If you’re here, you’re probably wondering, “Do I need therapy or a life coach?” Your partner has cancer, and you feel 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 life coach? What’s the difference between coaching and therapy? How do you know which support is right for you? Keep reading to learn what coaching for caregivers is, how it differs from therapy for caregivers, and what these professions are best suited for.
I’m a life coach, not a therapist. I receive training on the differences between these two professions so that I’m equipped to look out for my clients and ensure their safety. That being said, this post is meant to provide a basic understanding of coaching versus therapy and is not intended to be authoritative in either profession. I am using “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.
What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Therapy?
When it comes to coaching versus therapy, one is not better than the other. However, as a caregiver, you may find that one profession is better equipped to serve you at different times. My goal is to help you understand what tools each brings to the table so you can get the help you need.
Life Coaching for Caregivers
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 vary greatly, there are a few things that are fairly common among all of them.
Generally speaking, life coaches focus on people functioning in their day-to-day lives but want to improve how they function or take their performance to the next level. Life coaching programs generally help people improve their life, achieve more, and build their skills. Coaching tends to focus less on the problem and more on building skills and finding solutions. Life coaching commonly 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; some may even incorporate accountability or other ways of engagement between sessions.
Since life coaching is best suited for people who are generally functioning in their day-to-day life, coaches don’t have the tools to help someone experiencing severe depression, anxiety, or suicidal or homicidal thoughts.
Another key distinction between coaching versus therapy is that life coaching is not a regulated profession in the U.S., Canada, or the UK. This means that anyone can be a coach. It also means coaches can serve people worldwide and are not restricted to working within one geographic area. Because of this, many life coaches serve clients in an online setting. Several organizations and professional groups certify life coaches; however, none are regulated by any national governing body.
Counseling and Therapy for Caregivers
Therapy is a regulated industry, so the niches and specializations are defined and regulated. As I mentioned earlier, I’m using “therapist” as an umbrella term to refer to all the variations and specialties of this profession.
Therapy tends to focus on people who are not wholly functional in one or more aspects of their day-to-day life. Therapists generally focus on the problem in a client’s life and may go in-depth into the past and origins of the problem. A therapist’s focus is to help clients achieve a baseline where they can function at their normal level. How a therapist does this depends greatly on their training and specialty.
Therapists are the best choice for anyone experiencing severe depression, anxiety, or suicidal or homicidal thoughts. Therapists are specifically trained in these areas and equipped with the tools to help someone in these situations.
Therapy is a government-regulated industry in the U.S., Canada, and the UK. While regulations differ depending on where the therapist is located, all therapists have schooling and requirements to fulfill to hold a license. Each state in the U.S. requires therapists to be licensed in that state to practice, so therapists tend to work with people in their local geographic area. While it is possible to receive therapy virtually, many therapists still require in-person settings.
Coaching Versus Therapy: Where They Overlap
Although there are many differences between coaching versus therapy, there is also a lot of overlap between these two professions. Mainly that both 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 when you might need a therapist or life coach.
On a sports team, there is a coach and a team doctor. The coach builds the players’ strength, motivates them, develops their purpose, and helps create a strategy for them to win the game. It is the coach’s job to improve how each player plays. However, if a player gets hurt and can no longer play, 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 a team’s coach, and a therapist is like a team’s doctor. The coaching versus therapy debate is less an “either-or” argument and is more about utilizing the right professional at the right time for the best results.
Life Coach or Therapy: How to Choose What’s Right For You
If you are a caregiver and are struggling, you may be wondering, “Do I need therapy or a life coach?” 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. Here are a few steps to help you identify whether you’d benefit from coaching for caregivers or therapy for caregivers at this point in your journey.
Step 1: Identify if you can function at your normal capacity in daily 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, you will probably best be served by a therapist initially. 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 need help to improve, a life coach may have the best tools for you. They will help you improve your functioning, so you are not just getting through the day but growing and learning new skills.
Step 2: Identify whether you’re dealing with severe anxiety and/or depression
Many caregivers suffer from varying levels of anxiety and depression, so it’s essential to understand your goals and level of functioning. If your depression or anxiety is debilitating and prevents you from living a normal life, a therapist will have the best tools to help you.
To be very clear, if you are experiencing severe depression, anxiety, or suicidal or homicidal thoughts, you need to seek out a therapist.
If you can cope with your anxiety and depression for the most part, you could get help from either. It’s worth looking into both and seeing who is a good fit for you. If you have the option, you can absolutely work with a therapist and a coach at the same time to experience the benefits each profession offers.
The Importance of a Connection
Lastly, how you connect with your therapist or life coach is important. Working with a coach or a therapist requires a personal relationship, and you want to find someone with whom you feel comfortable being open and honest.
The only wrong choice is not getting help if you feel like you need it.
As a life coach, I offer coaching for caregivers 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 they can handle anything that comes their way. Learn more by signing up for a free coaching consultation.