You see them from time to time, these “life coaches.” Perhaps you’ve even considered becoming one. But do you understand the differences between mental health professionals and life coaches?
Probably the biggest difference is that mental health professionals work with more severe client issues. Or at least we hope. Since life coaches aren’t regulated, who knows what issues they are attempting to treat. When I explain what the relative requirements are for each position, you will be as alarmed as I am.
Requirements for becoming a mental health professional
- A minimum of 6 years of college (master’s degree)
- Supervised practicum and internship hours
- Passing a state exam
- Continuing education is required
Requirements for a life coach:
Life coaches can get paying clients instantly. Without attending graduate school. Without having to register with the state as an intern. Without obtaining supervision. So, what would you rather do? Go through all kinds of hurdles and hard work, or start making money instantly? It’s no wonder there are so many life coaches out there.
The other issue is the stigma about counseling. Because mental health professionals are qualified to treat clinical disorders, they treat clinical disorders. Unfortunately, among the public “clinical disorders” has a very negative connotation. Yes, there is still a stigma about getting help for “clinical disorders.” However, there is no stigma in simply wanting to improve your life. Thus, life coaches win again.
Well, we need to educate the public on two important facts:
- Mental health professionals are perfectly capable of coaching people. Unlike life coaches, we are actually trained in personal mental and emotional wellness. We are more familiar with the research, and we understand more deeply the ramifications of unhealthy patterns of thinking and behavior.
- The reverse is not true. Life coaches are not qualified to treat clinical disorders. I don’t have a statistic, but I would venture a guess that if someone is being held back somehow from achieving their life’s dream (because what else would you need a life coach for) they probably have some personal issues that need to be resolved. And life coaches simply aren’t equipped to deal with interpersonal issues.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because if you are considering becoming a mental health professional you need to know who is nipping at your heels. You need to be aware of the people who are taking clients away because they have figured out a way to dispel the stigma of mental health counseling. So I call on you to protect our profession, and the public. Life coaches aren’t qualified to deal with emotional or mental issues; we are. And we need to think beyond just addressing the underlying interpersonal issues — we need to start helping people achieve their dreams. Or they may be harmed by incompetent helpers.
Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,