Coaching or Therapy: How to Know What’s Right For You as a Caregiver

Your partner has cancer and you’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, lonely, and stuck… You realize you need to get some support for yourself but where do you turn? Should you find a  therapist or a life coach? 

In this blog, I’m going to talk a little about what these professions are best suited for. I’ll break down what coaching is, what therapy is, their similarities and differences. As a caregiver, there may be a point at which a one profession may be better equipped to serve you and my goal is to help you understand what tools each bring to the table so you can get the help you need. 

Obligatory Disclaimer

I’m a life coach, not a therapist. I do receive training on understanding the difference between these two professions so that I am equipped to look out for my client and ensure their safety. That being said, this post is meant to provide some basic understanding of where the different industries are best suited and is not meant to be authoritative on either profession. I am using the term “therapist” as an umbrella term to refer to anyone in the field who holds a license, including a Clinical Social Worker, Psychologist, Psychotherapist or Psychiatrist.

Life Coaching

There is a wide variety in the life coaching industry. There are coaches for everything from business to relationships to health and weight loss, to personal power and manifesting your greatest life. While the areas covered by life coaching varies greatly, there are a few things that are fairly common among all of them. 

Generally speaking, life coaches focus on people who are functioning in their day to day lives, but want to improve how they function or take their performance to the next level in a certain area. Life coaching programs generally help people improve their life, achieve more, and build their skills. It tends to be less focused on the problem and more focused on building skills and finding solutions. Generally, life coaching focuses on the present and future and spends less time on someone’s past. Life coaches can have their clients do work outside of sessions, and some may even incorporate accountability or other ways of being engaged between sessions.

Since life coaching is best suited for people who are generally functioning in their day to day life, they do not have the tools to help someone who is experiencing severe depression, anxiety, or having suicidal or homicidal thoughts.

Another key distinction is that life coaching is not a regulated profession in the U.S., Canada, or the UK. This means that essentially, anyone can be a coach. It also means that coaches can serve people all over the world and are not restricted to working within one geographic area. Because of this, many life coaches only serve clients in an online setting. There are several organizations and professional groups that certify life coaches, however none of these are regulated by any national governing body. 

Therapy and Counseling

Therapy is a regulated industry so the niches and specializations are defined and regulated. As I mentioned earlier, I’m using the term “therapist” as an umbrella term to refer to all the variations and specialities of this profession. 

Therapy tends to focus on people who are not wholly functional in their day to day life or may be not functioning in one of their life. Therapists generally focus on the problem in the clients life and may go more in depth into the past and origins of the problem. A therapist’s focus is to get a client to a functioning level. How a therapist does this depends greatly on their training and speciality. 

Therapists are the best choice for anyone who is experiencing severe depression, anxiety, or is having suicidal or homicidal thoughts. Therapists are specifically trained in these areas and are equipped with the tools to help someone in these situations. 

Therapy is a government regulated industry in the US, Canada, and the UK. While regulations are different depending on where the therapist is located, all therapists have schooling and requirements to fulfil in order to hold a license. In the US, each state requires that you are licensed in that state in order to practice, so therapists tend to work with people in their local geographic area. While more and more, it is possible to receive therapy virtually, many therapists still require in-person settings.

Where Coaching and Therapy Overlap

There is a lot of overlap between these two professions. Both professions seek to help a client who is struggling. I’m not much of a sports fan, but here is a good analogy that helps explain where a coach and a therapist come in.

On a sports team, there is a coach and there is a team doctor. The coach builds the players strength, motivates them, develops their purpose, and helps to create strategy for them to win the game. It is the coach’s job to improve how each player plays. However, if a player get’s hurt and can no longer play, then the team doctor comes in. The doctor’s job is to get that player back in the game. The team doctor will work with the injured player until they are ready and able to rejoin the team. In this example, a life coach is like the team’s coach and the therapist is like the team’s doctor.

How to Choose What’s Right For You

If you are a caregiver and are struggling, how do you choose who is right for you? It’s important to understand that life coaches and therapists work with different tools. You want to find the person who has the right tools for your needs.

First, you need to identify if you feel like you are basically functioning in your life. Are you able to hold down a job? Are you taking basic care of yourself? Are you able to parent? Can you get out of bed most days? If the answer is no, then you will probably best be served initially by a therapist. They will work with you on the problem and get you to a functioning level again. 

Now, if you are functioning and getting through the day, but really feel like you need help to improve, then a life coach may have the best tools for you. They will help you to improve your functioning so you are not just getting through the day, but actually growing and learning new skills.

What about anxiety and depression? A lot of caregivers suffer from varying levels of anxiety and depression so this is where it’s important to understand your goals and level of functioning. If your depression or anxiety is debilitating and prevents you from living a normal life, then a therapist will have the best tools to help you. 

To be very clear, if you are experiencing severe depression, anxiety, or having suicidal or homicidal thoughts, then you need to seek out a therapist.

If you are able to cope for the most part with your anxiety and depression, then you could really get help from either. It’s worth looking into both and seeing who is a good fit for you. Coaches will generally focus on teaching you tools to improve your functioning and build you up. If you have the option, you can absolutely work with both! 

The Importance of a Connection

Lastly, I want to mention that like any profession, how you connect with your therapist or coach is important. Working with a coach or a therapist requires a personal relationship and you want to find someone you connect with and feel comfortable with. 

The only wrong choice is not getting help if you feel like you need it. 

My coaching program is for caregivers who are struggling to cope with the emotions and the stresses of having a partner with cancer. I focus on teaching my clients simple skills to build their resilience and strength so that they are able to handle anything that comes their way. Learn more by signing up for a free coaching consultation.

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