Psychotherapy vs Life Coaching: The Controversy Revealed Between Two Professions

June 13th, 2010 | Posted by Sherry Gaba in Addiction

Yesterday at my media coaching class we were practicing how to do a panel interview.  These are the interviews you see when all the expert guests are talking over each other and at times actually interrupting the others.  Of course, a lot of that is for dramatic purposes and the subject matter tends to be heated, which stirs up all types of opinions and controversy.

Our panel was to discuss how we felt about psychotherapy versus life coaching. Well, that is a subject that I have always known brings up controversy, but I had no idea how much, until I was part of this practice panel yesterday.  I would say half of us were psychotherapists with life coach training and the other half were life coaches with no official training except what they called “life experience.”

They insisted that all they need to be able to help others is the experience life has given them.  They said that they have never made any changes by the psychotherapy they received and in so many words felt therapy was “bogus” and “backwards”.   I and the other therapist chimed in at this point explaining that without the foundation of psychotherapy or life coach training, you could actually harm someone.  What we meant by that is that if someone comes to see a life coach and has a history of trauma or is suffering from a real diagnosable mental illness and does not get the proper help, this can be detrimental to that person’s well being.  I have seen over and over again clients who have been treated at various rehab centers get discharged to a life coach when what they truly needed was the proper professional  to help them deal with their traumatic pasts.  Perhaps they needed a “Somatic Experiencing” professional, someone who can help a person discharge their blocked energy from a past trauma so they can move on from that trauma.   Another technique that is helpful is psychodrama which also unleashes the pain from a traumatic past.   At this point when I mentioned the word “energy”,  again the panel became heated with the life coaches sharing there are many energy healing techniques such as Reiki or Theta Healing that don’t need to be facilitated by a licensed psychotherapist.  This I agreed with and in fact, many of the energy healing methods, Somatic Experiencing included, can be administered by body workers and others who have been trained in these methods.

The bottom line is this, if someone is going to help a person deal with un-resolved issues from the past, a psychotherapist or someone adequately trained in trauma work  is most likely the better choice.  However, there are definitely body workers that have been properly trained to deal with trauma as mentioned earlier.   The psychotherapist is the person who is sought out for healing old wounds, focuses on past issues, and deals with personal problems that need to be analyzed and solved.  The life coach, on the other hand, is a mentor or guide.  Coaches focus on the manifestation of one’s future making their dreams come alive now with accountability and action steps designed both by the life coach and the client.  A psychotherapist can also help a client move forward with solution focused or goal oriented psychotherapy.  Both professions have their place, but by all means, get the proper training you need before you call yourself a life coach.  Although life experience is absolutely important, there is something to say about someone who takes the time to be adequately trained to be the best professional they can be in their scope of practice. 

Sherry Gaba, LCSW, Psychotherapist and trained Life Coach specializes in addictions, trauma, depression, anxiety, single parenting and helping clients discover their unique purpose.  She is the Psychotherapist and Life Coach on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew on VH1 and is the author of the upcoming book, “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery.”  She has appeared on Inside Edition, CNN Headline News, Fox, KTLA, as well as quoted in  Cosmopolitan, the NY Daily News, Huffington Post, E-online, Elle online, and other local publications.  She can be reached at or

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