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 [email protected] or

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61 Responses

  • Barbara says:

    Hi I am researching somatic coaching from europe, and can anyone tell me, do somatic coaches need a specific liscence to work legally in the usa- specifically the seattle/portland area??? I have heard recently that although “bodyworkers”–masage therapists etc are required to take a state board exam in order to touch people, that coaches and somatic coaches are not required to have this certification or board liscencing. any thoughts infor would be greatly appreciated. Barbara

  • Trained in Psychology says:

    I am all for the wide-spread use of Psychology to improve the lives of the masses! I am also very passionate about people getting the proper training. I chose “counseling psychology” for my graduate training because I wanted to work with individuals with life-adjustment issues, not severe psychological disorders (the supposed turf of clinical psychology). I work with people to optimize their performance in sport, work and various aspects of their personal lives. I can’t help but feel like relabeling personal counseling as “life coaching” is really just capitalizing on the vast mental health stigma in our modern society. I mean, when I read what life coaches with no training in psychology say they do for a living (or when I have a client later explain to me what their life coach attempted to do), I hear the principles of therapy and psychology. I am deeply concerned about how training in life coaching is taking place online and often within 1 day when it takes 3 years (at a minimum) to be fully trained as a master’s level counselor. I think it is time that psychologists and counselors educate the public that we are not just for major mental health crises or disorders, but we are trained to know what to do should such issues arise. Most of us, I would argue, believe in working toward the optimization of human potential- and we have years of training to help people get there, as well as the ethical standards and licensing boards to hold us accountable for the work that we provide.

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    With the help of coaching, a completely new light can be thrown on different aspects of personal as well as professional life. Coaching will contribute in making effective decisions. The capability of thinking will be enhanced. Coaching can improve interpersonal abilities. And an increase in confidence is an undoubted advantage of taking up personal coaching. The level of productivity can increase multifold through coaching. It will help in bringing about satisfaction in the personal as well as professional lives.”,””

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  • Thank you Sherry, for this article! It is so hard to debate the merits of therapy with non therapists, because they don’t know what they don’t know! And many think one bad apple discredits the whole profession, where that would never happen with other professions. Anyone with a life threatening mental illness or disability needs to be with a licensed psychotherapist.

  • Life coaches and therapists serve different purposes. The therapist is the person who is sought out for the healing of old wounds and the discussion of personal problems that need to be analyzed and solved. The life coach, on the other hand, is both mentor and guide.So much therapy is about the past and present and all about focusing the client toward healing. Coaching, on the other hand, is about helping a client look forward to expand their options and to take action, according to Leslie Lupinsky, a master certified coach.

  • Great article and I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for writing it!

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