Life Coaching and Psychotherapy

Throughout the recent years, the popularity of a new advisory direction of life coaching has been winning the market of business services in various fields of human expertise. It has become increasingly popular as the personal help in solving life tasks of customers in psychotherapy. Life coaching as a separate type of counseling had been formed by the 1980s at the intersection of philosophy, psychology, management, and sports (Utry, Palmer, McLeod & Cooper, 2015). Initially, it was focused solely on a business environment. However, gradually, the life coaching services have become in demand in other areas such as psychotherapy. Currently, there are about 500 types of life coaching, which can be divided into two categories: coaching in and life coaching (managing emotions life coaching, life coaching for adolescents, and family life coaching) (Utry et al., 2015). At the same time, this direction is poorly understood. Thus, it leads to ambiguity of its definition and complicates the correlation of life coaching with other anthropological practices. Therefore, one of the most important applications of life coaching is positively experienced in psychotherapy as it helps achieve the most fruitful results in curing and assisting patients.

Life Coaching and Its Connection with Psychotherapy

The definition of borders and areas for the  intersection of socio-anthropological practices of life coaching helps better understand the areas of professional competence and responsibility of a coach and a therapist within psychotherapy. Besides, it contributes to examining the ways of mutual enrichment with the values and techniques, which are separately proper to life coaching and purely psychotherapy. Currently, psychologists with professional experience in psychotherapeutic practice often come to life coaching. In their practice, they inevitably discover some questions about the boundaries of combining these methods of directions and discuss the advisability of their integration when working with a client. The particular interaction of life coaching and psychotherapy lies in the problem of classifying customers’ requests as life coaching or psychotherapeutic intervention.

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The main principles of life coaching in psychotherapy are the awareness and responsibility of the clients for their actions and lives. The value of awareness is shared by almost all psychotherapeutic schools. Regardless of the fact that the coach, unlike the therapist, does not work with the why questions and I am eager to realize myself type of inquiries, they are focused only on the requests how (to succeed, achieve, improve, etc.)? The coach pays much attention to the development of the client’s reflection and seeks to bring it to insights.

According to Theeboom, Beersma, and Van Vianen (2016), both in life coaching and psychotherapy, the customer has an opportunity to see their real alternatives and understand what they pay for. The client’s conscientiousness for the judgments and actions in a life coaching context, frequently, is furthermore encouraged by home training. It is offered at the end of each session and each time checked at the beginning of the next one (Theeboom et al., 2016). If the homework is not fulfilled, it is necessary to devote a part of the session to questions of motivation and self-organization. In psychotherapy, homework can be practiced but not in such a rigid form.

The position of both the life coach and the therapist is just similar and based on active listening, excluding expert opinion and advice. One of the competences of such trainer is precisely an ability to refrain from an expert position (Theeboom et al., 2016). At the same time, there are alternative opinions on this score. Hence, for example, Curtis and Kelly (2013) describe three components of life coaching: individual counseling, training, and life coaching itself. They note that life coaching in psychotherapy implies the training of the client by the new forms of behavior suggested by the coach. Within the framework of some psychotherapeutic directions, the position of the therapist towards the client is also mainly expert. Developing the cartography of the psychotherapeutic field, Curtis and Kelly (2013) oppose the field of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy to the area of psych correction. It includes hypnotic-suggestive and rational psychotherapy, some methods of autogenic psychic self-regulation, behavioral and cognitive behavior therapy, etc. Hence, a recommendation-free relationship between the client and the consultant is the condition that is characteristic only for certain areas of psychotherapy and life coaching.

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Differences between Life Coaching and Psychotherapy

By comparing these anthropological practices, one cannot help noticing that the main differences between them are related to theoretical approaches. It raises the question of whether there are some areas of intersection of psychotherapy and life coaching and how these practices differ in one direction (Utry et al., 2015). In particular, the humanistic one, which is most in tune with the very idea and philosophy of life coaching: the belief in the person’s enormous internal potential and his or her natural desire for self-realization.

The main difference between psychotherapy and life coaching is that most psychotherapeutic patients are those people, who have the problems of either medical or psychological nature and such ones who need help. Meanwhile life coaching clients can be absolutely healthy and want to increase their efficiency or succeed in life (Utry et al., 2015). Thus, customers decide to work with the coach not because they need it, but because they want it (Curtis & Kelly, 2013).

In the context of life coaching, the clients’ requests may be related to dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, with the desire to improve the quality of their lives, etc. In contrast, a psychotherapeutic customer is positioned there as a person who has lost his or her integrity and is in a need of experiencing comfort (Adams, 2016). At the same time, such integrity in Gestalt therapy is achieved by expanding the consciousness of a person. Therefore, this process is inescapably associated with the annihilation of existing ideas about oneself and the world around. It means the achievement of integration through the demolition of the former steadiness.

