Should I Start with Therapy or Life Coaching?


Therapy versus Coaching

A frequently asked question is whether or not you should start with therapy or with life coaching. As someone who has worked as both a mental health therapist and a life coach, I explain the similarities and differences in these two different approaches. My goal is to help guide you to make the best decision for you - because both have their place in the world.

A Bit About My Background

I have over twenty years of experience in the behavioral health field. I started out as a therapist when I was about 23 years old, and then quickly moved into running and building behavioral health programs.  I did this because I found that my skill set was really in growing and building others and opportunities.

Within the behavioral health environment, I learned many skills and invaluable knowledge. I have experience as a therapist, but as I began to change and gain more life experience, coaching just became a better fit for me, and that is where my attention lies. 

The Differences Between Therapy and Coaching

I want to start out by saying that I'm not here today to say that either therapy or coaching is better than the other.  They both have their place in the world.  The biggest thing that I want you to get out of this is to have the information you need to make the right decision for yourself right now.  

The skills I learned in therapy absolutely crossover into my coaching practice.

The skills in coaching and therapy, whether that be business coaching, life coaching, grief coaching, or couples coaching, career coaching and more absolutely crossover. There are some similarities and there are also some pretty significant big differences.  So let's talk a little bit about the differences between therapy and coaching. The major difference is that therapy is a very regulated field and coaching is not. 


In the therapy world, professionals are closely regulated.  In order to practice therapy, therapists must have a certain amount of education, which equates to a master's level degree. From there to practice as an independent therapist, they are required to get licensed, which takes about two years. So it's a significant amount of regulation around professional education and training. 

When someone is seeking mental health therapy or mental health treatment, they're seeking it more than likely for a mental health condition that will be prescribed a specific mental health treatment. So, therapy is also regulated in how it goes about treating a client.

When someone is seeking mental health therapy or intervention for a mental health condition, they will receive what is called a mental health diagnosis. So, for example, it could be depression, anxiety, or a substance use disorder. There are many diagnoses that have been researched and quantified.

Once the mental health diagnosis has been quantified or established there are specific treatments that have been researched to be able to be effective with a specific diagnosis this is called evidence-based treatment.

With evidence-based treatment, there is a lot of research behind very specific treatments that are attached to very specific mental health diagnoses. For some people, that may be very comforting - that the science and the research have been behind that. 

Because of these regulations, mental health therapy is widely covered by insurance companies whereas coaching is not. 


Now, let's jump into coaching a little bit and talk about the differences between regulation and therapy versus coaching.

The coaching field is not as regulated. Coaches do not require a master's degree or license. The coaching field does have certifications. It does have education as far as requirements for coaches that coaches can take on. A coach does not have to have a certification to practice coaching or a certain level of education.

So in my case, just to share a little bit about myself, I have a Ph.D. in philosophy but specialized in marriage, family, child, and mental health counseling.  I also hold a licensed professional counseling license with a  mental health specialty (LPC MSHP) and am licensed in the State of TN to oversee therapists who are working on their licensure. 

I don't use the LPC-MHSP in coaching because I do not diagnose and I do not do any formal mental health treatment. And if I were to re-enter the behavioral health arena, in order to practice as an independent professional, I would have to have that license or I would have to be under the supervision of someone that held that license. 

When I was shifting and becoming a coach, I got trained by a coach who is certified, but I did not go through a formal certification program. She and I both felt that the skills that I had obtained through my Ph.D. and my behavioral background were very sufficient, and supported absolutely all the principles that showed up in coaching certification programs.


In therapy, you will receive a mental health diagnosis if your insurance is involved. Just like if you were to go to the doctor, there's going to be a diagnosis that's required in order to provide some form of treatment. If you do see a mental health therapist under your insurance, there will be a diagnosis. Along with that diagnosis, there will be a supported mental health treatment, a formal treatment that should be attached to an evidenced-based type of therapy. 

Coaching Techniques

In coaching, there are specific strategies that are used, but it's around advising, encouraging, motivating, conditioning, supporting and strategizing. Similar to how a Coach works with an athlete.  So a soccer coach would be with a player. A soccer coach would get you conditioned and they would look at your strengths and weaknesses. They’d look at how that shows up on the field in practice and in games, what position you should play, and what position/s you should stay away from. They would make sure that you were ready to get out on the field and run for 45 minutes. So they would help condition your physical body and they would strategize on what position you should play based on your talents, your strengths, and weaknesses. 

Coaching is a little different in the fact that there is not going to be any formal mental health diagnoses and there's not necessarily going to be a formal treatment that's assigned to what you come in with.  But, there are definitely strategies and techniques utilized. 

Different coaches use different types of techniques. For me, I use several different kinds of techniques including - 

  • Brain science
  • Psychology (as it relates to human behavior)
  • Soul Connection
  • Mindfulness Techniques
  • Change Theory
  • Leadership Theory
  • Life Experience
  • More!

Knowing What’s Right for You

At the end of the day, the best solution for your needs is up to you. If you're thinking about reaching out whether that's for therapy or coaching, I want to applaud you. It's not the easiest thing to do. Either way there are tremendous benefits in not staying in your head, and not trying to figure it out all by yourself. We can't step outside of our brains and our bodies and have the perspective we sometimes need without some help sometimes.  

I hope this helps you decide where to start. The most important thing is that you do start. Reach out and don’t stay in your head. Don’t experience it all on your own!