Life Coach Vs A Psychologist: What's The Difference?

Some people have a knack for being able to give advice to others who are going through a tough time. If you are one such person, you may be thinking of going into a profession that helps people. However, there may be some confusion as to whether you should train as a life coach or as a psychologist because both professions aim to counsel people.

Let's find out how a life coach differs from a psychologist, and how to differentiate the two.

What Is a Life Coach and What Is a Psychologist?

Basically, a life coach is a counselor who specializes in giving advice to people who are facing life challenges. This is similar to the role of a psychologist, who also counsels people, but one basic difference between the two is that a life coach does not necessarily have to be certified as such to be able to practice. A psychologist definitely has to take a board licensure exam before being able to practice as a psychologist. 

A life coach also does not have to be as intensively educated as a psychologist-you do not have to be a college graduate to become a life coach, but a psychologist has to be a graduate of a bachelor's degree program, preferably from BA Psychology or BS Psychology. It is also expected for a practicing psychologist to eventually earn a Masteral and even a Doctorate in Psychology over several years to become better qualified in this field.

Differences Between a Life Coach and a Psychologist

Though a life coach and a psychologist both need to have an understanding of Psychology to be able to help others, there are some crucial differences between them. Here are some of them:

  • It is advisable for a life coach to be able to offer counseling assistance within a specific niche or handful of niches where clients need help. On the other hand, a psychologist needs to be able to provide advice for the whole extent of a patient's life, regardless of whether the patient has behavioral, emotional or mental problems. So there is a wider range of proficiencies required from a psychologist compared to a life coach.

  • A life coach may focus on a specific age group or demographic, while a psychologist can counsel anybody, regardless of age, gender, and life stage.

  • A life coach might have less education than a psychologist when they start their practice. Yes, both a life coach and a psychologist must be able to empathize with clients and both will still need training over time so that clients get value for their money. A life coach may get training from a center recommended by life coach associations and may learn how to assess a patient to determine what kind of advice should be given. However, a psychologist will be trained specifically to identify and treat behavioral, emotional and mental disorders, which a life coach cannot ethically do.

  • A life coach may be affiliated with a life coach association after getting training, while a psychologist may seek membership in psychologist groups instead. These organizations may help life coaches earn their life coach certification. Patients will likely inquire first about credentials, which is why both life coaches and psychologists try to show them that they are credible. 

  • A psychologist is also educated in Clinical Psychology for up to 10 years, which is necessary because the field of Clinical Psychology is vast and continuously expanding as more psychological problems are discovered and studied among a given population. By training for so long, a psychologist will be better able to solve problems presented by patients. Take note that a psychologist needs to earn a  bachelor's degree before being accepted in a Clinical Psychology academic program.

  • 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.

  • A life coach cannot contribute to ongoing research in specific areas of psychology the way a psychologist ethically can. This is important because the patients a psychologist gets may have problems that haven't been encountered before in this field. For the sake of patients who have similar problems, the psychologist may opt to contribute their own observations in the form of research studies. Some psychologists may also focus just on research rather than maintain a clinical practice.

  • A life coach cannot become an instructor of psychology at an academic institution. On the other hand, a psychologist may also be qualified enough to teach courses in psychology at a college or university. The number of courses a psychologist can teach will depend on their own educational background and the number of years they have been practicing as a psychologist.

  • A life coach cannot pursue additional training to become a psychiatrist, especially if the life coach lacks a bachelor's degree in a related field. A psychologist who wants to train as a psychiatrist is at an advantage because their clinical psychology degree prepares them for the rigors of becoming a psychiatrist. Some psychologists practice as both psychologists and psychiatrists at the same time after getting accredited. A psychologist is allowed to provide counseling but only a psychiatrist is allowed to prescribe medication because they have a degree in Medicine.

When To Consult a Life Coach

Knowing all that now, you may be wondering when a patient should choose a life coach and when to consult a psychologist. Here are some reasons a patient may have for selecting a life coach:

The patient may need just mild counseling - Not everyone needs a clinical psychologist right away. Sometimes, a patient may simply need to vent their issues so that they can see their way clearly above all the "clutter" in their mind. They may be confused as to what they have to do to get back on the right track, even if the solutions already seem so obvious. They may need just a bit of hand-holding throughout that difficult period in their life. For such a patient, consulting a life coach could be all that's needed.