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Life coaching frequently differs from psychotherapy by the tools used. It is noteworthy that in this practice, there are some instruments directly oriented towards integration. In particular, the Balance of life balance is extensively applied (Utry et al., 2015). It is the technique that allows you to see the interrelations between different areas of the client’s life (Utry et al., 2015). The goals of developing client awareness are also different. In psychotherapy, awareness is valuable in itself. It helps the customer come to integrity, which, in turn, entails some changes in behavior. In life coaching, working to obtain a clearer and fuller understanding of the client’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions serves to better accomplish the intended actions. In other words, the work of the coach on raising the client’s awareness is based on the assumption that a better understanding of oneself and reality makes it possible to be more effective in implementing the conceived plans.

Thus, the main goal of life coaching of the humanistic direction is to help a customer in realizing his or her specific life goals, while the psychotherapy of the humanistic system puts the harmonization of the person’s personality at the forefront. In life coaching, the client is positioned as a fully functioning, holistic, healthy, and independent personality (Utry et al., 2015). However, it does not mean that it is impossible to come to even greater integrity, completeness, and harmony  and find some ways of self-expression that are even more effective  as well as corresponding to basic values. In this regard, Campone (2014) states that a humanistic therapist cultivates the soil for the most complete self-realization of the client. The coach helps grow cultural plants on it, i.e. the customer’s accomplishments in life.

The Use of Life Coaching Approaches in Psychotherapy

Orientation on the comprehensive development of the client prescribes the coach of the humanistic direction to act as a facilitator, but not as an expert or a more experienced interlocutor. Campone (2014) believes that without understanding and accepting the customer’s feelings, working on changes in the life coaching process has a low chance of success. At the same time, the coach’s feedback on their experiences during the session is the important information for the customer. At the same time, Campone (2014) sees the main difference in the coach and psychotherapist’s application of professional and personal qualities. The researcher (2014) also points to the fact that in life coaching empathy, authenticity, and unconditional positive acceptance are designed to facilitate the client’s search for the optimal steps and methods for achieving results (Utry et al., 2015). In psychotherapy, these qualities of the professional enable the customer to realize their experiences more fully and constructively, which, in turn, leads to healing. Being united, they produce the most fruitful results.

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The attitude of a coach and a psychotherapist to the client as an integral personality is expressed in providing an opportunity to consistently focus attention on the self (health, personality, values, goals, etc.), on the surrounding world (opportunities for career growth, work, the financial situation, etc.), and on the relationship of these components (Campone, 2014). Thus, the client demonstrates the importance of all facets of his or her life and their mutual influence on each other. At the same time, the possibility of focusing on certain areas of both life coaching and psychotherapy should be stipulated.

Along with the fact that the life coaching of the humanistic direction has inherited most of the tools and principles of humanistic psychotherapy, it also has some distinctive features. According to Campone (2014), these ones are manifested for the purposes of life coaching and psychotherapy lumped together, general focusing during sessions, and the tasks of increasing the client’s awareness. Therefore, humanistic psychotherapy is designed to help the customer gain a more functional life, while the life coaching individual already lives a functional life, but wants to make it even more complete. Humanistic therapists work, as a rule, with the feelings of the person. The coaches pay more attention to the specific actions of the one, which will enable him or her to reach goals.

Many of these typically life coaching tasks can be successfully solved with the help of separate tools of understanding psychotherapy, wherein the system is built on the basis of psychology and existential-humanistic psychotherapy. To clarify the question of the degree of intersection of practices of life coaching in the humanistic direction and understanding psychotherapy, the method of comparing adjacent anthropological practices should be applied (Cardoso, 2016). As the parameters that determine the specificity of individual directions, Cardoso (2016) identifies the values ​​and goals of anthropological practices, their subject, and problem state. It is done to triumph over which they are directed to, the specific actions of agents of anthropological practices, the methods of their work, the processes, and the actions of a person (a client). Unfortunately, it is difficult to claim about the accuracy of determining these elements with respect to the humanistic direction of life coaching (Utry et al., 2015). Most often in life coaching, the client stays in the realistic life world: he or she concentrates on the goals and seeks the best ways to achieve them. However, the hues of the value, creativity, and, sometimes, infantile life world play the direct role in finding internal and external resources for their implementation. In addition, the construction of an ideal plan of one’s life and the process of its complex embodiment are the main characteristics of an internally complex and externally complicated creative life world.

Since life coaching is focused mainly on setting and implementing life targets agreed with the key values ​​of the customer and located in their control zone and is practically not designed to immerse in emotional feelings about what is outside this control zone (Grant, 2014). In terms of greater exposure to the outside world, life coaching is more and more closely related to behavioral therapy. Its impact is aimed at changing the behavior of the patient.


