There are challenges we have to overcome daily, and it’s pretty common to look for support from a professional when these challenges feel too big to face on our own. But should you see a therapist or a life coach? Which one best suits your individual needs? 

Coaching and therapy have a lot in common; particularly their focus on talking openly out loud. Research from the University of California has shown that putting our feelings into words can have a significant therapeutic effect on the brain. So being able to speak honestly about what’s going on for you is a great way to improve your mental wellbeing.

Deciding to get professional help is a big step – but picking the right professional often feels even bigger. There’s a lot to consider, but let’s start by looking at the differences between the two.

What’s a therapist and how does therapy work?

Therapists will have masters or doctorate degrees which allow them to be a licensed professional. They sometimes also go by the name of psychotherapists, psychologists or counsellors. With the years of education required in becoming a therapist, they are well-trained to work with clients who have severe mental health issues, trauma, addiction, grief, and a whole host of other difficulties. 

Therapists are able to give guidance and use their expertise to help you to understand your past and present in order to resolve a problem. 

What’s a life coach and how does coaching work?

A coach is more likely to work with people that have less severe issues, or perhaps someone who has worked with a therapist before and is now ready to look to the future and reach their full potential. 

Coaching assumes that the client has all the answers they need within them, and these answers come to light through self-discovery and exploration, facilitated by the coach. There is a big focus on the future, and an emphasis on accountability and empowerment. 

Life coaching is not currently a regulated profession, but coaches will often obtain certification through an accredited program. Do ask your coach whether they are certified and what training they have undertaken before agreeing to work with them. 

Which one is right for me?

This is down to you. Your first point of call is to ask yourself how ‘well’ you feel. If you’re in a dark place, experiencing intense emotions or feeling completely hopeless, a therapist might be more beneficial for you. Therapists are trained to help people with mental illness and emotional struggles, and they can assist you to heal on the inside so that you are able to go on and make changes on the outside.

If you are in a relatively good place but have some struggles or challenges, a coach can help you discover what is holding you back and help you to realise your strengths and your value. Coaching is much more focused on change, and digs into your thoughts and emotions to find solutions. 

Generally speaking, coaches help you to achieve your future goals, while therapy leans more towards how your past affects your present. That being said, a coach will be able to explore your past, and a therapist will be able to help you reach your goals. It’s all about which one sounds like it will help you more effectively.

Shop around and see what’s right for you

So whilst their approaches are different, therapy and life coaching share a lot of similarities, and different professionals will provide unique services. Do your research and figure out what you are looking for. Would you like it to be formal or casual? Would you prefer it online or face-to-face? Do they have experience in your particular situation? Don’t be afraid to get in touch with a few professionals to ask them more questions or perhaps schedule a phone call to see if you are a good fit for each other. 

Investing in coaching or therapy is one of the most valuable choices you can make for your wellbeing, and it really can turn your life around and help you to get back on track. Don’t settle for someone who doesn’t feel quite right for you – you will get the best results when you work with someone who understands you, makes you feel comfortable, and gives you the space to open up.