Typically the client is not mentally ill but is rather a functioning adult who'd like help solving a problem in life such as finding a soul mate, improving performance at work, or making more friends. Therapists, on the other hand, can treat mental illness such as depression, anxiety, trauma, or personality disorder.
2) Coaches are not licensed. Since coaching is so new, there is no licensing board yet. There are some accreditation bodies that are trying to instill standards into life-coach training, but not all coaches choose to get the approved training. Truly, anyone can choose to be called a coach. Alternatively, therapists must obtain a Master's Degree in Psychology, follow rigorous work experience standards under supervision, and must pass a comprehension exam. The process is very organized and the requirements are extensive and stringently supervised.
3) Coaches work together toward the client's self-chosen goals. Their job is to encourage, motivate, and hold the client accountable. Coaches view the client as a whole person with many strengths and they encourage the client to use those strengths to develop improvement. In this manner, I consider my views to be very similar to coaches' views. However, some therapists view their clients as "mentally ill" or "dysfunctional." With this mind frame, which is designed by insurance companies, some therapists see their role as helping to "heal" the other person. This is a broken-person model, and it puts the therapist in a superior role to the client. Many clients enjoy that type of transference-relationship, but it is not healthy in my opinion.
4) Coaches can serve people online, on the phone, in person, or via email. They utilize multiple modalities, making their services accessible to almost anyone with any type of schedule. While therapists can do tele-therapy or web-therapy, they can only serve people residing in the state in which the therapist is licensed. Therapists work in 30, 50, or 90 minute sessions.
5) Coaches cannot bill insurance. Therapists and counselors can bill insurance if you have a approved diagnosis, but coaches are cash pay only.
So should you use a coach or a therapist? Well, that depends on the type of problem you have; the way in which you like to work; and whether you are able to find a qualified, experienced professional. The coaching profession is a true grass-roots mental health movement. It fills a hugely neglected need. It gives a response to the needs of a "normal-healthy" group of people who want help improving themselves. Coaching seems to be a better fit for some men, whereas some women gravitate more toward counseling with a therapist. So, which is better? It's up to you.
Looking into a coach? Make sure the coach is well-qualified and has good references. Having ICF (International Coaching Federation) accreditation will ensure you that the coach has had some basic training. Otherwise, just find someone whom you like and who you think could help launch you forward into your desired future.
Stephanie Patterson, M.S., LMFT
1190 Marsh Street, San Luis Obispo, CA