I need help, do I seek out a therapist or a life coach?


I need help, do I seek out a therapist or a life coach?


-By Dr. Ray Kadkhodaian

Most people do not know that there are differences between licensed therapists and life coaches, and the type of guidance you will receive is predicated on which one you choose. It is not a surprise that the general public can be confused as to why there is a difference between the fields since the distinctions can be equally confusing for those providing the services.



What is a Therapist?

First, within the field of therapy, there is a plethora of degrees and modes of study that can lead to a licensed degree that provides counseling services for clients. Most therapists have a Master’s degree in either Clinical Psychology, Counseling, Marriage and Family therapy, Guidance Counseling, Art Therapy or Social Work. These degrees typically take about two years of classroom study and requires an unpaid internship to be completed involving 600-1000 hours of supervised therapy experience.

Once the Master’s program is completed, prospective clinicians must pass a competency exam before receiving a preliminary state license. In the state of Illinois, examples of this license are either a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) or a Licensed Social Worker (LSW). This license allows the clinician to practice under the supervision of another licensed clinician with a LCPC (Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor), or LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) for a minimum of two years before they can sit for another competency exam. This last competency exam qualifies them to receive the licensure of LCPC, LCSW or LMFT, which allows the clinician to practice independently.

Other clinicians that may call themselves therapists may have doctorate degrees, such as a PhD (Doctorate in Psychology), PsyD (Doctorate in Clinical Psychology), DSW (Doctorate in Social Work), or DMFT (Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy). These degrees and subsequent licenses require multiple practicums, an internship and dissertation before being able to sit for a competency exam.

Once a license is obtained with the state in which the clinician will practice, continuing education hours are required to maintain the status of their license. Clinicians must also abide by legal and ethical guidelines set forth by state, national and international supervising organizations and can be stripped of their license if the guidelines are not met. This also requires the clinician to maintain malpractice insurance since they are liable for the guidance they provide their clients.

What is a Life Coach?

The field of life coaching had its origins in the early 80’s as the concepts of sports coaching began to be implemented generally to clients’ lives. The profession did not, however, take off until the mid 90’s when companies like IBM started to implement business coaching as a way of developing people in business. Since then, the coaching industry has branched into many different disciplines including, finance, health and wellness, career, and relationships.

Coaches are not supposed to provide “therapy” or “counseling” for clients and the scope of their services should not include mental health services. However, due to the ambiguity of these topics, it is very easy for coaches to cross lines and provide guidance in these areas if not appropriately trained.

The major difference, and most concerning difference, between the coaching industry and therapists is that there are no standards that a coach needs to meet to call themselves a “coach”. This includes not having to meet any state regulations or ethical standards. Coaches are also not required to “practice” under the supervision of another experienced coach or meet any educational milestones.

The field has attempted to create educational programs and supervising organizations such as the Association for Coaching (AC), the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), the International Association of Coaching (IAC), and the International Coach Federation (ICF). However, without any legal ramifications or state license requirements, coaches are not required to join these organizations or abide by their guidelines, nor are they held responsible for the guidance they provide. Coaches are not even required to complete any educational program or supervised training before providing services for clients.

Things to Consider as a Consumer

It is important for the general consumer to understand these differences and to make educated decisions on who you would confide in when seeking help. Especially when issues include relationship difficulties or health concerns, it would be important to know the credentials and experience of the professional you employ.

Even though therapists are licensed and abide by legal and ethical guidelines, it is still important to inquire about the experience of the clinician and how many hours of therapy have they had working with couples, children, families or issues such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse.

It is also important to consider that if you are employing the services of a life coach, that the scope of their work is limited and should not address serious mental or emotional health issues. A competent life coach will disclose the limits of their services and ideally have been trained to recognize when a client needs to be referred to a licensed professional.

Dr. Ray Kadkhodaian is President and Cofounder of The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center located in Schaumburg, IL. He is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and has a masters and doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology. The Lighthouse, located in Schaumburg, IL, was the first emotional wellness center to be established in the Midwest over 15 years ago, illuminating the path towards healthy relationships. Our counseling services are provided for couples, families and individuals, assisting them in creating happy, healthy and empowered lives. For more information, check us out at www.LighthouseEmotionalWellness.com, or call us at 847-253-9769.