What is the Difference Between a Business Coach, a Life Coach, and a Therapist?

We all need support to succeed in our professional lives, maintain healthy relationships, process challenging events, and achieve emotional balance. The type of support we need varies depending on our goals, our personalities, and the problems at hand.

Although there can be a good deal of overlap, there are some differences between what a business coach, a life coach, and a therapist offer. Life coaches focus on helping their clients become happier and more emotionally balanced. They work on a highly personal level, offering support and motivation as they address issues related to work/family balance, relationships, direction in life, and overall mental health. Therapists offer support in these same areas, but often include specific tools for processing past trauma. They also possess academic degrees that are not required for coaches.

In a blog for Psychology Today, psychoanalyst Michael Bader says that therapists and coaches have more in common than most of us realize, challenging the notion that therapists work with the past and that coaches work with the future.

“I am concerned primarily with concrete changes in a person’s real life, including actualizing their potential, promoting their growth, improving their efficiency and productivity at work, overcoming inhibitions, and resolving symptoms,” he said. “I only delve into a person’s past if it significantly helps that person understand and master those habits, feelings, and thoughts that hold them back from achieving their most important goals.”

If therapists and coaches have so much in common, why are so many people trying to stress their differences? Bader says that by focusing on health and not illness, coaches have found a way to offer their clients exceptional support without the stigma of therapy.

“This stigma lives in the darkness of a millisecond, along with the overshadowing fear, lack of awareness, and basic ignorance,” said HuffPost editor Sahaj Kohli in the article, “14 Common Misconceptions About People Who Go to Therapy. “Its complexities need to be broken down and broken apart so we can start from the beginning and rewire our thoughts on mental health and therapy.”

Kohli goes on to say that we should not assume that people who seek mental health support are weak, crazy, unsupported, wealthy, medicated, or in a bad place: “My hope is that by breaking down these common misconceptions of people who go to therapy, we’ll be one step closer to being a society that seeks help when we want and need to without stigma…and that I can talk about seeing a therapist as seamlessly as I can talk about my doctor’s appointment next week.”

Getting the Right Support from the Right Professional

Let’s say you’re fine with the idea of therapy, business coaching, and life coaching—how do you choose? Deciding which path to take has a lot to do with the problem at hand. If you primarily need help boosting confidence, managing stress, and navigating relationships, look for a therapist or a life coach. If your main focus is getting professional support (even if this involves your motivation and stress levels), try business coaching.

While life coaches and business coaches provide many of the same services, their backgrounds are often quite different. Some of the most successful business coaches have run some of the most successful businesses. Their direct experience as entrepreneurs gives them critical insight.

“The most important requirement of a successful coach is experience that is relevant to what you are trying to achieve,” said Marissa Levin, Founder and CEO of Successful Culture in an Inc.com article. “If you are a business owner who is trying to move your company from $1 million to $10 million, then you require a coach who has been there…If you are in the middle of a career transition, your best guidance will come from someone who has already reinvented themselves. The process of rediscovering yourself, releasing your identity from something you have built over 10-20 years, and starting over is not something that all life coaches can maneuver.”

A Good Match

One of the most critical—or perhaps the most critical—things to look for when finding the right coach is chemistry. If you don’t have a good rapport with your coach, you’re not going to be able to develop the trust, ease of interaction, and comfort necessary to make headway. A Harvard Business Review coaching survey stressed that the right chemistry is the absolute key to a successful coaching experience. This is especially true given the fact that most business coaches end up helping their clients with issues related to their personal lives.

The [coaching survey] research also revealed an important insight about what companies ask coaches to do and what they actually end up doing. Consider work/life balance. It’s rare that companies hire business coaches to address non-work issues (only 3% of coaches said they were hired primarily to attend to such matters), yet more than three-quarters of coaches report having gotten into personal territory at some time. In part this reflects the extensive experience of the coaches in this survey (only 10% had five years or less experience). It also underscores the fact that for most executives, work and life issues cannot be kept entirely separate. This is particularly true of senior executives who spend grueling hours on the job and are often on the road and away from home. Many of them feel some strain on their personal lives. Not surprisingly, therefore, the more coaches can tap into a leader’s motivation to improve his or her home life, the greater and more lasting the impact of the coaching is likely to be at work.

-David B. Peterson, Harvard Business Review: “Does Your Coach Give You Value for Your Money”

Successful coaches get to know their clients well and become invested in their personal and professional success. In the Entrepreneur.com article, “The 8 Qualities You Need to Look for in a Business Coach,” Stephen Key provides some tips on what to consider if you’re thinking about hiring a coach.

  1. Experience: Have they walked the walk? Ask for testimonials and search Google for complaints.
  2. Attitude: Can they see the big picture? Are they calm even when under stress? You don’t want a coach who gets riled easily or goes quickly to anger when tensions run high.
  3. Willingness to share: Are they transparent and unafraid to tell you about both successes and failures? A good coach shouldn’t be holding back or trying to cover up their mistakes.
  4. Expertise in their field: Are they respected in their field? Are they quoted in magazine articles?
  5. Accessibility: Do they care about your problems? Do they have enough time in their schedule to really show up for you? Don’t be afraid to ask your coach how much time they have to offer. Find out what their schedule is like and how many other commitments they have so you know where you fit in.
  6. Connections: Can they open doors for you and help you professionally network? A good coach will have long-term relationships with a network of successful entrepreneurs.
  7. Desire to help: Do they genuinely love helping people? Do they treat you kindly and with consideration from the start?
  8. Accountability: Can they help to hold you accountable? Do they genuinely care about how you’re doing? A good coach will share in your success and take ownership of the change they have helped initiate.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Regardless of whether you decide to go to therapy, find a coach, or seek out a combination of the two, what is critical is that you get support when you need it. The business world is highly competitive with technology changing at record speed. All too often, we are so close to our problems that we lack the necessary perspective to solve them. Every entrepreneur—at some time or another—needs support to be the best version of themselves. High-profile entrepreneurs like former Google CEO Eric Schmidt met with the same coach almost weekly for fifteen years. Celebrities and politicians, from Oprah Winfrey to Barack Obama have utilized some form of coaching to help them reach their full potential.

If you want to become the best version of yourself, consider working with a coach. VisionFire Coaching is a network of mentors, coaches, and life-changers who help entrepreneurs grow their bottom line and their peace of mind.

Our mission is simple: to help you live your best life and become your best self. All that’s required is a goal—a vision of what you envision for yourself. We are here to help you make that vision a reality, and to light the fire that fuels you on your journey.

Select from our team of world-class experts in the fields of finance, dating, and life management.

Each coach is hand-selected from a shortlist of top-tier industry leaders, so you’ll have no problem finding the perfect match for your unique goals and needs.

Visit our website to schedule your first session and learn more about what VisionFire Coaching can do for you.