What Life Coaching Isn’t and What It Actually Is

To some, life coaches share similarities with psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors. But they’re not the same thing. Knowing the difference helps you help your clients better.

Stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions are prevalent in today’s world. And as a result, some people find it difficult to achieve their goals. They need guidance and coaching for them to become the best version of themselves and make their dreams come true.

That’s where life coaching comes in. After all, a life coach can help guide them through the steps required to reach this epiphany.

But before you can become a life coach and help people, you need to fully understand this field. Otherwise, you may venture into unfamiliar terrain and make your clients unhappy and unfulfilled.

This article will get clear on that as it will explain what life coaching is and what it isn’t. This way, you can understand what your limitations and strengths are. And you’ll also know how other disciplines that work with people fit in around life coaching. 

What Life Coaching Isn’t

#1 – Psychiatry 

Many people confuse being a life coach with being a psychiatrist. Don’t make the same mistake. 

See, a psychiatrist is someone who is medically trained and can prescribe medications to their patients. They often prescribe drugs to treat mental disorders, which is something a life coach can’t do. 

Apart from that, the way a psychiatrist approaches and treats their patients is distinctly different from what a life coach does. 

Psychiatrists use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as their guide. Often referred to as DSM-5, this book can be likened to the psychiatrists’ Bible because they follow the methods documented in it to diagnose and treat their patients. 

Here’s how they typically work:

When a patient goes to a psychiatrist, they assess that patient. And they ask themselves, “Which of the categories stated in the book do they fit?” They look at the patient’s behaviours to work out their diagnostic criteria and identify the ideal treatment plan for the patient. 

Academic literature and knowledge guide the psychiatrists and help them set up a plan to treat their patients. 

#2 – Psychology 

Like psychiatrists, psychologists work in the field of mental health. But unlike psychiatrists who mainly deal with mental disorders, psychologists are not only looking at mental health but also behavioural and emotional disorders.

Both of them are not the same as life coaching. 

Psychologists also use DSM-5 to diagnose their patients. So, they also choose particular strategies and interventions to treat those patients. 

However, psychology is a talk-based therapy. So, they don’t prescribe medications such as antidepressants. While they may work in conjunction with a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication, psychologists can’t make those prescriptions. 

That said, there’s one thing that distinguishes life coaches from both psychologists and psychiatrists:

The latter meets clients with the presupposition that they have a disorder that needs to be fixed. This frame of mind dictates their practice and methodologies for the diagnosis and treatment of their patients. 

Life coaches are not like that. 

#3 – Counselling 

Social workers, counselors, and sometimes psychotherapists, are classified as counselors. And counselling is mainly talk-based therapy, like what psychologists do. But a big part here is listening, empathising and collaborating to help their patient achieve a desired outcome. 

Counsellors are tertiary-trained professionals whose focus is on what problem the client has and how they can help them. 

They also use specific methods and techniques to address the problems that the client presents. And after they’ve listened and taken in what their client’s issues are, they also prescribe solutions. 

Like psychiatrists and psychologists, counsellors have a perspective that the client somehow needs to be fixed or helped or supported.

What Life Coaching Is 

It’s clear that there are a few similarities in the work of life coaches, psychiatrists, psychologists, and counsellors. In particular, they work with people and help them to lead better lives in general. 

However, there is one distinct difference between them: 

A life coach focuses on the desired outcome and the future of their clients. This is in contrast to what a counselor, or a psychologist, or a psychiatrist does. These other professionals place a lot of focus on the past and the present. 

As a life coach, your role is to ask your clients what they want to achieve and create in their lives. You encourage them to set goals and have clarity around those goals. And then, you work with them on the habits that previously stopped them from achieving those goals. 

Regardless of the work you’re doing with your clients, your focus is always on the outcome that they want to achieve. 

Of course, you may have clients who come to you who may be anxious. Or they may perceive themselves as having a mental condition that needs to be fixed. 

But unlike the other health workers, your focus is on what exactly they want to have, not what they have. If you don’t do this, you may be pulled into the role of a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counsellor.

And getting pulled into that role is quite risky. 

After all, you’re venturing into something you’re not actually trained to do. And in the end, you may leave the client in a worse state than they were before they came to you. 

For instance, imagine that someone goes to a counselor because of a bad relationship. They’ll spend quite some time talking about what went wrong in that relationship. So, the conversation will be focused on what happened in the past. 

With a life coach, it’ll be different. The mentality will be around sentiments like, “Okay, this relationship wasn’t so great. How do you want a relationship to be?”

As a life coach, you work with clients to support them in developing new strategies. You help them find new ways to overcome their habits of self-sabotage so that they can achieve their goals. 

Life Coaching is Unique

People often think life coaches are the same as counselors, psychiatrists, and psychologists.

They’re not.

Other professions see their patients as having a condition that needs to be cured. That’s why they concentrate on their client’s past to diagnose them. After this, they prescribe solutions for their condition. 

A life coach, on the other hand, is more future-oriented.

You focus on the outcome that your patients desire. So, you’ll often find yourself encouraging your clients to get clarity around their goals. Then, you’ll help them combat barriers holding them back from achieving those goals.

If you don’t understand your position as a life coach, you may get pulled into other roles you’re not trained for. When this happens, you won’t get to truly help your clients. 

That’s why getting clarity on your role as a life coach will positively impact your professional growth and overall success.

Posted in

The Life Coaching College

Glen Murdoch is the founder and CEO of The Life Coaching College. He has a long history of working with Athletes and Teams as a Performance Coach and Analyst and has developed Australia's number 1 Life Coaching College.