If you've ever gone to a psychologist, marriage therapist or clinical counselor for therapy, you know that the professional who sits in front of you is trained to listen empathetically to your concerns and perhaps provide you with psychoeducation and resources. In much the same way, life coaches are professionals who have been trained to listen and respond compassionately on a deeper level than most friends or relatives are able to do. They can be objective about the problems you face, providing you with much-needed clarity and insight.
However, there are some important differences between life coaches and traditional therapists. Therapists often focus on having you identify and explore your feelings. They may ask you to "sit with" painful or negative emotions as a way to improve your emotion regulation skills. They may ask you to explore past experiences and how you felt about what happened to you as a child, talk about the dynamics in your family of origin, or discuss patterns in past relationships that continue in your current relationships. Traditional therapy can be short-term and solution-focused, but it can also extend for months or even years. A traditional therapist shies away from "advice giving." She serves as a beneficent guide, preferring to let clients discover their own solutions and gain insight at their own pace. This can sometimes be a long process.
Life coaches tend to be more action-oriented and directive. They are experts at hearing your story and honing in on the areas of your life that need the most attention. Coaches are more willing to make specific suggestions or encourage you to move in directions that are consistent with your values. A traditional therapist creates a "treatment plan" that consists of overarching goals and objectives. A life coach will work with you collaboratively to create an action plan based on your unique vision of your best life. Most importantly, a life coach is often more wiling to hold you accountable to this action plan. While some therapists are content to sit back, listen, and let change happen as it will, a coach will expect to see clients making reasonable efforts towards their goals. Good coaches know that change is more than talk: it's action.