How Do I Know Whether I Need a Life Coach or a Therapist?

My practice has seen an onslaught of beautiful seekers looking for something, many not knowing exactly what. They aren’t happy, and while they may engage in conjecture about the reasons, they just haven’t been able to get out of their own way and move towards a goal. And sometimes, the goal is to have less anxiety. It is a coach-y/therapy-y issue, but which one?

This crossroads presents a choice to the seeker:

“Who can help me?”

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.   Do you need to see someone?

  • No one actually needs a coach. Coaching is not about treatment. Coaching is about co-creating a relationship that involves helping you to access your own, inner resources that will support the change you want. Coaches help you move from “perfect as you are,” to “always room to grow.”
  • Therapists are uniquely qualified to treat mood disorders, personality disorders, and help those who struggle to function in the world. Therapy involves healing. People need therapists. Some therapists with additional training will cross over to the role of coach, too.
  • Because of this distinction, health insurance does not cover coaching in the United States. It might cover therapy, depending on your plan and whether or not the therapist accepts your insurance. So if cost is a factor, you might look for a therapist with whom you can use your health insurance.

2.   Do you have symptoms, resulting from trauma, that you are looking to get relief from?

  • If you have experienced a traumatic event and are having symptoms like flashbacks, too much or too little sleep, loss of executive functioning, memory issues, or other symptoms, your best bet is to start with your primary care physician, followed by a therapist. The therapist might enlist the help of a coach to help with strategies related to daily functioning, but the treatment of the emotional component related to the trauma is best evaluated by a trauma-informed therapist. 
  • Caveat: Coaches can be trauma-informed but make sure the coach is able to share specifically what qualifies them to identify themselves this way. In fact, the competencies of a credentialed coach fit the model for trauma-informed work nicely, but it is not a given that all coaches are actually trauma-informed. If this is important for the work you need to do, please ask them specifically about this. Frankly, this is true if you hire a therapist, as well.

3.   Do you have a goal you want to achieve and just can’t get out of your own way to achieve it? 

  • This is a great time to enlist a coach. Coaches are excellent at seeing your own, unique genius and helping you to access your inner world in order to clear the path towards creating a life you want. They are deep listeners, accountability partners, and have your agenda as their primary focus. What you want is what they want for you. It is an incredibly powerful relationship. 
  • Things you might want to seek help with in this category include executive functioning, business goals, career issues, or parenting help. 

4.   When in doubt, ask. I receive inquiry calls all the time where we have a discussion about what the person is looking for and whether or not I feel like I can help them. I am really clear about the way I work, what I pay attention to, and what circumstances might have me refer to a colleague. Oh, and there’s that…I have colleagues. I refer out. I want you to get what you want in this one, beautiful whack at life you have. If you sense that the professional on the other end of the phone is working from a place of scarcity, that’s a warning sign. There are enough clients out there for all of us. You don’t owe that person anything, other than a yay or nay.

Which brings me to the final point….

5.  If this is something you are considering, go to your own, inner resources. Sit quietly. Imagine yourself working with this person. Consult the guide, Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Therapist or Life Coach. And then leap. This is not your forever family. You are hiring someone to provide a service and can operate fully in choice. To do otherwise, would be to not take that first step towards a better you.

You are the best person to choose your helping professional. 

Life Coaching and Therapy are two distinct helping professions with different codes of ethics and different competencies. Is there overlap? You betcha’. Are there times to choose one over the other? Yup. Do your homework. Ultimately, you are hiring a human being. The connection you find there is often as important, if not more important, than the framework they use. Take a leap. Make the call to the person you are most drawn to. And then bring this question to them. See what they say!

Questions to Ask When Hiring a Therapist or Coach.

You are at a crossroads and have decided to hire someone to help you. But what do you want? There are so many options. No matter which route you go (and if this is a question, read my blog on How to Know Whether I Need a Life Coach or a Therapist!), you want to make sure this person is a good fit for YOU. And you want to make sure they meet some standard of care so your investment ensures you are getting what you pay for.

Read on for a few questions to help you during your inquiry call.

  1. What is your niche, and how do you think you are qualified to help me?
  • Coaches and therapists often specialize in a topic (executive functioning, disordered eating, business development, substance use, parenting, career, etc.) or a demographic (teens, lawyers, entrepreneurs, women, or in my case, Seekers of Something More!). These chosen niches of practice are sometimes about the professional’s specialty or preference, but sometimes, it is really about how they market themselves and their practice is more expansive. Ask about their experience with your particular challenge or diagnosis. Get curious about them. My experience is that most of us love to talk about our work!

2. What is my commitment to you?

  • Coaching takes time. But you should not be held to a contract that requires you to stick with something that isn’t working for you. Make sure that you are signing an agreement, an understanding, or an informed consent, and not a contract. Sometimes, the relationship is just not a good fit and you want to be careful that you don’t pay in advance for something that might not work for you. If you decide it isn’t a good fit, make sure you can part ways without a large financial obligation.

