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What's The Difference Between A Life Coach and a Counselor / Therapist?

Updated on June 9, 2013

So I take that you have at least heard the name or term 'Life Coach', otherwise you wouldn't be on this page. Where did you hear the term Life Coach? Was if from people, friends saying my Life Coach is.., I want to be a Life Coach, or I work as a Life Coach, or maybe you've seen it advertised on Google's ad-words on the side of the your search page.

What thoughts, feeling came into your mind when you heard the term Life Coach? Many think that Life Coaches and counsellors / therapist are the same occupations / jobs.Some people think that Life Coaches are 'new age' or 'airy fairy' people. Other people think that both Life Coaches and counsellors tell people what to do and give out advice. Some people think of older or senior people as Life Coaches; since they think you need experience to give people 'advice' on how to live another person's life.

Similarities between Life Coaches and Counsellor / therapists

Passion for helping people

Both are very passionate into helping people with their lives and what ever is going on. Both have a high degree of empathy with people whom they work with.

They Don't Tell People what to do or Give out Advice

This seems to be a 'myth' both in the counselling / therapy/ life coaching world that they tell people what to do, give them advice and are experts in someone else's life. Life Coaches and counsellor both empower their clients to make up their own decisions and think up their own options. Both agree that the client is the expert in their own life, they are there to go with the journey that the client leads. They both ask a lot of powerful questions and the client talks more while the coach / counsellor employs active listening skills

Relationship with Client

Both coaches and counsellors are very client centered especially around their relationship or alliance with their client. Having a good rapport and relationship that is professional at the same time is their priority or comes before technique

Psychology background

Both counselling and life coaching have a background in psychology. Life Coaching has been influenced by theories relating to Freudian, behavioral, humanistic, trans-personal , cognitive - behavioral, positive psychology. Other great theorist that has influenced Life Coaching are form Sigmund Freud, Abraham Maslow, Wiliam james, B.F. and John Skinner, Carl rogers, Carl jung, alfred adler, karen Horney, Roberto Assagili, Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir.

Now Let's get down to the nitty gritty details


Client Direction

Counselling / therapy focuses more on the client's past, present state and does go into the future though quite slowly. Their major focus is the clients past. In contrast Life Coaches direct their client in a present to future orientated direction. They very rarely touch the past unless it's needed. Clients progress very quickly with Life Coaching as it's very future, goal and task orientated. Life Coaching clients typically see the client for 3 months. With counselling / therapy the clients typically are seen for months to years.

Orientation Towards "doing" compared to "being" orientated

Coaching is very much more result orientated compared to counselling or therapy, Counselling is more orientated to the clients state of "being" or how they are in the moment and past. Counselling is taking the client on a horizontal journey from a to get where the clients wants to "b". Counselling is more of taking the client on a vertical journey and inward to help the client gain a deeper understanding of themselves and issues.

Possible Salary

A lot of counsellors are employed especially ones that have just recently become counsellors work in agencies. In contrast there are not many agencies that hire Life Coaches as actual employees; therefore Life Coaches tend to be self employed even when they have just 'graduated'. If counsellor works for an agency they tend to get paid a lot less compared to life coaches, even counsellors that are self employed tend to get paid less than Life Coaches on the same experience level. Life Coaching is seen as financially lucrative compared to counselling.

Target Clients

One of the reasons that Life Coaches tend to be paid a bit higher than counsellors is that the clients that Life Coaches tend to see are more 'mentally stable, and /or within the middle or higher economic system. Counsellors tend to not always though see people that are not 'mentally healthy as they would like to be, usually this translates to some clients having difficulty with work and therefore in the low economic system especially government ones that offer discount or free services. Life Coaches don't see clients that are 'mentally unstable' or that their lives are dysfunctional, counsellors see those clients. The clients in counselling have "unresolved issues" that often need to be completed or resolved, while in coaching clients they may have "unresolved issues" though they aren't in coaching o resolve them during sessions.Life coaches see typically high functioning clients though if they have an 'issue' they will refer them to a counsellor or other professional. Life Coaches don't see clients for anxiety, depression, grief, trauma ect issues, some will however see them if the client see a counsellor or another appropriate professional.


To be a 'counsellor' or Life Coach' both don't need an actually registered qualification though when they are 'qualified from a registered body, Life Coaches are registered with the ICF; Internal Coaching Federation, with Counsellors they have their own registered counselling bodies.

Client Session: Venues and times

Counsellors typically stay within their offices for client session, coaches still have office to conduct client sessions in though they have more freedom and flexibility in seeing their clients at neutral places like cafes, in parks. Both do Skype and phone though coaches tend to use the phone and Skype more frequently than counsellors. Coaching is usually in time slots of 30 minutes to 50 minutes, counselling typically have the full 50 minutes sessions rather than the 30 min sessions.

How Long Life Coaching & Counselling Have Been going on

Life Coaches typically see their clients for a one off goal on average for 3 months as the progress is quite rapid. Counsellors / therapist typically see their client for more than 3 months to several years. If a life coaching client has an ongoing goal then they may choose to see their life coach for years as well though not as frequently.

Public Stigma

Unfortunately there seems to be more public negative stigma towards going to see a counsellor than seeing a therapist. People tend to feel they need to 'hide' that they are seeing a counsellor / therapist, though people tend to be more prouder to tell everyone that they are seeing a life coach. The term 'coach' appears to be more appealing than counsellor.

Client Feeling

Typically Life Coaches don't delve as deep into their clients feeling compared to counsellors or really need to bring out their feeling to help them move forward


Tony Robbins or Anthony Robbins the American is the world's famous Life Coach. Ironically even it's been stated in a few interviews that he himself doesn't call himself a life coach and instead calls himself a "Strategic Interventionist", most of his fans and public and even Oprah Winfrey herself called him a Life Coach during a "chapter" for her network. Tony Robbins has been widely marketed, promoted on T.V. infomercials, books, audio programs and referenced in many conversations in casual settings. On the other hand there are not many counsellors . that often reach that media or publicity hype. The exception is during related conferences or expertise areas, though counsellors aren't given the type of hype that life coaches are given.


It's very common to have counselling or therapy clients to be referred by a life coach, though not as common for coaching clients to be referred by a counsellor or therapist.


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    • Life Coach Cyndy profile image

      Cyndy Adeniyi 

      4 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for writing this. I work as both a life coach and as a professional counselor. We often run into problems as those who need professional counseling attempt to use coaching as therapy. Even though I am trained to do both, this can cause a lot of problems. My coaching practice is not set up to handle long term clients and case management issues. I do not keep the type of records for my coaching clients I am required to keep for counseling clients. I understand that that there is less stigma associated with coaching, but I am also hopeful that more articles like this one will help prevent the common mix up.


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