Making a Conscious Choice: Psychotherapy and Life Coaching




Choosing the right type of therapist may seem overwhelming. This is due, in part, because there are so many types of therapists available. Add in the unfortunate fact that many people continue to believe there is stigma attached to seeking help, and the overwhelm may increase. Then there’s the fear that friends, colleagues, and family members might discover – and question why – they’re in therapy, and the stress may increase exponentially.  As a result of this real or imagined stigma, some people may choose to work with a life coach instead.Life Coach

Just as there are different types of therapists, there are also different types of life coaches. While some may have a specific niche, such as business, health and wellness, wealth and prosperity, women-in-transition, and so forth, others may generalize. Many coaches complete accredited training programs and earn certifications, while others may label themselves as coaches due to subject matter expertise – and success – in a given field.

In general, coaches aren’t required to have the same level of training and licensure as therapists; however, it wouldn’t be unusual to find a coach with a background in psychology, sociology, or a related field.


While one would expect a therapist to be trained in a variety of modalities, including hypnotherapy and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), some life coaches are as well. Hypnotherapy is a multi-faceted technique used when an individual is in a trance state referred to as hypnosis. Since an individual has increased access to their subconscious mind, they can be guided to release stress, be smoke-free, attain their ideal weight, access repressed memories, resolve traumas et al. Some coaches and therapists may utilize hypnosis for guided meditations and other visualization exercises.

NLP is also multi-faceted and focuses on the basic modalities (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and olfactory/gustatory) used to interpret and communicate our experience as well as that of others. Some coaches and therapists may utilize NLP to change beliefs, enhance motivation, develop more effective interpersonal communication et al.

If someone has a fear of heights that interferes with their day-to-day life, they could work with a psychiatrist or psychotherapist to desensitize it. Since it’s likely this fear arose from a traumatic event in the past, the therapist could also use hypnosis to discover the root cause and clear it. Depending upon the severity of the trauma, it may require several hypnotherapy sessions to resolve. A hypnotherapy-certified life coach could also work with someone at this level, especially when they’ve been trained in trauma-release.

Both therapists and life coaches will engage their clients in dialogue, discuss issues, provide creative solutions to ongoing challenges, and otherwise encourage personal development and accountability.  Furthermore, it would not be unusual to find a therapist who chooses to promote themselves as a life coach or who provides coaching in addition to therapy.


A life coach that isn’t trained in NLP, hypnotherapy, and related modalities, however, may not possess the skill set needed to address chronic stress, phobias, traumas, and other issues that require a higher level of care. When someone has a mental illness or disorder that requires psychiatric care, medication, and monitoring, for example, they would definitely want to work with a psychiatrist rather than a life coach. However, once the presenting condition is managed, and with the approval of the client’s treatment team, they may also choose to work with a life coach. In this instance, a life coach might guide this client to discover and explore untapped abilities and interests, engage in life-enriching activities, and set short and long-term goals.

A successful entrepreneur, for example, may provide coaching to someone who wants to start their own business. During this process, the coach may discover that their client has severe social anxiety or another issue that prevent them from moving forward. While they could discuss this issue – and in detail – they may not know how to resolve it. In this case, they may want to refer their client to a therapist or a life coach trained in modalities such as NLP and hypnotherapy.


After completing therapy, or in lieu of therapy, a life coach would be an excellent choice for someone who knows the benefit of having an ongoing support system to maintain focus, remain motivated – and be held accountable – for their personal, educational, and professional goals. In many ways, a life coach is like an athletic team coach, in that they constitute the cheering section, and urge their clients to “show up” as their best possible and authentic selves.

A successful relationship between a practitioner and his or her client – whether it is a life coach or a psychotherapist – is built and developed through rapport, trust, and yes, maintaining focus on a positive outcome. What therapists and life coaches have in common is a desire – and passion – to help and guide others to live more fulfilling and meaningful lives.



Terrie Leigh Relf holds a bachelor’s degree from Naropa University in Buddhist and Western Psychology, a master’s degree from San Diego State University in English with an emphasis in Rhetoric & Writing, a masters-level certification from Bennett / Stellar University of Integrative Coaching and Life Transformation as a NLP & Hypnotherapy Life Transformation Coach, and Reiki Master attunement from Marcia Borell of the Usui Reiki Tradition. She is a life and writing coach, freelance writer and editor, and author/co-author of 14 books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.