therapy.

How to decide?

  • If your life is not stable and your ability to function is being undermined by thoughts or behaviours, you would always go the therapy route (via a doctor).
  • To improve your quality of life over and above the basic benchmark, you could see a therapist or a coach
  • But if you want to focus on action towards a future aim, see a coach.

Some more tips…

If you need to make sense of the past, see a therapist. If you want to create your future, see a coach.

Therapists are good at helping you uncover the root cause of your suffering. Not always,  but some tend to delve into childhood.

If you have unfinished business, see a therapist. If you want to start a business, see a coach.

A coach will listen to the ideas you’re too embarrassed to tell anyone, and actually explore how you might make them a reality.

When you are desperate for normality, see a therapist. When you are sick of normality, see a coach.

If you want to go beyond a mediocre life, a life coach can help you make that happen.

If you want to be treated like a patient, see a therapist. If you want to be empowered, see a coach.

If you’re stuck, a coach will move you forward but a therapist might want to explore how you got there.

I hope that helps and if you’re thinking of working with a coach, book a consultation with one of our coaches here.

Gabrielle Collard
Verified Coach
Verified for professional standards and commitment to clients. Read more Close

I’m a marketing consultant and coach from London. For enquiries email gabrielle@thecoachspace.com or connect with me on LinkedIn.


  • Nowadays most people take the advantage of supporting themselves with the help of a counselor, coach or therapist through the challenges life throws at them at some stage. For people new to the field of self-development the question ‘What is the difference between a counselor and coach?’ comes up often. Lets find some distinctions that might be helpful to you.

  • Hi! The graphic on this is incorrect. Therapists also support clients in identifying goals and working toward the future. It is not all pas oriented and I believe faulty graphics like this are used to mislead and make folks believe therapists will keep them “stuck in the past”. This is inaccurate and I would encourage you to reconsider. I think there is value in coaching absolutely but you should not misrepresent other professions to manipulate clients to come to you.

    • Thanks for pointing this out, and yes I agree that therapy is not all past oriented but helping to move clients towards a better future. The graphic is simplistic, yes. Coaching and therapy both delve into the past to some degree or another, and both work towards the future to some degree or another. But somehow a distinction needs to be made so that people are directed towards the right professionals. If people think therapists keep clients “stuck in the past” it seems there’s an image problem there. I never said that in my piece.


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