Although life coaching first entered the scene in the 1980s, it didn't really catch on at first. But most recently, the popularity of life coaches has exploded.

From wellness coaches to financial coaches, you can get support making improvements in your life. And some people are seeing life coaches to deal with really specific issues, like relationship problems or perfectionism.

And it often raises a question--should you really be seeing a life coach for that or should you be seeing a therapist?

Sometimes, the answer is pretty clear. But at other times, there seems to be a bit of a gray area about whether you should call a therapist or a life coach.

Myths About the Differences

As a therapist, I've heard of life coaches who put down mental health services by saying things like, "A therapist will only talk about your past. They won't work on your future."

But, I know many therapists are quick to put down coaching too, by saying things like, "You shouldn't seek help from people who don't have a professional license. They're likely to make you worse."

Of course, neither of those are actually true. Therapists may talk about your trauma history and they may dive into your childhood if it will help you move forward. But that doesn't mean they won't talk about the present or your future.

Similarly, many coaches do great work--even if they don't have an official license from a board. They're often well-qualified to teach specific skills and to help people live better lives.

When to See a Therapist  

Therapists are trained to deal with mental illness. If you're struggling with depression, anxiety, past trauma, anger issues, and other mental health problems, seek help from a therapist.

Therapists are also well-versed in dealing with addictions, phobias, sleep problems, and personality disorders. They can assist with parenting concerns, child behavior problems, and relationship issues as well.

When to See a Coach

Coaches often target specific issues, like weight loss or financial management. They can usually help you learn skills to address those issues right now. You might learn how to budget or how to plan your meals.

Coaches may also help with certain aspects of mental health problems. For example, some coaches help people with ADHD get more organized. They may assist with time management and goal setting or they may assist you in clearing clutter.

Things to Consider

Coaches tend to have more flexibility in terms of where they meet. A coach may meet you at your home or in a coffee shop.

But, coaches can't take insurance. You'll need to pay out of pocket.

Therapists have specific training in mental health and they often have a variety of resources they can refer you to--from support groups to psychiatrists who can prescribe medication.

Therapists also have to abide by strict rules surrounding confidentiality and other ethical issues. Unless you sign a document giving them permission to share your information, they can't tell anyone (unless there's an imminent safety concern).

If you aren't sure whether you need a therapist or a coach, you might talk to your doctor about your concerns. Your physician may be able to offer some direction.

You also might reach out to both a coach and a therapist to learn more about how they could help you. Many professionals will be willing to speak to you over the phone for a few minutes free of charge to give you a better idea of the services they offer.