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Life coaches promise to sort out your life and may seem very much like a psychologist. However, the two professions are very different. Here, we look at how they differ, and examine which professional may be best for you.

Life Coaches are everywhere these days. They are the people in immaculate suits who offer, for the not-inconsiderable hourly fee of up to $300 dollars, to tell you how to achieve career and life satisfaction. The Life Coach aims to work with you to develop your abilities, recognize your dreams and overcome challenges to help you improve all areas of your life: personal, interpersonal, and professional.

That sounds a lot like a psychologist

It does. A psychological therapist is a professional who also works with you to improve all areas of your personal and interpersonal life. There are even occupational psychologists who specialize in helping you overcome challenges that interfere with your working life.

However, people instinctively know that there is a difference between the two professionals, with many people more willing to see a Life Coach than a psychologist. A Life Coach is not a psychologist, and there are many differences between the two professions. So where do Life Coaches and psychologists differ, and where are they similar.

Life Coach Skills

One of the key skills a Life Coach can have is confidence. Although the ability to listen is an important part of the job, a Life Coach needs the confidence to challenge clients and to push them to chase their ambitions. They must be open-minded and non-judgmental, and have the necessary interpersonal skills to bond with clients from all backgrounds.

Working With A Life Coach

A Life Coach will want to explore your ambitions, as well as anything that is getting in the way of you achieving those goals and ambitions. After each session with a Life Coach, you will be given homework assignments to work on before your next session. These assignments may include writing a journal or an action plan.

As you work with your Life Coach, they will offer advice and support, and make you accountable when you don't reach the goals you set. This gives you the drive to push you to achieve those goals.

Life Coaching usually takes place over a period of several months. However, this may be contracted or expanded depending on the number of goals you have, how difficult they are to achieve, and the frequency of meetings with your Life Coach.

A Life Coach is not required to adhere to any level of qualification in many countries (including the UK and the USA). Anyone can say they are a Life Coach.

Hiring A Life Coach

If you want to hire a Life Coach, check the member registry of the International Coach Federation. Regardless of your location, you should be able to find a Coach close to you. Members of the International Coach Federation will have at least a minimal amount of theoretical and practical experience.

Always trust your instincts when you meet your Coach, and don't arrange any subsequent appointments if you don't feel they are right for you.

When Would You Benefit From A Psychologist's Skills More?

The main skill a psychological therapist can have is empathy. They must be able to listen to what you're saying to offer validation and emotional support. They must be non-judgmental and have the ability to make you feel supported during your therapeutic sessions, and never ashamed. A competent psychologist will have the ability to make problem-solving suggestions in a tactful and compassionate way.

Working With A Psychologist

Therapy is an intense process. It involves being completely honest about your emotions, private experiences and thoughts. It's a two-way process between you and the therapist, and you have to put in a lot of effort.

Therapy can be draining for both the client and the therapist, but it's an effective way of getting to the root of many problems. Unlike Life Coaching, where the client looks mainly at the future, and talks primarily about their goals and ambitions, in therapy, the client can discuss anything, including distressing experiences and memories.

As is the case when working with a Life Coach, the psychological therapist may set homework and tasks to complete when away from therapy (for example, keeping a diary). Unlike in Life Coaching this is a therapeutic exercise, aimed at helping the client to heal. The therapist is not there to push the client to reach goals in a set time-frame or to chastise if a goal is missed, but to be an encouraging presence, a "safe" person for the client to talk to.

Unlike a Life Coach, your psychological therapist is required to be highly-educated and fully-registered.

Hiring A Psychologist Or Therapist

If you feel you may benefit from seeing a psychological therapist, contact a local organisation and find a member who lives near you. If you live in the United States, you will need to use the American Psychological Association's Psychologist Locator, where you can find qualified therapists close to you, according to their speciality. If you live in the UK, you'll need to use the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists' online directory. As with every other professional, always trust your instincts.

Do I Need A Psychologist Or A Life Coach?

If you are torn between choosing a Life Coach and a qualified psychologist, ask yourself the following two questions:

  1. Why do I want help? Do you have an action plan for the future and ant help and encouragement to bring it to fruition? If that's the case, you may want to see a Life Coach. Do you want to deal with a past or present trauma or pain and become more successful in your daily life? If that's what you hope to achieve, psychological therapy would be most beneficial. A Life Coach will aim to empower you to make decisions about your future and put plans into action; a psychologist will empower you to overcome difficulties, enabling you to make positive steps into the future.
  2. Do I have a mental health problem? Psychological therapy is soundly rooted in the medical model. It uses evidence-based therapies to treat anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorders, and other mental health disorders that may prevent you achieving your potential. Life Coaching is not founded in this medical model, and its approach is unlikely to help anyone who is facing psychological struggles.

In Summary

Life Coaches have their uses. For people who want to develop their careers and aren't sure of how to do so, they can provide practical support. They can be inspiring and lead to positive developments in your life. However, if you have any unresolved issues in your life, you might be better to see a psychologist, whose empathetic advice and well-evidenced methodology could be the solution you need to help you reach your potential.

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