Six ways life coaching is different than therapy.

It all starts with a dream. I never would have changed my eating and exercise habits for the better, or worked on my relationship with my husband, if I hadn’t been forced to articulate a dream.

Dreams can be a starting point for work with a therapist, or for work with a life coach. I’m often asked how therapy is different from life coaching. I’ll start with caveats. Therapy has its place and life coaching has its place. Many of their goals overlap, but they are not the same kind of experience. In general, life coaching emphasizes action. In my experience, most therapists focus on understanding your past, your feelings and your behaviors (although therapists who focus on cognitive-behavioral work do address changing behavior in their practices).

That might leave you wondering if life coaches address emotions or thought patterns at all. Good life coaches address thoughts, feelings and actions. Certainly therapy looks good versus general “life coaching” based just on the years of science behind therapy and the credentials required to be a therapist. But this is why it is important for me to distinguish life coaching (and specifically, the Handel Method) from therapy.

By way of illustration, I’ll return to the dream I had for my relationship with my husband. I had a list of reasons why we didn’t have the kind of intimacy I wished for us. For example, he’s a guy, and men don’t discuss their feelings. My coach called these “reasons” excuses, and asked me, “Why don’t you go find out the real reason?”

So I sat down with my husband—we had been together for 10 years at that point—and for the first time, I told him my dream. I asked him why he thought we didn’t have that, and it was a very awkward conversation at first. But finally he told me he’d given up on talking because I interrupted him—a lot, and often for reasons having nothing to do with him.

I had to take action—I couldn’t go back to my coach without answers—and that led to some significant changes for the better. Here are more of the most salient ways in which life coaching, particularly the Handel Method, is different from therapy.

We are most successful with already healthy people who want to be happier and more at peace.

Because we aren’t trained to treat illness, we work best with people who are already healthy but are struggling to be really successful or happy in one or more areas of life. Our work is philosophical and action oriented. People who want to make significant changes in their lives enjoy the challenge of coaching. People in emotional crises or dealing with mental illness or depression often find more comfort in therapy.

We focus on action as the main access to shifting patterns.

Thoughts lead to feelings, which lead to actions. It’s a never-ending cycle, and a person can intercede at any one of those access points. We intervene in all of them, but we begin with action.

It’s kind of remarkable how nonintuitive it actually is. People tend to want to figure something out or feel “in the mood” before changing something about their lives. We teach that to break out of a pattern—of thought, of feeling, of mood, of stagnancy, in any area of life—the first place to start is with actions. So, we’ll encourage everyone to eat more healthfully right away so they can start to see the connection between a change of behavior and a change of feelings and thoughts. We are as fascinated by the mind as therapists are, but sometimes we just instruct the mind to “shut up” its chatter and attend to doing the thing that would make us proud.

We teach Personal Integrity® as the key to self-esteem.

Rather than understanding all the roots of a person’s lack of self-confidence, we teach the concept and methods of Personal Integrity (a Handel Group proprietary methodology). People are barely good at honoring their word when making promises to others, much less themselves. We believe that by teaching people to make and keep promises to themselves, we are giving them the keys to increased self-confidence. If you don’t believe it, you haven’t tried it.

We have opinions and we’ll tell you what they are.

Most of what we find keeps people stuck is how they think about their lives. We want clients to think differently in any area in which they haven’t been successful. Mostly people need dire circumstances to change, (disease, divorce, death, debt, etc.) but what if the people around them said their real opinions about their bad choices? People would probably straighten out faster. But since most people have a tacit agreement like “I won’t call you on your stuff, if you don’t call me on mine,” they remain pretty stagnant. A coach will advise you about your choices, lovingly of course, so you can grapple with your real opinion about them.

We might argue with you.

Our job is to have you examine your beliefs, logic and choices. Wherever you are not happy, there is some skewed thinking behind the scenes and we want to uncover it as fast as we can and hold it up to the light. Most people find they have been dying for someone to start fighting for their dreams. Because people are slow and scared to fight for their own dreams, a coach who is willing and trained to argue against clients’ fear and brattiness can be really helpful. Sometimes this means our clients will feel some discomfort as their coaches challenge them to think differently about what’s possible. We understand and even expect some resistance and we are ready to ride it out with you and see you to the other side of it, even if it means you don’t like your coach for a bit.

We tell on ourselves.

We believe in transparency. Our clients get to know exactly who their coaches really are because Handel Group life coaches share their own experiences of failure and struggle as well as their own lifestyle changes, triumphs and promises with their clients. Our coaches use their own lives as examples of our methods, because we believe it’s important to “walk our talk” and to share the failures and the successes of our own journeys as we go.

24 Hour Fitness Fit: Perks members can get a 30-minute consultation to learn more about Handel Group life coaching options AND receive $75 off their subscription to Inner.U, Handel Group’s new digital coaching course. Visit to take advantage of this special offer.

Photo credit: WavebreakmediaMicro, Adobe Stock; Sjale, Thinkstock; Jovo Jovanovic, Stocksy