The patient could be financially struggling at the moment - Some patients may not have enough funds to pay for extensive psychotherapy yet. If the problem doesn't seem overwhelming, the patient can opt for a life coaching session first. This can help clear the air so that the patient will soon be up and on their feet, ready to tackle their problems again.

There might not be any psychologists in the community that the patient lives in - Sometimes, a patient may require immediate assistance, but there are no psychologists practicing in that community yet. In this case, a life coach may ethically step in to offer counseling assistance at the preliminary stages of treatment. Should the patient seem to be more troubled or the case seems to be exceptionally problematic, then the life coach may recommend a search for a qualified psychologist to treat the patient. This is especially common in communities in remote locations.

When To Consult a Psychologist

Patients will need to seek the advice of a psychologist when the following scenarios are exhibited:

  • The patient clearly has behavioral, mental or emotional problems - This means that the problem/s of the patient go far beyond the abilities of a life coach to address, so counseling has not been successful. Some life coaches may recommend a psychologist because of this. Take note that the symptoms of the patient may point towards an existing psychological disorder that a psychologist may be better able to address within the confines of their clinical practice.

  • The patient refuses to cooperate with their life coach - If the life coach has presented advice to the patient but the latter refuses to cooperate, then a psychologist may be the right health professional to approach. It may be wise for the psychologist to consult the life coach in private to understand the circumstances surrounding the problem. If there are existing behavioral, mental or emotional problems, these may be symptoms of a deeper problem that a psychologist is better equipped to diagnose and treat.

  • The patient is a candidate for confinement at a recovery center - A life coach can recommend confinement but has no authority to force a patient to be confined. On the other hand, a psychologist may recommend to the family (or caregivers) confinement for the patient at an accredited recovery center if counseling has been deemed ineffective. A psychologist may also recommend that the patient consult a psychiatrist if the problems prove to be deeper than earlier realized, or if there seems to be a physiological cause for these problems. While a psychologist and psychiatrist are both educated in Psychology, particularly in the identification and treatment of psychological disorders, a psychiatrist has a degree in Medicine and is qualified to prescribe medication for patients with emotional, behavioral and mental problems.

How the Training of a Life Coach Differs from the Training of a Psychologist

  • It is cheaper to train as a life coach compared to training as a psychologist. A bachelor's degree isn't necessary to qualify as a life coach. An aspiring student will need between $1,500 up to $8,000 to invest in training as a life coach. Of course, advanced training as a life coach will cost more compared to the beginner's level. On the other hand, a psychologist needs at least 8 years of academic education in clinical psychology and should be able to pass the board licensure exam to qualify for the title of "psychologist".

  • A life coach needs to know how to find the right clients, be aware of a counselor's liability related to counseling, and compute the cost of running a life coach career, inclusive of overhead expenses. A psychologist also needs to know all those, aside from being trained in emotional, behavioral, and mental disorders, as well as their treatment.

For those who would like to try to become a life coach, try checking out the iNLP Center's guidelines for becoming a coach. These may be just what you require in your journey towards becoming qualified as one. 

If, on the other hand, you wish to train as a psychologist, you should visit a highly-regarded college or university that offers either or both BA Psychology or BS Psychology in your location. A BA Psychology degree prepares a psychology student for clinical practice. On the other hand, a BS Psychology degree is preferable for a student who wants to go into research or pursue a degree in Medicine to qualify as a psychiatrist. Later on, you might qualify for a Masteral degree in Psychology. Once you have hurdled that, you may qualify to study for your Doctorate in Psychology as well.


Since a life coach has a limited range of functions, some may think that it is better to consult a psychologist right away. However, a life coach is still valuable when it comes to problems that do not have a behavioral, mental, or emotional angle to them. It is only when a patient clearly has behavioral, mental and/or emotional problems that a psychologist can be called in to help. 

If you intend to train as a life coach, you should assess your capabilities honestly to determine if you have what it takes. If you feel that your capabilities can surpass that of life coaches, then it may be wise to go for additional training so that you will become a Clinical Psychologist instead.

A Clinical Psychologist may opt to form a clinical practice prior to pursuing higher studies. The Clinical Psychologist then has the option to go into research after some years of running a clinical practice, or perhaps take additional studies in Medicine to qualify as a psychiatrist. These all require intensive study so anyone seeking to pursue these career options should be prepared for the difficulties. In the end, it is the patient who benefits from these choices.

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