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Therapy, or Life Coaching? Critical Differences

What is your position on Life Coaching; do you recommend it? Is there anything I need to be aware of?

Sincera Wellness, LLC has received many questions on this topic, to the point we will devote a section here on it. We recommend inquiring of any provider (in any field) their credentials, licensure, training, experience in any modality. Please know that life coaching can sometimes be practical for some people and some basic, everyday issues. At this time however, this wildly-expanding, multi-million-dollar field unfortunately remains largely unregulated. There is serious money to be made by for-profit commercial coaching training programs springing up all over the Internet (very few, if any, are under the auspices of accredited colleges and universities, however).

For life coaching, there is at this time essentially no dedicated State Board. This discipline requires no licensure, no professional training, no evidence-based practices, no national proficiency examination towards licensure/certification, no professional supervision, no State Board oversight, regulation, or sanctioning power, no ongoing Board-recognized continuing education hours (CEs), no specific CEs in any specialty area, no mandatory ethics education, or ethics CEs, no criminal background check. No diversity / cultural sensitivity education. It is not required to be HIPAA-compliant. No recordkeeping ethics or standards. No requirements for maintaining mandated reporter proficiency. No mandates on client abandonment. Is rarely a part of respected, peer-reviewed clinical research. No practicum or internship, or mandatory qualifiable way to verify skill set actually "in situ", in the therapeutic milieu.

You may wish to inquire if a life coaching academy / training program is properly accredited, recognized/approved by a State Board or Department of Education, and if its educational hours/credits will transfer to / be accepted by a legitimate college or university; most will not. Some subjectively award "credit" for "life experience", which is not quantifiable and not typically recognized by accredited, respected universities or State Boards. The majority of coaching training programs are commercial, for-profit, non-accredited, online programs that are not recognized by any Department of Education, accrediting organization, university, State Board / regulatory board, and not approved for awarding CEs, nor RECOGNIZED diplomas, certifications, or degrees.

For the person considering a life coaching training program, this can easily translate into no (legitimate, recognized) credit earned or allowed to be transferred for costly coaching education, nor will it transfer towards any accredited formal masters-level professional graduate or doctoral program should the student wish to continue their studies towards a license/advanced degree. For a person considering undertaking coaching training, Sincera highly recommends verifying the veracity of the program with your state's Department of Education, Better Business Bureau, and inquire about scholarship or grant programs, of which there are few, if any.

Not only does life coaching not require a masters or doctoral degree, it does not even require a high school diploma. Unless also a licensed masters-level or doctoral-level clinician, a life coach is fairly without exception unqualified to diagnose and/or treat any mental health condition or mental health emergency. Life coaching is almost never reimbursed by insurance (typically insurance reimbursement requires a diagnosis code, as well as the clinician being licensed, as well as impanelled with that insurance company first. Only a licensed clinician is even allowed to use the DSM-V (diagnostic manual), as well as to diagnose at all). Nearly anyone with a laptop and a free website can establish themselves as a "life coach". Please thoroughly verify the coach's educational background, training, certifications (please do know that some licensed therapists also provide coaching services).

Ask what a life coach's understanding is of where "coaching" ends and "licensed therapy" begins, and what they consider proper rationale for referring a coaching client for professional masters-level or doctoral-level therapy. Call the state board and ask them as well. Ask a life coach what their protocol is for when a coaching client is not improving, has mental health issues, or an emergency. Ask a life coach how they can recognize when they are no longer qualified to treat a client and should ethically refer (and defer) to a licensed clinician. It has been the years-long experience of this profession that many life coaches, not to disregard naivete or good intentions, are sometimes overrepresenting their qualifications, while wholly misrepresenting the entire profession, practices and tenets of the licensed counseling field, as well as sometimes perilously bordering on practicing licensed counseling without a license, which is punishable by law.

Only one example this profession encounters is a plethora of life coaches frequently waving off the public from seeking licensed therapy, describing it as more antiquated, non-solution-focused (it was actually the counseling profession that created and endorses the highly effective "Solution-Focused" therapeutic modality that the life coaching field has adopted as its own), persisting for many years without goals or focus or evidence-based practices, when this is overwhelmingly not the case and which demonstrates an alarmingly poor, unprofessional, and egregiously irresponsible understanding of a respected profession it is vastly unqualified to present to the public.

Everything described here that a life coach is not required to adhere to, a licensed therapist is required to. The counseling profession's ethical guidelines ask therapists to advocate for vulnerable populations (Sincera does). Life coaches are not required to do so. Licensed therapists are asked by the profession to generously provide services to those who cannot afford to pay (Sincera does). Life coaches are not required to do so, however, and life coaching rates are typically comparable to and often even much higher than a licensed therapist's (ask a life coach how they are able to justify that, and what they can offer for their fees that a licensed therapist doesn't). Ask a life coach if they offer a sliding fee scale (Sincera does). Therapists, including Sincera Wellness, quite frequently work in non-profit settings, accepting lower pay, as well as donate reduced or free (pro bono) therapy (Sincera does). Ask a life coach what percentage of their work they donate, reduce their fees for or provide for free (pro bono) (Sincera does). Ask life coaches how many are willing to accept lower pay and work in the non-profit sector (Sincera has). Ask a life coach what their investment and membership is in nationally-recognized professional organizations that promote respectability, high standards, and ethical practices in their field (Sincera does).

If you do seek life coaching, Sincera recommends, at the minimum, one option of checking the ICF (International Coach Federation) website first, and check with your State Board, and Better Business Bureau. Life coaching can, in some cases, be helpful for some people. Just make sure you're getting what you need, that your situation will be handled capably should you require mental health services, and that life coaching is presented to you honestly and fairly.

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