3. What are your policies around confidentiality and other ethics-related issues?

  • Both coaches and social workers are held to strict ethical guidelines around confidentiality. Therapists are bound by HIPAA which are the Federal regulations that protect your privacy. It is legal for anyone to call themselves a coach or a therapist; they are not protected titles in most states. Having said that, there are certain credentials available to both coaches and therapists by regulating organizations. Knowing these might help you to know who to hire. 
    • For coaches, the International Coach Federation is the organization that administers a third party exam to credential coaches. Many coaches are certified through their own educational programs, but coaching schools vary greatly so it is difficult to know what this means. If your coach has an ICF credential, they have passed an exam, both oral and written, and have agreed to abide by a universal set of ethics. They have met an objective set of requirements, independent of their coach training. Further, they are required to complete continuing education and stay current in the field to maintain this credential.
    • There are many, many types of therapists, many of whom have the ability to be granted a license to practice in a given state. Requirements for licensure vary from state to state, but they are rigorous in all states. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a wonderful resource for educating yourself about the different types of therapists. On the NAMI website, the myriad types of mental health practitioners and their accompanying state licenses are outlined. Again, in order to receive a license to practice, a therapist must reach a certain level of education, engage in a specific number of supervised practice hours, pass state exams, and agree to uphold ethical standards. In most states, you can go to the website for the state government to check the status of someone’s license. Obtaining professional licensure is not for the faint of heart, but does demonstrate the level of education and skill set of the practitioner.
  • To be clear, there are probably many wonderful helping professionals who are unlicensed and without credentials who can competently serve you and help you to meet your goals. But buyer, beware. If you are hiring a professional, hiring someone with a credential from a statewide, national, or international credentialing organization, indicates the person has undergone a rigorous process and meets a particular set of competencies and ethical guidelines.

Finally, after having this conversation with the potential coach or therapist, ask yourself a few questions, too. 

  • How will this relationship support me to show up and do the work that is called for?
  • How honest can I be with this person?
  • Even thought I don’t know this person well, what 2% of them do I already know, like, and trust?

Want to talk more about hiring someone to help you? Reach out to me by making an appointment for a complimentary inquiry call, here

When you think, “That’s just the way I am,” know that it is not true.

I had a funny experience today as I coached with a team on Zoom. I share this with permission from that group.

We were discussing the possible return to the workplace and what they had learned about their time working from home.

C shared that she stocks up her fridge to give her an excuse to get out of the house and go to the grocery store. She leaves the house to buy food, for the sole purpose of giving it away. She just wants to be seen by people and she wants to do something for others who will then see her as valuable. Without this activity, she said she feels “bad.”

This is what she “needs” because she is “just that way.”

Her words made my ears perk up.

“Say more,” I said.

She went on to describe that in addition to the grocery store outings, she has worked like a dog lately, even with her toddler. She speaks to her supervisor almost daily and has been out and about, doing whatever parts of her job that she can. She stays active and solves problems as a way of dealing with quarantine and her unmet need for validation.

Competency is her Enneagram type’s way of dealing with life. And then there’s the going to the grocery store so that she can give away food.

Self-Deceit is what separates her Enneagram type from reality. If she can feed her ego by being a really fantastic worker and being of service to her friends and neighbors, then she can deny (for now) the feeling, conscious or not, that she is inadequate.

She was doing what her type does. She identifies with Enneagram type 3w2.

With that, T showed us his stocked pantry closet. Multiple boxes and canisters of many items. No fewer than 10 containers of instant coffee (not shown). He shared that he feels anxious if he doesn’t know he has what he “needs.” He, too, says that he is “just that way.”

Last March, the last meeting I had before I no longer consulted on-site in organizations, was with this man. He was telling me to take all of my money out of the bank; we needed to have cash on hand because we’d lose everything if “Coronavirus really took off.” He had a very clear plan, as if he’d been thinking about this forever. 

Because he had. 

He has been concerned about security and safety his whole life. He really wants to know what’s real, so he sugar-coats nothing. He assumes you want the same. He really wants others to meet him where he is; to respond to him with the same level of emotion that he is putting out there. This is his type’s way of dealing with difficulty. His emotional realness was really pushing my positive outlook’s buttons that day. 

He was very clear on what had to be done and was sharing his “facts” with everyone in the office; even those of us who didn’t want to hear it. 

Angst is what separates his Enneagram type from dealing with reality. If he can feel anxious about something happening in the future, he doesn’t actually have to deal with the present. 

He was doing what his type does. he identifies with Enneagram Type 6.

And then there is me. I am no fan of grocery shopping. But I want what I want when I want it. I want to be happy and I don’t want to feel the pain of not having what I think I need.  I want people around me to be happy, too. If they are happy, I am happy. 

One complaint can throw my whole mood off. My desire is not really altruistic; it is all about me. 

Because my type demands “happiness” as a way to feel safe, I can easily assume everyone else has an intolerance for anything less than “wicked happy,” too, right?

As I shopped in March, I told myself that I had to buy everything they want or need,  and with that, “We’ll all be GREAT!” 

Positive outlook is my type’s way of dealing with difficulty. 

All of my fridges and freezers were STOCKED. Before you go yelling at me, I already know. And don’t forget that I had 7 people quarantined with me. Yes, I am a walking COVID meme. 

Gluttony is what separates my Enneagram type (read: me) from reality. If I have enough love, food, furniture, or office supplies, I can deny the pandemic.

I do what my type does. I identify as an Enneagram Type 7w6. 

So all this time, I’ve had trouble describing why your Enneagram type and the tool of the Enneagram is helpful to have.

It isn’t about WHAT is happening.

It is about WHY it is happening.

In our coaching group today, we had lots of laughs, but we also unpacked how our Enneagram type predicts the issues that will come up for us and cause us to suffer. It also predicts the things that motivate us and bring us closer to Presence. As a spiritual tool, it give us something to pray about, to meditate on, and a North Star to set intentions around. 

More than anything, it identifies the lens that, when not present, exhausts us, upsets us, and keeps us afraid.

Once we see that, we can make choices about our next steps. Until we see that, we are walking around the world, unconscious, telling people

“That’s just the way I am.”