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.
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.
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.
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?