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Therapy & Coaching… What’s the Difference?

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With mental health becoming more and more mainstream, we’re starting to feel a bit more comfortable talking about our problems these days realizing that we’re not alone when it comes to life struggles from time to time. Thankfully, more and more people are seeking out mental health treatment than ever before to receive the guidance, tools, and support they need to create more life fulfillment. Once strengthened, they’re ready to make some serious leaps and strides to having the life they truly want.

The inherent problem with this model, however, is that once therapy ends, there is little to no support available in maintaining the progress one has attained in therapy nor are there many options for guidance to really taking one’s life to the next level. And what about the percentage of the population that doesn’t experience mental health issues, but is still having difficulty creating the life they really want?

What is desperately needed is another helping relationship to “fill the gap”, one that picks up where therapy left off, one that capitalizes on a person’s strengths, increases support for that next life step, and maximizes personal growth to take life fulfillment and one’s potential through the roof. That other helping relationship is called life coaching and I believe it’s here to stay!

From the outside looking in, therapy and coaching look a lot alike. However, they serve two different populations and have two completely different sets of standards in order to practice professionally. A lot of confusion and skepticism has come about as life coaching has become more mainstream and it’s especially important to note that coaching does not suffice for therapy, at all. Part of my mission is to support both fields as I transition from offering therapy to coaching, but most importantly to support you in making a well-informed decision about the helping relationship that is right for you.

So what’s the difference between therapy and coaching?

Therapy is a highly regulated profession that requires strict educational requirements and the passing of a board exam to be licensed to practice. Each state governs the exact rules and ethical regulations for practicing psychotherapists within their jurisdiction. Additionally, each state differs between the requirements therapists must meet in order to receive licensure, however, there is a strong push at the national level and especially the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) to standardize requirements across states that will provide more cohesiveness among the field of psychotherapy.

Each therapist much hold at least a masters degree in a mental health field, pass a board exam, and fulfill a specific number of hours of supervised counseling experience before being awarded independent licensure. This process ensures the public that a therapist has enough training to responsibly provide psychotherapy and that they have demonstrated adherence to ethical guidelines to practice on their own.

Therapists also have the opportunity to join national professional organizations such as the American Counseling Association (ACA) or the American Psychological Association (APA) as well as state and local professional organizations. All mental health professionals are additionally required to take a certain number of Continuing Education Units (CEUs) to ensure skills are kept up to date and the professional is aware of the latest ethical guidelines and research advancements for the most effective treatments.

Lastly, a therapist’s credentials vary from state to state. Some of the most common are Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC), Masters in Social Work (MSW), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).

Coaching, on the other hand, is a non-regulated profession that does not require any certain level of education and/or training. As the field begins to progress, this is slowly beginning to change. There are two accrediting bodies that seem to be the frontrunners to regulating coaching, the International Coaching Federation (ICF), and the Center for Credentialed Education (CCE), although there are multiple other professional organizations for coaches to join that differ drastically in their requirements to become a member. What sets these two accrediting bodies apart is that they have an impressive ethical code in place that serves as guidelines for all coaching professionals. They also tend to be the most stringent on hours of training and experience required in order to receive certification.

Much like therapy, ICF and CCE certified coaches must complete a certain number of hours of CEUs in order to maintain certification, which ensures the public that a coach’s skills remain fresh and relevant to the field. Although certification is not required at this time, it is highly advised that the consumer do their research prior to working with a coach just as you would with a therapist. At a minimum, coaches should be up front with their experience and any specific education/certifications they hold that attest to their working knowledge of this helping relationship. This information should be readily available on their website or provided for you without hesitation if you ask. Professionals will always be up front about their qualifications and/or experience in being able to help you.

Lastly, a coach’s credentials will vary widely depending on where they received their certification. For simplicity’s sake, the credentials awarded by the ICF include Associate Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC), and Master Certified Coach (MCC). The ACC requires the least amount of training while the MCC requires the most. The CCE only awards the Board Certified Coach (BCC) credential, but let me be clear, credentials don’t necessarily communicate quality, only experience and training. There are many amazing coaches out there that are not part of these organizations as it is not required at this time. Many of them have been in practice for years and have the experience and testimonials to prove it! Always do your homework to find the best person for you!!

I hope that begins to tease apart these two different professions. For more information on the therapy and coaching process, check out my previous article, 10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Therapy. Although it is written from my therapeutic perspective, the same principles apply to the coaching relationship as well. Invest in yourself. You are the only one that can create the life you want!

As a side note for all the coaches out there, are there other certifications you hold that I didn’t mention? Share them in the comments below so we know how to find you and your specialty!

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