Is there a legal difference between coaching and therapy?

There are a few key differences between coaching and therapy. Therapists are licensed and provide mental health treatment to people with diagnosed mental illnesses. Coaches provide goal-oriented services that are not related to health care. It is important that the professional interested in coaching is familiar with the field and knows its scope and limitations.

And if you have goals that you want to work on during therapy, they're probably different from the goals you would identify with a personal trainer. Coaches who use protected words or abbreviations may be penalized for practicing the authorized profession without a license. Simply “hanging out” and advertising yourself as a life coach cannot protect a licensee or former licensee from further prosecution by the licensing board, or from a referral for criminal prosecution, for practicing a particular mental health profession without a license. The fact that the professional can obtain other reliable insurance coverage for coaching services is beyond the scope of this short article.

These Life Coaches who don't attend an accredited school don't know what questions to ask and are giving the wrong answers. Psychotherapists and social workers are much like a “life coach,” but they are highly trained and experienced specialists in human behavior, human development, social and emotional growth or dysfunction, human dynamics, mental health care, treatment modalities, and the knowledge needed to guide people to psychiatry if needed. Jane Jones and Tara Thomas have very different experiences and qualifications, but sometimes they “compete for the same clientele”. I appreciate the idea of “life coaching” similar to a guidance counselor, one that can help adults change careers or address a problem stemming from something related to a life transition, but what worries me, as a licensed mental health professional, is that those who could benefit from or need adequate mental health care will turn to a “life coach” because of the social exception, style and, perhaps, “the cool personality that it provides.” Therefore, I have recommended that professionals who wish to dedicate themselves to coaching as their main business activity do so separately and separately from any therapy or mental health practice, if the latter practice continues.

I've been working with a lot of executive coaches recently and I have the utmost respect for many of them. The biggest difference between coaching and therapy, in my opinion, is that the theory that guides my work as a therapist can explain how coaching works or doesn't work, while the theories that guide coaches cannot do the same with therapy. Professionals should be careful and thoughtful before making and implementing the decision to practice and advertise themselves as a life coach, relationship coach, executive coach, or other described coach. Just because a client believes that there is a difference between coaching and therapy doesn't mean that there is.

In this sense, therapists and coaches have more in common than they think: professional myopia that gets in the way of helping people.