I get this question a lot, and I think I finally know a good way to answer it. You see, I love analogies. They have always helped me make sense of and then communicate abstract concepts, so I went ahead and thought of one to describe life coaching and how it is different from therapy and counseling.
Let’s pretend that you don’t know how to drive. You can start the car, press the pedal and steer okay, but you don’t know any of the rules of the road. You don’t know which side to drive on, what the signs mean, or what other drivers are doing. At best, you’ll make a lot of people mad and at worst you’ll end up injuring yourself or someone else. This can be compared to someone who needs counseling or therapy. They don’t know society’s rules or simply have difficulty following them. These are people with depression, addictions, schizophrenia, anxiety, eating disorders, etc… A licensed therapist or counselor helps them to cope with and learn whatever rule of the road they are struggling with.
Most of us know how to drive though. We know the rules of the road and how to be safe. We may go over the speed limit some times, but for the most part we’re pretty cautious. But imagine that you know how to drive, and you know all the rules of the road, but you don’t know where you want to go. You’ll just drive around aimlessly. On the road you might see a cool place to stop and take pictures or meet a nice old man at a vegetable stand, but at the end of the day you haven’t made any real progress. You might even just go around in circles never getting anywhere. Even if you know where you want to end up, you might not know how to get there, so you take random roads hoping that eventually you’ll recognize where you want to be. These are the people who need life coaching. They either don’t have any psychological illness, or are already working through it with a licensed professional. They are whole, functional people who just need to figure out what they want and how to get it. Life coaching helps people discover the goals that will get them where they want to be and the proper motivations that will help them achieve those goals.