Life coach vs therapist: which one is right for you? We asked the experts | Life (2023)

  • Therapists and life coaches can play an influential role in your life, depending on your needs or goals.
  • But therapists and life coaches have different missions when it comes to helping people change their lives.
  • News24 chatted to a psychologist and life coach for clarity in helping you choose between the two.

You may have noticed that more and more people are tapping into the benefits of therapy and life coaching.

Your best friend has a therapist to help them manage their anxiety. Your colleague has a coach to set boundaries with their loved ones.

Perhaps you’re inspired to take better care of your mental and emotional well-being, or you could be contemplating a bold move in your life and want guidance. So how do you decide between a therapist or a coach?

The two are often part of the same conversation, but there are essential differences in the kind of help they provide.

Knowing the difference between the two roles is an essential first step. We chat with a psychologist and life coach to help you narrow down which one is a better fit for you.

Life Coaching

Coaching helps people tap into their potential and unlock sources of creativity and productivity, says the SA Charter Chapter of the International Coaching Federation (ICF). They further explain:

“Coaching [is] partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment.”

Depending on what you want to achieve, you may need a coach who specialises in a particular area, such as a life coach, leadership coach or career coach.

Zay-yan Fakier, certified life coach and owner of Calming Effex, tells News24 that a coach is goal-oriented and, together with the client, will create a structure to support their personal goals and aspirations.

Someone to hold you accountable

“If you’re somebody that likes to be held accountable, then a life coach is for you,” says Zay-yan.

Whether you want to go from procrastination to being proactive, achieve a better work-life balance, or set firm, healthy boundaries with loved ones, think of a life coach as a sounding board who can help you get there.

“As life coaches, we are taught to ask the right questions,” says Zay-yan, so a critical part of her role involves listening closely to her clients to understand their circumstances fully.

READ MORE |Life got you feeling stuck? Consider a life coach

Importantly, if she picks up that a client has mental health concerns, she refers them to a qualified therapist, such as a registered counsellor or psychologist. “A lot of times, if a client is unsure about whether they need to see a coach or a therapist, I give them the first session free and then take it from there,” she says.

Seeing a therapist

On the other hand, if you’re dealing with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or past traumas, a licensed therapist trained in solutions-focused work will help you work through it and heal.

(Video) Life Coach vs. Therapist | What's the difference?

Registered psychologist and owner of Conscious Psychology, Sanam Naran, says mental health is crucial to our well-being.

“This is the very reason psychologists train up to eight years to be able to treat clients,” she says. Only six to 13 students are selected each year to become psychologists. Sanam adds:

“Human behaviour and mental health are extremely precarious and intricate. We have a huge influence on whether a person gets worse or better.

"If you are seeing a professional that isn’t registered with the HPCSA - the governing body that ensures you are adequately trained - you may ultimately cause more damage to your mental health, which can sometimes be the deciding factor in whether a person decides to go through with suicide or not.”

So when is it best to see a therapist?

(Video) Life Coaching vs Therapy Explained

When life begins to feel overwhelming, or if you develop unbearable symptoms or have reached your emotional and mental limits, it is a good idea to speak to a therapist. Sanam says that you are already in crisis or survival mode at this point, and it is best to seek therapy before then.

“I always say, the best time to [go to] therapy is right now. If you want to improve your quality of life, live a more fulfilling life and get to know yourself on a much deeper level, you should consider therapy,” she says.

In a nutshell

To sum it up, here is when to see a life coach versus when you should consider therapy.

Life coach:

  • You feel stuck in your life or career and want to set goals to help you feel ‘unstuck’.
  • You want someone to hold you accountable for achieve these goals.
  • You have goals in mind but need a professional to help you work towards them.
  • You want to challenge yourself to be more creative and break out of your comfort zone.


  • You experience mental health symptoms that are distressing.
  • You want to work on past traumas.
  • You want to work on developing strategies to help you cope with specific triggers.
  • You need support navigating difficult emotions.

Short- and long-term

Therapy and life coaching can be short- or long-term, depending entirely on the person.

Says Sanam: “If a client’s goal is to solely deal with the loss of their mother, for example, then the focus in therapy will just be on this. However, if you are looking to deal with years of trauma or stay in therapy for maintenance over the course of your lifetime, it may be a longer journey. Bear in mind that therapy takes time and is not a linear journey.”

Past vs future

(Video) Should You Become a Therapist or Life Coach? (Honest Advice + What I Wish I Knew Earlier)

Generally, a therapist would probe your past, present and future, while a life coach focuses on the future.

“We don’t go back into the past the way a psychologist does. The most important thing is to create a structure to help support the client’s goal,” says Zay-yan.

READ MORE |5 tips on how to find the best therapist for your situation

Sanam explains: “With psychotherapy (therapy with a psychologist), there are different modalities. This includes psychodynamic therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy, solution-focused therapy, and so on.

