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Life Coaching or Licensed Therapy?

Considering seeking counseling, or life coaching? Both choices exist, and the field of life coaching is growing. Sometimes people just benefit from some encouragement, or collaboration in setting goals, or developing problem-solving skills. Those issues might not require serious, licensed therapy, but just some helpful collaboration. That's where a life coach might come in. On the other hand, the field of life coaching is not as regulated as the field of licensed therapy. There has been very little oversight, regulation, accountability in the quickly-expanding field of life coaching. Here are some critical points to consider when considering seeking life coaching, or licensed therapy - -

* * A licensed therapist requires a minimum of a masters degree, state board licensure, practicum experience, and ongoing CEU-level continuing education annually. In the state of Arkansas, a masters-level therapist must complete a minimum of 48-60 hours masters degree program (minimum of 60 hours for marriage and family therapist licensure), apply to sit for a written standardized exam, and only after passing such are then eligible to sit for an oral board exam before being licensed. They must have completed approximately 500 hours of practicum/counseling before licensure. All 50 states require mandated supervision, and in the state of Arkansas, they then fulfill a minimum of 3,000 hours of mandated supervision after earning their masters degree and licensure. They are required to adhere to an established set of exhaustive ethics which have been nationally established by their profession and its rigorous standards of practice, and can be formally sanctioned for not doing so, which can include formal disciplinary measures, suspension or revocation of a license.

* * A therapist is already trained to provide life coaching because life coaching is like rudimentary client care without the licensure or masters-level training. In other words, a therapist is usually equipped to perform life coaching even while still an intern. Nearly every skill a life coach uses, a therapist-intern has already been formally educated in while still in a masters program. In other words, a therapist can also be a life coach, but a life coach cannot necessarily always be a therapist.

* * A therapist-intern is already trained and qualified to successfully practice virtually all of the eleven Core Competencies established by the International Coaching Federation, while still a graduate student even pre-graduation and licensure. The requirements for the Master Certified Coach (MCC), as established by the International Coaching Federation, fall well within the parameters of the graduate-student therapist or therapist still under mandated supervision. This is not to diminish the field of life coaching or the prudent and exacting standards of the International Coaching Federation, only to better differentiate and explain the qualifications of a licensed therapist to practice life coaching, even to the level of a Master Certified Coach.

* * Life coaching is reported to be a two billion dollar-a-year industry. That’s serious money for a field that is largely unregulated and requires no licensure or masters degree. To become a life coach requires no associate, bachelor, or masters degree. No diploma. No licensure. No state board exam. No background check. No ongoing CEUs. No comprehensive examinations. No mandated supervision. No experience. No certification in any area of specialty. Cannot provide therapy without a masters degree as well as a license. No practicum experience. No established set of nationally-recognized ethics where they can be sanctioned for not adhering to. No training or education in therapeutic modalities or systems theory, which are crucial to practicing the best systems-oriented licensed therapy. No psychopharmacology, developmental, or sociocultural diversity / cultural sensitivity education.

* * Life coaches (unless they are also licensed mental health clinicians) are usually woefully underqualified to professionally deal with serious mental illness issues in clients, unlike licensed therapists. They are not usually taught formal diagnostics that would comply with the APA-issued Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, otherwise known as the DSM-V, because they are not licensed or qualified to diagnose any APA-recognized illness, personality disorder, etc. Insurance companies almost always require a DSM-V diagnosis code in order to reimburse the healthcare provider or client. So if you are considering life coaching, know that your insurance company will almost never help pay for it.

* * Unlike a licensed therapist, a life coach is not required to successfully earn CEUs annually for continuing education. Today the fields of life coaching and counseling have followed the inevitable progression towards technology. Unlike a licensed therapist, life coaches are not required to provide their electronic coaching in a technological medium that is encrypted, guaranteed safe and private, and a client’s confidential records are not required to be maintained by not only the counseling profession’s enforceable ethics, but by federally-enforceable standards, such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

* * The field of life coaching is growing quickly across the nation. Virtually anyone, from any background, level of education or experience, can call themselves a “life coach”. There are a few life coaches that are also licensed therapists who decided to go into business for themselves in private practice, and are doing excellent, qualified work. There are also life coaches who barely possess a high school diploma, no mental health experience, no organizational strategies, no background or training whatsoever in helping people with their problems and issues, who set themselves up with a laptop at their kitchen table and a free website, and are charging hourly fees commensurate with those of licensed therapy.

