Scripps Ranch and Bankers Hill Therapist Sara Cole.
Have you ever wondered about the difference between a Licensed Therapist and a Life Coach? This is a passionate issue for me and after talking with a few therapists I highly respect, they encouraged me to write it down. The best tool you can have is information. Here is my attempt to help inform you on an important issue involving mental health.
A lot of people assume that Therapists and Life Coaches are the same thing. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING. A licensed therapist has advanced graduate training in treating mental health issues, they have supervision, they do lengthy internships, they have legal and ethical boards governing their actions and certification by their state. A Life Coach doesn't need to have any of these things. Actually, to be a life coach there are no requirements. Your mom could decide to be a life coach today and so she is. Some Life Coaches seek a certification of some kind which helps, but certifications are also not overseen or governed by anyone.
This is not about market competition for me. It is about the safety of people who are seeking help. It is also about integrity and honesty in service. If a person is mentally and emotionally healthy and is looking for someone to help them get motivated, a life coach is great. A life coach usually works form the perspective that the client already has everything they need to make changes. But imagine a severely depressed person coming to a life coach, for example. The life coach presumably has no training on how to deal with mental illness and tells the person they just need to stop being so lazy or to look on the bright side. Do you know what could happen? Suicide is the worst outcome, but it is in the range of possibilities. The sad part is that the depressed person thought they were seeking help from a professional that would know how to help them. This example may seem dramatic, and maybe it is, but it is also very possible.
I want to make it clear that I sincerely think there is a place for life coaches. I also want to say that there are some very talented and well trained life coaches out there, but there are also some hacks that are looking to take advantage of people because of the confusion that exists. First off, a life coach is not a licensed therapist, unless of course a licensed therapist is practicing as a life coach. A life coach is about as much like a licensed therapist as a guy who read a law book is like an attorney. No really. Let me explain.
Diann Wingert, LCSW, Certified Coach & Therapist, writes in her article for Good Therapy that "If you are more comfortable knowing that the person helping you is a highly educated professional who is licensed and regulated by the state, shares a common language with other health care providers, and is trained to deal with the symptoms of mental health issues as well as the dramas and traumas of ordinary life, a therapist is your best bet." She further explains that licensed therapists are able to be paid for through insurance, whereas insurance does not cover the services of a life coach." In addition, therapists are legally and ethically required to maintain client confidentiality at all times. Coaches have no such requirements and info from yoursessions can be subpoenaed in court.
Even as a licensed therapist, there are times where I feel that I do not have the specialized training to help a client. In those cases I am ethically obligated to refer that person to a specialist in their area of need. If Life Coaches also had some sort of regulation, the danger of the profession to the public, would be reduced significantly. Many of them recognize the issue and make this referral on their own of course, but by choice alone and there is no way of knowing who chooses to and who does not. If they do not, there are no clear repercussions. If I choose to work outside my scope of practice or expertise, I risk losing my license and of course the safety of a potential client.
Often Life Coaches focus on accomplishing goals or moving forward in life. Therapists can do this but also help people to look back and work through difficulties from their past so that they are able to move forward. Therapists can help when a person has experienced a traumatic event or loss. Therapists are specially trained to treat mental health issues. Therapists are required to engage in ongoing training on a yearly basis to maintain their skills and knowledge of current information. Like I have already said, there are no regulations for life coaches. If you don't necessarily need or have a mental health diagnosis, are not looking for insurance reimbursement, and want someone to push you toward your goals and don't need insight into your past, a life coach may be a viable choice for you. If you decide a Coach is what you want, please ask about their certification and experience before giving them your money. You could ask a coach many of the same questions I recommend asking a therapist. This is a link to a list of those questions.
Sara Cole MFT is a licensed therapist and has been practicing in San Diego for the past 15 years. She has offices in Scripps Ranch and Bankers Hill. For mor information about her practice or how she may be a ble to help you, visit her website at www.saracolemft.com.
Sara Cole has been providing mental health services in San Diego for 15 years. Sara specializes in working with women and teen girls to overcome trauma and major life changes, including postpartum depression and anxiety. She is also passionate about providing treatment to those whose lives are affected by the addiction of a loved one.