“We choose a specific modality based on what would be best for a specific client. Some of these modalities are rooted in the past and present, while some modalities are rooted in the present and future. We tailor our approaches to what would suit the client best.”

How do sessions differ in time and cost?

Sessions with psychologists are 50 to 60 minutes long, and fees typically range from R900 to R1 300 per session. Most medical aids cover these charges. A hospital medical plan can also include therapy sessions if certain criteria are met.

“The truth is, this rate is steep for most; however, you rather give yourself the best possible care than not,” says Sanam, adding that “there are psychologists who are also willing to provide clients with reduced rates or payment plans.”

A life coaching session is generally 60 minutes long, although it can be slightly shorter if you want to see a coach regularly, such as every week. Cost per session ranges from R600 to R950, says Zay-yan.

READ MORE |Your random act of kindness impacts a person's happiness a lot more than you may realise

Regarding taking care of ourselves, it’s important to acknowledge that we may need a team of people to help us, says Zay-yan.

“Sometimes, you don’t only need a life coach, or a psychologist or dietitian, for instance. You have to look at your body as a whole. You have to look at your nervous system, talk therapy, body therapy, wellness, health, what you are putting into your stomach, who you are following and what you are seeing on social media, who is there to support you and what your community is like.

“Healing doesn’t happen in one direction - you’re going to go back and forth, and you’re going to fail, but you have to pick yourself up and know that it’s not only one thing that’s going to help you to get to where we need to be.”

(Video) What Do I Think About Life Coaches?


Is life coaching better than Counselling? ›

Coaching is action orientated, vs counselling is coping orientated. Coaches want to help you recognise what you think vs counsellors also want to help you realise how you feel. Coaching helps you set and achieve goals vs counselling helps you recognise and solve your problems in life.

Can a life coach tell you what to do? ›

A coach won't tell you what to do, instead, they will use questioning techniques to help you uncover the answers yourself. They'll also provide an objective and empowering environment for you to explore any challenges you're facing.

Is seeing a life coach worth it? ›

While you can certainly work toward your goals on your own, there are several reasons why paying for a coach is worth the money. Working with a qualified coach can: Help you discover what's holding you back and find the motivation to move forward. Challenge your assumptions; help you find truth and meaning.

Why do coaches charge more than therapists? ›

The majority of coaches work with a very different business model to most therapists and that's why they charge way more. As well as having a clearly defined niche, coaches are very clear about the value they are giving to their clients and do not trade hours for money.

What is a life coach compared to a therapist? ›

Life coaches identify and describe current problematic behaviors so the client can work to modify them. Therapists analyze their client's past as a tool for understanding present behaviors. In other words, therapists focus on “why” certain behavioral patterns occur, and coaches work on “how” to work toward a goal.

What can a life coach not do? ›

Coaching does not focus on the past; rather, life coaching focuses on the present and creating the future that a client hopes to achieve. Life coaches are not consultants. A good life coach will not tell clients what to do or prescribe specific courses of action based on their own desires.

What is the average cost of a life coach? ›

Cost of Life Coaching

The typical range for personal life coaching is from $75 to $200 per hour, with an average cost of $120 per hour. Many coaches offer packages, such as $300 per month for four 30 minute sessions. A longer term option might be $2000 for eight 90 minute sessions.

Do life coaches give advice? ›

Coaches will not offer advice; rather, they will create structure in their coaching conversations to lead to their clients to discover what best works for them.

Can a life coach give mental health advice? ›

A life coach is in no way trained, authorized, or insured to attend to mental health symptoms or issues directly. 'Mindset coaching' should not be addressing depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorder or other psychotherapeutic issues directly.

Can a life coach treat anxiety? ›

Since coaching focuses on individuals taking ownership to help improve future behaviors, it can be an effective way for many people with anxiety to help overcome some of their symptoms.

How long does a life coach session last? ›

Coaching Sessions of Moderate Length (30-60 minutes)

A large fraction of coaches prefer sessions within this time range.

Do coaches really make difference? ›

We found that coaches across basketball, football, baseball, and hockey account for something like 20-30% of the variation in their team's success.

Can a life coach also be a therapist? ›

1 | State Laws and Rules

professional counselors who offer coaching services should understand that, legally, they are still practicing counselors. Be aware that licensing boards do not necessarily differentiate between counseling and coaching activities.

What is a fair price for coaching? ›

Hourly-Based vs Value-Based Pricing

Many coaches charge based on an hourly rate. New coaches typically start at $50-$75 per session. Meanwhile, experienced coaches may charge $100-$200 per session. Then there are package deals that may come in at $1200-$2400 per bundle (but more on this later).

Can a life coach treat trauma? ›

Therapists are the front line workers of mental health care. They operate under a medical model of care, whereas Coaches operate under a support model. Therapists work with and treat trauma. Trauma Informed Coaches, do not treat trauma.

