What the hell is a Life Coach? Are they the same as a Psych?


life coach beach
Bahahahahahaha. True dat.

Ok. Bear with me. Dr. Phil drawl is back in da house. I get asked this question a lot. And also, ‘what’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? (that would be a whole medical degree). Like, can you give me drugs and stuff?’ (buddy, if I had drugs, I wouldn’t be sharing. Soz).

I read an article recently that tried to highlight the difference between psychologists and life coaches, and insinuated that psychologists were only concerned with the past, and most people who went to a psychologist, actually needed a life coach. Give me strength.  So NOT the case.

So what is a psychologist?

A psychologist is probably screwed up in the head themselves, someone who has gone to university, and trained for a number of years (anywhere from 6  to bloody near 10 these days. I tapped out at 7 years. I still have nightmares) to specialise in human thought processes, behaviour and wellbeing.  They specialise in all aspects of mental functioning; from treating clinical issues, to assisting in sports performance, to  supporting companies to improve workplace functioning, to devising the right people to hire for the job, to working in schools and supporting the educational sector. They do a lot! All in the background, usually. I read in this article that supposedly psychologists are focused on a disease model- looking only at problems and putting someone ‘somewhere in the spectrum of psychosis’. Ummm, hello?  1960? Your definition called and wants you to come back and grab it. True, sometime in the past the prevailing model was looking at defining the problem and remediating it. Not quite putting people on a spectrum of psychosis (steady on there) but there was a bit more of a negative lean. Today though? Not the case at all. With the rise of mindfulness, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Positive Psychology, we’re all focused on looking at what is going right for someone and enhancing that aspect of them, rather than clinging onto the problems and going around in circles.

What is a life coach?

Two words: Tony Robbins.

life coach tony robbins

Tony fucking Robbins

I rest my case.

Ok, so that might be a tad over-generalised and scathing. Sorry. Most people that go into Life Coaching are often adopting the same ideology as psychs- wanting to help others, supporting people to get what they need out of life, empowering people etc.  They can offer the same ideas and skill building, but just in a different capacity. Life Coaches are not qualified to treat mental health difficulties, or to conduct psychometric assessments and so forth. They can help people get a bit of a plan together for the next stage in their life. Can I let you in on a little secret though? You don’t need to have any specific qualifications or meet any board requirements to call yourself a Life Coach. You could watch a few episodes of Oprah and channel her book club wisdom and call yourself a Life Coach.  Of course most people that do Life Coaching take courses and train to do so, but it’s not a mandatory requirement. There’s no regulatory board at present. And while I’m sure there’s some really good ones out there, unfortunately that also means there’s a lot of duds floating about, without qualifications, and without checks and balances to keep them in line.

Psycholgists can actually offer Life Coaching now too, didya know? It’s a specialty. I think honestly if  I was asked how best to choose between a psych and a life coach I’d give this:

If you want straight-shooting, no fuss, no bullshit, more clinically oriented (and evidence based) strategies to make life a bit more enjoyable for yourself, then see a psych.

life coach psych
Exhibit A

If you need more of a broad life plan, like all those motivational lines (think Lorna Jane style), need a bit more of a woo-wooy, inspirational, pep-talking, let’s-hug-it-out cheerleader kind of support, then see a life coach.

Exhibit B

Both have their place. Both offer different services. It depends on you and the type of thang you prefer. I personally like a good slap upside the head and then follow it with a glass of vino. I *may* have made the Life Coach sound a bit more namby pamby sorry, that’s my cold-hearted clinical, couldn’t-really-give-a-shit psych side coming out. We can be cuthroat bastards. Or maybe that’s just me.


Have you had any experiences with life coaches or psychs? Both helpful? Both nutty?

  • Graduate of the Masters in Applied Science (Coaching Psychology) from Sydney Uni here. I’m a weird hybrid

    • The operative word though love is ‘psychology’. You’re a psych all the way! And you went to uni to get the qual, not fished it out of a cereal packet. Already you’re ahead. 😛 x

  • Love this post Dr Sash. When you say Tony Robbins I’m imaging (big white teeth of course) but a broad brush approach of every body jumping on the one size fits all bandwagon and not really addressing any underlying issues. Like you said each has it’s place and depends really what you are after, a bit of motivation pep and goal setting is sometimes all you need other times nothing is going to change if you don’t delve a bit deeper. That said I’m not qualified in either so am speaking out of the bottom of the cereal packet!

    • Ha ha ha lovely I think you hit the nail on the head! Love your descriptions! And not being qualified in either makes you the best person to talk because you’re not biased. Like I might be *cough cough*. 😛 x

  • Anyone and everyone is a life coach these days. I love woo woo shit and love many life coaches but would never put them in the same basket as a psych. I think psychs might know to much about how the brain works though after talking with you! 😉 Great post lady.

    • Ha ha thanks sweets. You can keep your woo woo shit. I’m just too much of a bitch for it ha ha. But I’d listen to woo woo shit if it came from you. xx

  • Guest

    I think I was a life coach in my past life!?! That would explain the unexplainable urge to cheerlead :0p I just love what you do – so freakin interesting! “If I only had a brain… ” Scarecrow – The a Wizard of Oz.

  • Jo

    I think I was a life coach in my past life? Would explain my uncontrollable urge to cheerlead! :0p I just love what you do Dr Sash. So interesting, and what a gift to be able to help people. I’m more like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz “If I only had a brain…” Lol!

    • Bahahahahaha oh lady you need to get that sign up on your door now! Offer virtual life coaching, you’ll be all over it. 😛 It’s hard to help people sometimes lady, particularly when they throw it in your face ha ha. And you DO have a brain!! x

  • michelle barrington

    OMG I have so many psych friends I am sharing this with. Can you do a post on what makes a good couples therapy psych. THanks muchly cause I know your blog is all about taking requests 😉

    • Bahahahahaha! I’m on it lady! Man, my track record with couples therapy ain’t good, every couple I’ve worked with have ended up divorced. Ooops. BUT they’ve all been happier, and one family has been with me for 10 years now. See how I’m scrambling here to get some credibility? x

  • OMG, you don’t need any qualifications to be a Life Coach! BRILLIANT! Count me in! I’m setting up my business immediately!

    So, to anyone who wants someone who’ll tell them to drink a cup of concrete and stop whingeing like a little bitch, I’M YOUR WOMAN!! I’m gonna be a MILLIONAIRE!!!

    • Ha ha ha lady, you’re too sweet, and you know it! Someone would walk into your office and you’d totes pump them up! Then you’d want to slap yourself and Dr. Phil the shit outta them. 😛 x

  • Never had experience with either {except you online of course}…but I’d rather the slap me in the face type anyday!

  • Hugzilla

    LOL I studied life coaching for about five minutes (OK, so it was a few months. I spent a lot of money on that stupid course). I didn’t have the patience for it. My version of coaching would have been “Just sort your shit out, OK. Stop screwing around”.

    • And lady, you would’ve been my perfect pick if I was in the market for a life coach. I pretty much say those lines at work every day. In kiddie format ha ha. What made you do life coaching? I’m intrigued now! x

  • hahaha that’s so funny. Please, can you write that in french so that i don’t have to explain all the time those differences and just give your paper? Oh and the main difference also here in France is that your social security pay for you the psychiatrist but not psychologist or coach. xx Cathy

    • Bahahahahaha! I should totally look into translating it for you! Drives one a bit bonkers, doesn’t it? Wow social security doesn’t pay for psychologists but do for psychiatrists? Very interesting!! x