* * Unlike a licensed therapist, a life coach is not required to submit to a background check and can even possess a felony record. A life coach is not required to be held to standards that a licensed therapist is, such as enforceable ethics concerning client abandonment, truth in advertising, maintaining client files, options for assessing for emergencies, dual or inappropriate sexual relationship with a client, and so on. There are few life coaches, or life coaching training organizations, that are non-profit in nature. However, many licensed therapists work for non-profits and their salaries reflect such.

* * There are a few organizations that are attempting to organize this essentially-unregulated, unaccountable life coaching field. There needs to be much more of this; some level of a state board examination and level of accountability to an ethics commission, as well as to the paying, trusting public; some level of required, PROVABLE objective training by a reputable, licensed training facility. I can start up "Gunter Life Coaching Academy" tomorrow and earn alot of money printing off my own self-designed curriculum and pretty Certificate of Completion...and none of it will transfer to a reputable, accredited, non-profit educational institution. None of will be accepted by a state board, or earn the student a license.

* * Always ask where a life coach received their training and any certification. Was their schooling accredited and licensed? Then check that source out. Check with your area state board, attorney general and Better Business Bureau. Is it accountable? Is it "verifiable"? Is it qualified to offer CEUs? Because if not, don't walk but run. Nearly anyone, regardless of their background and lack of experience, expertise, aptitude, their own personal psychological health or legal history, can become a "life coach". Any life coach (or therapist) who will not provide you details, such as where they received their degree, licensure or diploma or training, who will not provide you their exact credentials, it would behoove you to be concerned. Ask for several references from people who you can contact directly to ask more questions of.

* * Written testimonials? They are pretty (and sometimes pretty ugly), but they are not documentable. Neither are highly-subjective "references" from online sites (for example, "Yelp", etc.). Whether it's a positive or a negative review, a consumer doesn't have to be objective or provide proven information, or information where they can be contacted. A good rule of thumb is be prudently wary of anything anonymous. If you are going to discuss your life issues with anyone, whether a therapist or a life coach, make sure their professional pedigree is verifiable, they received any certifications or certificates or diplomas, etc. from a recognized, reputable source. A reputable life coach will courteously and professionally offer you this information. A licensed therapist is ethically required to not keep it from you.

A good life coach will ask you what your goals are, not set your goals for you. A good life coach will establish an objective, accountable strategy, a plan, with you, not for you. Whether in licensed therapy or life coaching, your progress should be measurable and be able to be tracked across time. A good life coach will ask you periodically if your goals have changed, or how they (the LC) is doing, and if the LC is missing anything, and will ask you to rate them on how they are helping you. A good life coach will be respectful, proficient, empathetic, non-judgmental, passionate about your progress - but will not work harder than you do – just as a licensed therapist will do. A good life coach will hold you accountable for your progress in your own goals. A good life coach will be accountable and transparent, will not lie to you, will not "move the goalposts" on you, will be ethical and professional and will not divulge your confidentiality.

A reputable life coach will not hold "previous life experience" as their qualification, as this is highly subjective, non-documentable, and is not a professional earmark of their expertise or qualifications. The best life coach will hold a certification from a reputable, recognized organization, usually endorsed by the International Coaching Federation, that meets their ethical standards of practice. The best life coach will optimally have a documented background in perhaps mental health, social work, ideally counseling.

If you are seriously considering seeking life coaching, you may wish to consult the International Coaching Federation, which is one of the most respected organizations in the life coaching field that encourages more accountability.

You may benefit from professional life coaching; it can often be less expensive than counseling from a licensed therapist. Just make sure that you do your research and investigate the life coaching options. Some life coaches are reputable and responsible and possess a solid background in mental health, family services, even counseling. Some possess no skills but an intent to earn money. An internet blogger can also give the impression they are a licensed or qualified professional; anyone can set up a free website and dispense abundant opinions and free advice. This does not necessarily qualify or quantify them as a professional or an expert, licensed or otherwise. Make sure you become an educated consumer, whether of therapy or of life coaching.

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