life coach vs therapist

What Are the Differences Between a Life Coach and Therapist?

It seems like wherever we look today there is a coach for self-improvement. Want to lose weight? Log on to Facebook and scroll for about 30 seconds. You’re sure to find a health coach on your friends’ list who has proven, tried, and true methods for helping you meet your body image goals. Want to perform better at work? A quick search on LinkedIn will find a business coach who is an expert in upping your professional game. The quest for self-improvement is real and it’s not slowing down. According to a study shared on LinkedIn, the estimated global market value of the coaching industry as of 2019 was about $15 billion. 

With all the different types of coaches out there – health coaches, dating coaches, career coaches, executive coaches, spiritual coaches, financial coaches, the list goes on… the one we wanted to talk about today is the life coach.

What is a Life Coach?

A life coach is an all-encompassing coach. While they can and sometimes do focus on one single area of your life, their goal is to help you make progress and move forward to clearly define and achieve your overall goals. Life coaches are great at helping you get out of your own way and identifying your greatest strengths and gifts.

What Are the Main Differences Between a Life Coach and Therapist?

While both life coaches and therapists can be helpful in self-improvement and in achieving and clarifying your goals, there are two big differences between a life coach and a therapist.

  • Education
  • A life coach looks at the present and future. A therapist also factors in the past and how it effects your present and future.

Education Requirements for a Life Coach

One of the benefits of becoming a life coach is that the industry is not heavily regulated. Technically, there is no certification or education needed to become a life coach. However, most clients and organizations who hire coaches certainly prefer that they have some sort of credentials to back up their work. The ICF, or International Coaching Federation, is the world’s largest and most recognized organization of professionally trained coaches. They certify about 89% of all life coaches globally. 

life coach requirements vs therapy requirementsLife coaching certifications can take anywhere from 20-120 hours of coursework and depending on the niche, the full master level certification can require anywhere from 2 – 3 years’ worth of experience and logged coaching hours, with costs ranging from $2,000 to $5,000.


Education Requirements for a Therapist

Becoming a therapist, on the other hand, requires that you complete a four-year bachelor’s degree, plus a master’s degree (which takes an additional 2 – 3 years to earn from an accredited university) or a doctoral degree (which is yet another 2 – 3 years). Once a therapist has finished school, they must complete an internship (one year) and then a period of supervised clinical hours (usually about 2 years). If you’re counting, this is a grand total of anywhere from 9 – 12 years to become a licensed therapist. 

Each state also has its own set of licensing requirements. Arizona for example requires that each therapist meet all the education requirements listed above, pass a background check, as well as pass a licensing exam. Then, once you become a licensed therapist, you must renew your license every two years by completing 30 hours of continuing education. Plus, there are additional trainings and certifications for specialties, such as EMDR Therapy and The Gottman Method for couples counseling.

Key Takeaway for Education Requirements for a Life Coach vs. a Therapist

While it’s true that a therapist does require a fair bit more education and training than a life coach, both professions are still professionally equipped to handle the clientele that comes their way. The key takeaway is that when hiring either one, do your research. Make sure that the therapist you choose not only has the proper licenses, but has stayed current with their education, and is licensed in the state that they’re practicing.

You can check a therapist’s license status here.

Likewise, when hiring a life coach, make sure that the one you choose has the proper certifications from a reputable organization, like ICF.

You can check a life coach’s certification status with ICF here.

Now, let’s look at how focus and treatment styles vary between Life Coach to …

A Life Coach Looks at the Present

When talking about treatment and what a therapist or life coach actually does with its clients, the biggest difference is that a life coach looks at the present-day concerns in order to help form a plan for improvements. What does that mean? Let’s dive in.

what are the differences between a life coach and a therapist?An example of a great candidate for a life coach would be Gene. He’s felt stuck for a while now. He can’t seem to get out of his rut of doing the same thing, hanging out with the same people, and never feeling a real sense of fulfillment or accomplishment. He has a supportive family, went to a great school, and now he has a good job. It pays well and has good benefits, but he doesn’t love what he does every day and likes his boss and co-workers even less. He wants to do something with more purpose but isn’t sure what that is yet. He feels more ready to move forward with his life than some of his friends but isn’t sure how to move on without burning bridges and hurting feelings.