Can a life coach diagnose mental illness? ›

While therapists are trained mental health professionals who are in the regulated field of healthcare and require licensure, life coaches do not have mental health training and are not equipped to diagnose or treat mental health conditions (unless a life coach was previously trained as a therapist, which is also common ...

What type of person needs a life coach? ›

8. You're facing a major transition. If you're about to change jobs, move to a new city or get out of a relationship, you need a life coach. You don't want to burn out your family and friends with discussions about your upcoming life changes, and you want to make your transition as easy as you can.

What questions should I ask a life coach? ›

Here are 10 of my All-time Best Coaching Questions!
  • What would you like to have achieved by the end of this session? ...
  • What's MISSING in your life right now? ...
  • If you could change just ONE thing right now, what would it be? ...
  • How SPECIFICALLY will you know you've completed that action/goal?
7 Dec 2021

How many sessions with a life coach? ›

For time-critical goals like these, you should aim to meet with your coach once a week as a minimum and preferably twice a week for the first week or two. So, you're looking at around eight to 12 life coaching sessions in total.

How many clients should a life coach have? ›

According to the ICF, active coach practitioners are serving 11.7 clients at a time. For life coaches with 10+ years of experience, the average number of active clients is 15. But for life coaches with less than a year in practice, their average is 6 clients.

Why do coaches not give advice? ›

The value of coaching lies not just in helping clients get to the end of a session with options, but in building motivation, raising awareness, generating ownership and commitment to change. All my experience suggests that giving advice hinders all the above and reduces the possibility of life-long learning.

What is coaching vs therapy? ›

Therapists manage mental illnesses and diagnoses, coaches do not. Coaches work with clients for short periods of time. Therapists can work with clients for long stretches. Often therapists are focused on the past and present, while coaches are future-oriented.

What is the success rate of life coaching? ›

What percentage of life coaches are successful? Only 10% of life coaches are successful because it is estimated that over 90% of coaches who are just starting off fail because they do not have a niche.

How often should you meet with a life coach? ›

Coaching typically consists of a series of one-on-one sessions between you and your life coach and usually last 45 to 60 minutes each. Some clients meet with their life coach once a week, although some clients meet every two weeks or even just once a month - depending on their needs.

Do life coaches take notes? ›

Every coach should take notes after each coaching session to keep track of the conversation and document what you're learning about the client.

Do coaches make mistakes? ›

Every coach makes mistakes. Mistakes are not desirable, of course, but they will happen and as a coach. Your job is not to beat yourself up over it, but to learn from it.

What type of coaching is most effective? ›

Executive leadership coaching is one of the most common and widely understood types of coaching in the workplace. It's an effective way to strengthen the performance of your most important leaders, assist them in making key transitions, and enable them to alter behaviors that may be hindering their performance.

Is a life coach the same as a psychologist? ›

A life coach does not have a license to practice psychotherapy and provide counseling, although the life coach might have training in counseling. A psychologist, though, has the ability to diagnose psychological problems and provide adequate therapy when needed after securing the right license.

Can life coach change your life? ›

Rather than taking a psychoanalysis approach, life coaches focus on how you navigate obstacles, so you can continue to move forward and make positive changes in your life. Their job is to listen to what's making you feel stuck on a certain issue, and giving you the resources to change course.

What should be included in a coaching package? ›

A coaching package offers more value to a coaching client.

For example, you can include email or Voxer coaching, access to a resource library, access to bonus training, or even check-in emails and calls. This helps your client get the most out of the coaching experience.

How much is a one hour coaching session? ›

Life coach rates per hour

Life coaches who charge by the hour typically range from $75 to $250 per session.

How much does a 3-month coaching program cost? ›

For most new coaches in most industries, this price usually comes to around $1,500 for a 3-month package.

Can you combine counselling and life coaching? ›

Coaching and business scholars view psychotherapy and coaching as distinct practices with unique techniques that serve separate purposes in clients' lives. They suggest that combining the two disciplines could be confusing, unethical, and potentially damaging to clients (Berglas, 2002).

Can you be a Counsellor and a life coach? ›

Yes, Therapists Can Be Life Coaches Too!

What is a fair price for a life coach? ›

Most life coaches charge somewhere between $75 and $200 per hour. However, you can find coaches who fall outside of that range.

Do life coaches actually make money? ›

How much do life coaches make annually? In North America, life coaches earn an average annual revenue of $62,500 from coaching, per the International Coaching Federation's (ICF's) 2020 Global Coaching Study. That's a solid salary, and that number only reflects earnings from coaching.

Who is the most successful life coach? ›

Tony Robbins

Anthony Robbins is perhaps the most famous American author, coach, and speaker in the world today. His seminars have impacted over 50 million people from 80 countries and have been turned into a Netflix documentary film called I Am Not Your Guru.

How often should you meet with your life coach? ›

For time-critical goals like these, you should aim to meet with your coach once a week as a minimum and preferably twice a week for the first week or two. So, you're looking at around eight to 12 life coaching sessions in total.


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