Considering the problems and inquiries that clients have, it may seem that the system of understanding psychotherapy is radically different from the concept of life coaching. Comparing the understanding of psychotherapy and life coaching in the humanistic direction, where empathy is seen as the main condition for effective work and disclosure of the customer’s potential, albeit in a more simplified sense of this category (Giant, 2014). The scholars believe that herein the practices are mutually reinforced. The creation of trusting atmosphere, the disclosure of the client’s potential, the assistance in understanding of his or her internal experience, values, barriers, and an attitude to the tasks ahead are achieved by the coach through the activity of empathy. Their effectiveness can be improved using some tools and methods of understanding psychotherapy.

Relying on most of the definitions of life coaching, it is possible to claim the following information. The general idea of ​​any coach is to implement a special type of cooperation, which is aimed at achieving the customer’s goals. Along with empathy, this cooperation implies that the coaching trainer takes on the individual functions of a sports coach and a manager. As a coach,he or she inspires a client for success, shows an example of a proactive worldview, creates a working mood, does not let him or her deviate from the goals, and as a manager helps him or her in planning and organizing the activities. Hence, if in the process of understanding psychotherapy all the levels of functioning of consciousness (consciousness, reflection, immediate experience, and unconsciousness) are touched by the means of of both life coaching and psychotherapy, then the fruitful results are obtained not only in the context of achieving the aim but also from the side of the mental health. Most often, according to this model, the coach uses the method of clarification. It allows him or her to organize a dialogue around the specific activities of a client. The concentration of attention on the customer’s beliefs is also important for the coaching trainer, especially when reconciling the goals set with the value system. The distinction between the concepts of values, beliefs, and position allows the coach to bring the person closer to understanding of his or her own self by shedding the light on unused resources.

Especially often in life coaching, the method of asking open questions is used to focus the client’s attention on various aspects of their life, while in understanding psychotherapy, this task is mainly solved by constructing clarifying replicas by the therapist (Cardoso, 2016). An additional function of open questions is that an individual, when discovering new facets of the situation, visualizes the future. It means he or she delves into a detailed drawing of a meaningful goal for him or her and enters the state of creative flow. Therein, when the emergence of new ideas appears, the suitable mood should be maintained and the direction of the search designated.

In understanding psychotherapy, there is a separate repertoire of techniques, which is  aimed at revealing the creative potential of the client being necessary for changes. In general, the main method of comprehending it, i.e. understanding, is aimed, primarily, at sharing with the patient immersion in the very depth of the critical situation or the situation of impossibility. Their productive experience leads to the acquisition of new meanings and the enrichment of life strategies. Then, in life coaching, most of techniques are aimed at clarifying goals and finding the possible ways to achieve them (Lunsky, Naidu, Bradley, & Scott, 2015). Hence, for instance, when dealing with the critical situation of frustration, a psychotherapist of the school of understanding psychotherapy would first clarify the personal motivation (Mwiti, 2016). If the aim turns out to be really significant,he or she would invite him or her to a detailed study of the barrier that stands in the way to the particular goal. The coach in the same situation would also first check the goal for its value for the client (by asking a question of “Why is it important to you?”). Then he or she  would suggest the reformulation of the request in a positive and more focused way on building a vision of the aim.

Since life coaching and psychotherapy have certain mutually intersecting points, the certain theoretical and psychotechnical synthesis of these practices is possible. Hence, using the conceptual apparatus and some methods of understanding psychotherapy would help a coach better structure his or her activities. In particular, it is important at the stages of determining the query and identifying motives and values.

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A set of tools and techniques of individual schools can also expand the coaches and psychotherapists’ working abilities, allowing them to adopt more flexible tactics depending on the requests, the identity of the client, and the situation of his or her life (Mwiti, 2016). The results of joint activities of life coaching and psychotherapy are aimed at achieving the personal goals, which are greatly influenced by the personality of the coaching trainer, who does not usually occupy an expert position though being a bearer of the life coaching philosophy. As a rule, it is comprised of having a positive and pro-active thinking, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and striving for self-realization.

When comparing the psychotherapy and life coaching anthropological practices, there are some differences among them, as well as certain areas of intersection. Both of these practices have many areas of application. Thus, their comparison is possible only within exact species and schools. The most distinguishing dissimilarity can be acknowledged as the target audience. Life coaching is believed to be premeditated to work only with people, who are acclaimed to be mentally healthy and want to achieve great results as well as learn to better manage life (Mwiti, 2016). The psychotherapist can work with such clients, as well as those people who have some mental and personal deviations or experience a collision with traumatic events in their lives.

Moreover, there is an incomplete intersection in terms of the content of customer’s’ requests. Some help for a client on the path of his or her self-knowledge in life coaching can act only as an indirect task, whereas in psychotherapy the personal desire to understand the self can become a separate request. The main goal of life coaching is to help the individuals in the design and implementation of his or her life plan. Therefore, the coach concentrates more on the goals that the client wants to achieve, on their mutual influence, and some ways of implementation through the personal internal potential actualization.

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