Question: I have recently become intrigued on becoming a coach. I am not too certain if I want to lean toward Life, Executive, Couples, etc. What I know know is that all of my friends and family come to me for life advise, organizing tips and plenty more. When I’m coaching friends, family and co-worker, it’s second nature, it give me a feeling of self accomplishment and its a reward to see that my assistance REALLY works. I am stumped on my options and how to move forward with the new career path that I have chosen. I now work as a Supervisor for 3 departments in a Corporate office and need direction on how to fulfill my dream.
Answer: It sounds like you’re at a very exciting time in your life.  This is a very good question.  There are significant differences between Professional Counselors and Life Coaches.  These differences range from the education and training needed to become a professional to the salary you can expect to receive.

First, to become a licensed professional counselor, you’ll need to pursue a graduate degree in counseling from an accredited college or university. 
Some schools offer MA degrees in professional counseling, while others offer M.Ed. degrees in community counseling. While these degrees vary to some degree in specialty at each school, each of them get you to the same end – which is to become a Professional Counselor.  You’ll be required to complete a 600-800 hour internship at an approved mental health facility (private counseling office, community mental health center, or hospital).  Some programs also require a 200 hour practicum.

MORE: Why The Life Coach is Eating the Counselor’s Lunch

Then, after you’ve completed your degree program, you’ll still have to complete around 2,000 hours of supervised work before you are eligible to apply for your state license (this number varies from state-to-state).

This is a lot of work, but you’ll receive professional training from experienced educators on how to counsel people using various contemporary therapies.  You will also have completed a significant number of supervised therapy hours, hopefully working with a diverse caseload.

Your path to becoming a Life Coach is much less rigid. You do not need a degree in counseling, nor will you have to complete a structured practicum or internship.  Life Coaching is not recognized as therapy.  There is no state licensure for Life Coaches either.  Consequently, Life Coaching is not covered by any major medical health insurance plan.  Therefore, your clients will have to pay for these services out of pocket.
Professional Counselors can accept both cash and insurance payments (provided that they have completed the medical credentialing process).  As a result, you’ll have the potential of making significantly more money throughout your career.

At the heart of both professions lies a desire to help people through difficult circumstances. The process of becoming a Professional Counselor or Life Coach is vastly different.  To some degree, which path you choose depends on what you aspire to do in your career.  If you want to be fully equipped for the helping profession, then make the commitment and sacrifice to become a Professional Counselor.  If you’re looking to assist co-workers, family, and friends with challenging life circumstances, but do not have the time or finances needed to complete a graduate degree in counseling, Life Coaching may be a more reasonable and affordable option for you. Either way, it’s a big decision and one that should not be made until you’ve weighed all of your options.

Best wishes on your decision and on your future career path in the helping profession.

Michael Reffner