The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, featuring JRNI Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. In this episode, we dive into the nuts and bolts of how to make the transition from therapist to life coach. Originally published in December 2020, this post has been updated and expanded to provide additional information and resources.
Can therapists practice as life coaches? Is it ethical to do both, or do you have to choose?
If you’re wondering which path is right for you, we’re here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition.
Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed a sea change in this area. Where there was once skepticism about coaching, we’re now seeing a public that is more educated about the benefits of working with life coaches. Rather than being in competition, the disciplines of therapy and coaching are finding each other.
Look, it's not about them vs us. I'm a licensed therapist turned life coach and have worn both hats for nearly a decade. I broke out of the cage I guess you can say. I hopped the fence. I got my clinical hours. I took the exam. I worked in non-profit. I worked in high-end rehabs. I had a full practice.
But then I started burning out. And I realized this wasn't how I wanted to help people. I felt like I was limiting myself and my creativity. I understood that it didn't have to be coaching vs therapy. So I called myself a life coach and started helping people in a way that felt more honest to me.
- John Kim, The Angry Therapist
At JRNI Coaching, we talk every week with therapists who are considering making the leap from therapy into coaching. They come for a variety of reasons: curiosity, burnout, or the desire to have more freedom in how they work with clients in private practice. (And let's not even get started about those insurance companies!)
Above all, they want to understand the ins and outs of life coaching versus therapy, along with the technical and ethical requirements. Let’s dig into those distinctions, and cover the bases of what you need to know if you’d like to add coaching to your practice.
Navigating The Change
The first step of the transition is letting go of what it looks like to be a therapist. This doesn’t mean you must strip away an important part of yourself. As a therapist, you have a wealth of theoretical underpinnings that can support your work as a coach. Moving into coaching is not about letting that experience go - it’s about learning, evolving, and using new tools.
So, what are some of the biggest differences to be aware of?
Scope of Practice
There are many different types of certified coaches practicing today. At JRNI, we train train professionals with coaching services that include business, executive, fitness, self-love, couples, writing, and more! While the interests and niches that coaches serve may be diverse, there are common threads that run through all forms of life coaching.
Unlike counseling or therapy, life coaching assumes a baseline level of mental health and emotional wellness, and focuses on the present and on co-creating the future.
Here’s where coaching clearly diverges from mental health counseling. Life coaches generally don't spend a great deal of time exploring the past. They are also not in a position to address or treat mental illness. Instead, they primarily work with clients to define a future vision, and develop a tactical action plan to achieve specific goals.
As a therapist, you’re part of the larger medical model. You have a network to plug into to attract clients. There’s also an expectation that “you” remain invisible. You’re in a role, and there’s an expectation of separation between who you are and the job you’re there to do.
As a coach, you’re moving into a place of much greater personal visibility. Coaching clients often choose to work with you specifically because of your story, who you are, and how you show up in the world.
As a life coach, you're encouraged to bring your full self to the table when marketing your services to potential clients.
This is where a lot of therapists will start to feel uncomfortable. It’s rubbing up against the boundaries you’ve been trained to hold in your clinical relationships. That’s OK - becoming comfortable with this is a process.
In your training to become a therapist, you’re taught the clinical side. Building a business around your personal brand isn’t part of that equation. In coaching, building your presence and brand is something you’ll learn, and it’s a core component of what we teach in JRNI’s life coach training program.
Some questions to consider around how to identify and develop “who you are” as a coach:
- What is your why?
- What do you want to do as a coach that you can’t as a therapist?
- Who are “your people”? Who do you want to serve?
- Why are you asking these questions of yourself?
- Why now?
You’ll need to learn how to coach. It’s a distinct discipline, with a different science behind it.
Therapists help explore and process the events and influences from a client’s past, and how those experiences may be shaping their behavior in the present. The process is oriented around healing, and moving people toward baseline mental health and wellness.
Coaching assumes a baseline level of emotional wellness, and focuses on the present and forward. As a coach, you’ll work with clients on defining a future vision, goal setting, and developing a tactical action plan to achieve their goals.
Even if you are trained to do so, you may not conduct therapy in a coaching. There needs to be a bright line between the two.
If you’re thinking about offering both therapy and coaching services, you’ll need to clearly delineate those offerings. You cannot treat and coach the same person - clients must stay on one side of the fence or the other.
It’s perfectly OK to do both simultaneously, and having multiple streams of revenue is awesome! When it comes to setting up a dual practice, however, there are technicalities you should be aware of:
- It’s critical to know and follow state laws and regulations.
- Two different practices are required. From a consumer perspective, it must be clear that coaching and therapy are two distinct offerings.
- Separate billing under a different LLC is preferred.
- It’s recommended to have different websites, entry points, and marketing for your coaching and therapy services.
- When coaching, your coaching techniques should be specified in the client contract. This is protective for you both, and will make it clear that you are not conducting therapy in the coaching relationship.
- If conducting therapy, this must be explicit when contracting with a client.
- You can bring coaching techniques into your therapy practice, but it is unethical to use therapy techniques in coaching.
Educate your potential clients about the limits of coaching as a service, and how you will proceed if it becomes clear that they need therapy.
Enjoy the Ride
Coaching is a dynamic way to expand your professional reach, allowing you more choice around who it is that you want to serve, and how. The relationship with your clients is more flexible, as are the rules around where and how you can see clients.
It also fuels your own personal growth and development. Adding new tools to your toolkit is not only intellectually stimulating, but can help stoke your inner fire and reduce the risk for burnout.
One of the things our therapists-turned-coaches enjoy the most is the increased sense of freedom that a coaching practice can bring. Coaching allows you to be creative in how you present yourself and your offerings - in a way that feels authentic to who you are.
- Yes, Therapists Can Be Life Coaches Too! Here's How.
- What’s The Difference Between Counseling, Therapy and Life Coaching?
Curious about coaching certification?
Launch your new career the right way! Check out JRNI's Life Coach Training - an experience that's every bit as unique as you are. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and fellow students dedicated to becoming a force for good in the world of coaching.