One of the most common misconceptions about life coaching is that it is therapy in disguise — or, worse yet, therapy from an unlicensed practitioner.

In reality, life coaching is truly its own unique service designed to help ambitious achievers meet the outcomes that will bring them success and fulfillment. Here are some of the differences between life coaching and therapy, and a basic guide for when each service is appropriate.

Defining Terms

Therapy, also called counseling or psychotherapy, is a long-term process in which a client works with a healthcare professional to diagnose and resolve problematic beliefs, behaviors, feelings and sometimes physical responses. The idea behind therapy is to focus on past traumas and issues to change self-destructive habits, repair and improve relationships and work through painful feelings.

In life coaching, a client works with a coach, who is not a healthcare professional, in order to clarify goals and identify obstacles and problematic behaviors in order to create action plans to achieve desired results. The process of life coaching takes the client's current starting point as an acceptable neutral ground and is more action-based from that point onward.

A life coach would be able to offer guidance by:

  • Clarifying and achieving personal and professional goals
  • Working to improve communication skills
  • Achieving financial independence and security
  • Achieving a work/life balance

Life Coach vs. Therapist

The fundamentals of life coaching are what distinguish it from therapy.


Mainly, life coaches do not treat issues like depression, anxiety, or mental illnesses. It's really important to realize that when you sign up for life coaching, you will not be getting a therapist.

Life coaches can help you deal with mental blocks but many past issues are beyond their realm of expertise.

Therapists focus on "why" certain behavioral patterns occur, and coaches work on "how" to work toward a goal.

Focus Action Understanding and action
Depth Looks at patterns and behaviour in the here and now, looking to future behaviour to change these patterns. Looks at patterns and behaviour in the here and now, looking to future behaviour to change these patterns. Plus looks at greater depth into cause of behaviour to allow the root of stubborn patterns to be understood and changed.
Location/time Can vary, including phone, internet and in-person sessions. Same place and time.

Coaching is about forward momentum and helping people to achieve their goals. The focus of coaching is on creating and maintaining motivation for change; exploring and overcoming obstacles; and taking action to reach goals.

Counselling is about the present and the past, with a focus on helping people to address and resolve deeper emotional issues.