The pressures of life can lead to stress, burnout and other difficulties that make it more challenging to get through the day. As those pressures pile up, the switch from thriving to survival mode flicks, and suddenly you find yourself on autopilot. People try several methods to deal with life’s demands. From meditation and exercise to therapy and life coaching, figuring out healthy coping mechanisms is an ever-changing lifelong journey. 

More people are taking a different route for self-help and improvement. Within recent years, there has been a significant increase in the therapy and life coaching industries. At one point, therapy was considered a taboo subject that held several stigmas about a person’s mental health. Society has since shifted the narrative about therapy, and more people are embracing the mental health profession. According to the research organization RAND, the spending on mental health services rose by 53 percent after the pandemic from March 2020 to August 2022. The International Coaching Federation reported a 54 percent increase in coaching practitioners worldwide.

Determining which path to take can be blurry as both professions offer benefits. While they may overlap, therapists and life coaches serve different purposes underneath the surface. Here’s everything you need to know before determining the right one for you.


A therapist is a licensed mental health professional who evaluates past experiences to determine the “why” behind a client’s behavior, emotions and thought patterns. Their goal is to help a person make positive changes to improve their quality of life long term.

Therapists’ clientele consists of people who struggle with mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. They also work with people who battle bipolar, eating disorders, addictions, stress, relationship issues and more. Unlike a life coach, therapists must meet educational standards and be licensed to diagnose and treat patients. Therapists offer several treatment plans. Cognitive behavioral or talk therapy are the most common forms of treatment. Psychodynamic, narrative and strength-based therapies are some other forms of treatments.

Each therapy session is unique to the individual, but a few general occurrences happen across the board. The first session could be considered the “getting to know you” stage. This is where a therapist will assess a person’s challenges and determine a treatment plan that best serves the needs of their clients going forward. Typically, a questionnaire and health forms will be filled out. A therapist also may take the time to explain more about themselves and their background to establish trust and build a therapeutic relationship. The remaining sessions focus on issues troubling the mind and provide solutions for healthy coping skills.

Life Coach

A life coach is a wellness professional who identifies action steps to help clients overcome problems that prevent them from reaching their personal or professional goals. 

Life coaches are for people seeking a change, but feeling “stuck” or unaware of how to achieve their goals. People who are dissatisfied at work, experiencing a creative block or need help building better habits are the typical clients of life coaches. Unlike therapists, there are no specific educational requirements or state licenses for them to work with people. Life coaches don’t fully explore a person’s past as a therapist does. Instead, they empower clients to change their behaviors to achieve their life goals.

During the first session, clients can expect to fill out a questionnaire or talk about their current circumstances and what they envision their future to be. A life coach may explore information about their background, challenges and introduce themselves. The session will usually end with an action plan designed for the client to take home and return with updates in the next session.