In 2011, I earned a Master of Arts in Counseling degree. At that point, I began clinical practice with clients. Thereafter, in 2014, I earned a Master of Science in Social Work degree and continued training and experience within the field of mental, emotional, and behavioral health care.
Aside from my practice as a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)—collectively, psychotherapist—I provide life coaching services to clients. Whereas I was required to undergo specific education for counseling and social work practice, coaching functions in a different manner.
I’m often asked about the difference between these various approaches to wellness. Though the fields of counseling and social work are ever-changing, I submit that counselors essentially use a specialist perspective while social workers provide generalist services.
Think cardiologist versus general practitioner, whereas the former relates to counseling and the latter represents social work. Noteworthy, colleagues within these fields may disagree with this comparison. At any rate, what is a life coach?
According to one source, “A life coach is someone who counsels and encourages clients through personal or career challenges. A life coach helps guide clients to reach their ultimate goals.” Here, “counsels” relates to advisement and not clinical psychotherapy.
Expanding upon this matter, one source clearly outlines:
Unlike life coaches, therapists and other mental health professionals focus on healing, treating mental health conditions, and helping people work through trauma and other issues from their past. While working with a life coach may help you to deal with certain unresolved issues, life coaches cannot treat mood disorders, anxiety disorders, addiction, or any other mental health condition.
It may be useful to think of the differentiation from my roles as an LPC, LCSW, and life couch as follows:
Psychotherapists – Treat mental illness and related issues; maintain degrees and licensure in a particular field; and adhere to established ethical codes.
Life coaches – Do not treat mental illness; are not required to undergo formal education, training, or licensure; and are not required to abide by health privacy laws.
Because of the vague nature of life coaching, virtually any person can perform this service. This being the case, a number of reasonable criticisms of life coaching may arise.
Though not an inherently valid critique for all life coaching, one individual who claims to operate as a life coach scathingly states of the industry:
1. Life coaches are underequipped and undertrained for the tasks they claim to accomplish.
2. Life coaches are delusional about life, clients, and themselves.
3. Life coaching industry is essentially a financial pyramid with emphasis on manipulative selling.
I can’t speak on behalf of other life coaches, yet I can’t fully refute the individual’s claims. Perhaps a personal anecdote may be in order to better illustrate the low bar to entry for life coaching.
In seventh grade, during the early ‘90s, I was placed into a coed children’s home. Once I was past the awkward stage of setting in, by eighth grade I began helping other minor-aged residents with various problems.
Back then, I thought that advice-giving was an appropriate method for resolving issues. Child X would come to me in regards to struggles with past trauma and drawing upon my own posttraumatic stress experience, I’d offer an opinion.
For reasons of which I’m still uncertain, even adults began seeking out my counsel. Adult Y would confide in me about matters related to difficulty with some of the other children and guessing my way through the matter, I’d provide an amateurish assessment.
To be clear, I wasn’t merely sorting through dilemmas related to typical interpersonal relationships which most adolescents and adults seemed to have experienced at that time. I assisted with topics such as child molestation, suicide, bullying, gang affiliation, and abandonment.
There was no education, training, or licensure necessary to function as a life coach. Nonetheless, I effectively performed life coaching services for individuals associated with the children’s home.
I continued that behavior well into high school, where I briefly used my alphanumeric beeper as a crisis intervention line. I’d attend house parties and because I didn’t partake in substance use, I’d provide designated driving and coaching services while taking people to their destinations.
A number of girls with whom I was friendly confided in my about sexual assault and rape. A number of boys trusted me with their secrets about having been molested by women.
Additionally, I became friends with many gang members and provided emotional support for those who were considered the dregs of society. None of what I did was sanctioned by any governing board or licensing body.
Entering the United States Marine Corps in 1996, I received focused training on leadership and counseling. Regarding the latter, one source states:
Counseling is a process of two-way communication between a senior and junior to help achieve or maintain the highest possible level of performance. Counseling reinforces good performance, corrects deficiencies, transmits guidance/standards and provides direction to subordinate development.
Earning the rank of sergeant, I was assigned to a platoon of Marines. Unlike my role pertaining to a passive listener in the children’s home, as a Marine I learned how to accommodate individual performance plans to meet the needs for a diverse population of military service members.
Having received a discharge from the Marines in 2007, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Education degree with a focus on Justice Administration in 2009, and began graduate studies in counseling.
It was in that program that I learned that psychotherapists do not provide advice. This is a crucial difference between my work as a therapist and life coach.
With my LPC and LCSW licensure, I’m held to high standards and I seek to maintain an ethical and evidence-based approach to working with clients. Mainly, I use Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) to help clients get better, not simply feel better.
As one source states, “Life coaches focus on the present and the client’s goals for the future. We help people move forward and set personal and professional goals that will give them the life they really want.”
Whether functioning as a psychotherapist or a life coach, I try to help people achieve a higher level of functioning and an improved quality of life. Does that sound like something in which you might be interested?
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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