Several of our clients have asked about the difference between a coach and a therapist. Specifically, how can a life coach help you overcome difficult or painful emotions? The question is very understandable; many people confuse the role of a therapist and a life coach. Let’s address the question by exploring two common misconceptions that are shaped by our social norms. First: feeling unpleasant, difficult, or painful emotions is “bad”. Second: if we are feeling “bad”, the professional most suited to help is a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Are painful emotions really “bad”?
The pain we feel when we touch a hot stove serves as a signal to remove our hand from the danger and avoid getting burned. Just as physical pain acts as a messenger to inform our actions, painful emotions play a similar role. Simply put, if we keep experiencing a painful emotion in a certain situation, maybe it’s a sign that we need to change our circumstance. But most painful emotions don’t have an obvious external cause or correlation.
Emotions like fear, anger, resentment, shame, and insecurity stem from complicated interactions between our sense of self, our perceived relationship to others and our world views, among other things. No matter how complex their potential “causes”, the emotions still provide us with information that influences not only how we feel, but also how we think or act. And these sources of information can only be “bad” if we decide to look at them as problems that are happening to us instead of opportunities to learn from.
The source of the bad emotions can be your life situation
Ongoing unpleasant emotions can stem from our overall life situation. Many of us feel stuck, or experience a nagging sense that life could be better, but we don’t know how to improve it. If this situation continues, these negative feelings can feed on themselves and intensify: our lack of clarity into how to improve things makes us feel even more stuck. This can lead to feeling a sense of urgency to change our life situation even more, which then only intensifies the bad feelings more if not acted upon.
Your coach can help you make a plan of action to break out of these patterns and change your life situation. Once you’ve created a plan, a good coach can help you determine specific small, actionable milestones. Every time you reach a milestone, your confidence will grow. Each example of breaking that habit or changing that pattern will increase your motivation to achieve the next goal. This creates an upward spiral that feeds on itself, and can help you break out of a negative emotional funk very quickly.
Should I see a coach or a therapist?
There are times when painful emotions become too much, as in the case of clinical depression, where a therapist (or psychologist or psychiatrist) is better suited to help than a coach. If we find ourselves unable to function in every day life, or feeling completely helpless and hopeless, a therapist can be a fantastic professional source of support. Additionally, sometimes things in life throw us so far off course that a therapist is truly the best type of help we can seek.
Coaching and therapy can often look similar and even have the same goal, that is, improving the client’s mental, emotional and overall well being. Coaching can help you reduce your stress levels, deal with difficult relationships or address things you want to achieve that are not achieved so far. The only consistent and concrete difference is in the formal training and professional accreditation; while there is no required degree or formally required certifications to become a life coach, therapists have completed a masters degree (in one of a variety of fields) and are licensed to practice therapy in their state. Due to these required training and licensing processes, a therapist may be more likely to have the formal training, knowledge and skills to address extreme challenges, such as those mentioned above.
Whatever you are dealing with, in the end only you can decide what the best course of action is. We are wishing you the best of luck, and as always, please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you may have.
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The LiveCoach team