Someone mentioned to Gene that a life coach may be beneficial. Life coaches are all about forward-thinking. This type of thoughtful guidance is exactly what Gene has been looking for. He knows he wants to make a change, but just isn’t sure how to do that.   

One of the greatest advantages to working with a life coach is that they offer incredible accountability. When you first meet with a life coach, they’ll ask probing questions that you may or may not have already considered to help define your vision, things like – What is it that truly drives you? What’s the basis of your goals? Once they’ve gotten to the core of what you’re going for, they’ll work with you to identify your obstacles. What patterns of behavior are getting in your way? What negative things are you telling yourself? Lastly, they’ll set small, but challenging goals with you and help create an action plan for achieving them. 

Your next meetings with your life coach will focus on what progress you’ve made, or didn’t make, why you made your progress, what actions you took or didn’t take, etc. These detailed check-ins and accountability are never from a judgmental or authoritative perspective. Your coach is your guide and cheerleader along the way in helping you achieve your goals. If your action plan needs adjusting at any point, your coach will talk you through that in a structured way. The bottom line is that your life coach focuses on what is currently happening in your life and how to make adjustments for a better future. 

A Therapist Looks Into the Past

While a life coach looks at your present to help improve your future, a therapist dives deep into your past to figure out how it is affecting your present and comes up with a plan for your future – while also finding and fixing some of the negative patterns and core beliefs that have come from your past. Let’s look at an example.

Tina has a similar situation to Gene, but with a couple of differences. Tina has also felt stuck for a while. She isn’t happy at work and feels like she’s not accomplishing any of the things she thought she would. She doesn’t get along well with her boss, no matter how hard she tries. She tries to talk to her friends about it, but most of them don’t understand because they’re just not on the same level as she is professionally. She feels alone, which is a feeling that just brings back a lot of memories for her. Her family was never very supportive. She fought hard to get to where she is and just wants to keep moving forward. But it feels like issues from her past keep coming up and causing setbacks in her present.

healing past trauma through therapySomeone suggested Tina look into therapy. She immediately started researching the best therapists near her and, after a few consultations to find which therapist would be best suited for her individual needs (a step that should never be skipped!), she began her therapy journey of healing her past traumas. This giant leap of faith that Tina took was just what she needed to move forward in her life.

Therapy is broken down into several different modalities. Depending on your past and your mental health needs, your therapist will determine which modality (or combination of modalities) is best to achieve your goals. At your first session, your therapist will spend some time getting to know you, asking questions about your family, childhood, current living situation and romantic relationship status, your job, and of course what brought you to seek therapy. Your therapist will also gently ask about your mental health history. Is this your first time in therapy? Have you ever had any suicidal ideations or a history of self-harm? Does your family have a history of mental health issues? These tough questions, along with the easier getting-to-know-you questions help build a much-needed relationship and level of comfort to do the work that needs to be done to achieve the goals you both want.

By the end of your first session, your therapist will establish a plan for the modality of therapy needed (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Gestalt therapy, Family Systems therapy, etc.), the estimated length of time needed, as well as other housekeeping items like scheduling, payments, and confidentiality of treatment. Much like with life coaching, you should have a good understanding of the action plan your therapist plans to take with you to address the traumas of your past, to have the desired effect on your present so that you can plan accordingly for a brighter future.


While there are certainly other differences between a life coach and a therapist, the two main differences are their education and their approach to addressing the past vs. present. Both have their time and place, and both can be helpful, depending on your goals and your needs. Because a life coach focuses more on dealing with the present than the past, it can even be a good idea to see a therapist first to get those past traumas taken care of and then engage a life coach to focus on your present and future. When it comes to self-improvement, as long as the person you’re teaming up with is qualified, there is no right or wrong way to invest in yourself.

For the therapy part, we are here for you! Our therapists all meet and exceed the state of Arizona licensing requirements, with varying degrees of education and expertise in a wide range of therapy modalities. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to schedule your appointment with a member of our therapy team today.

Sending you light and love,
Claire & The Claibourne Team

~ You are worthy. You are capable. You are enough! ~

Claibourne Counseling Scottsdale


Where To Find Us!

Monday – Friday | 9am – 5pm
10613 N Hayden Rd, Ste J-100
& 10617 N Hayden Rd, Ste B-100
Scottsdale, AZ 85260

(Note we have 2 suites. Please check with your therapist to confirm where to go!)

Counselors in Haden Park Area