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4 Minutes Read

Should I seek out a therapist, a life coach, or a psychiatrist?

There are many frameworks human beings use to understand life’s joys and difficulties. If you are looking for support from a helping professional, you may choose to connect with one (or more) of the specific types of professionals out there, based on the particular challenges you are facing and the lenses through which you view life problems and solutions. 

Understanding the different kinds of helping professionals and what they can (and can’t) do is important in order to make an informed decision.

When to see a therapist

A therapist is a mental health professional that specializes in using clinical skills and applying relevant psychological and sociological theory to address mental suffering and support you in healing and growth. 

You might see a therapist to:

  • get help with specific mental health symptoms 
  • help you better understand yourself
  • improve your emotional well being
  • bring more flexibility in the way you think and the way you approach your life and relationships

Therapists may have a variety of academic backgrounds and credentials. Marriage and family therapists (LMFTs), clinical social workers (LCSWs), mental health counselors (LMHCs), and psychoanalysts (LPs) have different professional licenses and tend to favor different techniques and outlooks - but they are all therapists, bound by legal obligation to uphold ethical standards, keep confidentiality, and maintain an appropriate level of competency in their field.

Typically therapists approach treatment with some combination of:

  • analyzing your past, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors 
  • teaching you skills to manage your mental health 
  • encouraging you to create positive changes in your life 

Unlike psychiatrists, therapists cannot prescribe psychiatric medications.

You might want to connect with a therapist if you feel “stuck” or hopeless in life and you’re not sure why, you’re struggling to move on after a challenging experience, you want support in managing mental health symptoms instead of (or in addition to) using psychiatric medication - or many other reasons. 

The life journeys that bring people to therapy come in all shapes and sizes - no matter your unique situation, getting therapy means you don’t have to face it alone.

When to speak to a life coach

A life coach is a professional who has experience encouraging people through implementing concrete changes in their lives. Many life coaches have particular areas of specialty - examples are communication coaches, financial coaches, and dating/relationship coaches. Many coaches have some knowledge about mental health and human behavior but are not clinical professionals. A life coach might have gone through a training program before beginning coaching, but they are not vetted by professional licensing boards or bound by health privacy laws.

You may want to connect with a life coach if you have a specific change you are ready to implement, such as changing your career. Typically a life coach won’t spend too much time diving into why you got to this point in your current career, because the emphasis is on moving forward. Your life coach might give you guidance and assignments to help you form an actionable plan for picking and pursuing a new career. As you make progress, your check-ins with your life coach will help you problem-solve any issues that crop up and stay motivated to achieve your goal. 

Because life coaching work is so focused, there is a very clear beginning and end to your time together - compared to work with a therapist or a psychiatrist, where the decision to end sessions is often more subjective.

When to consult a psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is a medical professional who can treat your mental health symptoms through prescribing medication. Psychiatrists are almost always either doctors or nurse practitioners; they go through extensive medical training in addition to specializing in mental health training.

Psychiatrists have conversations with you as part of understanding your mental health challenges and forming a plan to treat you with medication. However, most psychiatrists do not meet with you for the same amount of session time as a therapist, or see you with the same frequency. 

While understanding your goals and priorities are an important part of your treatment, your psychiatrist’s focus is ultimately how to use medication to manage your mental health symptoms so they do not get in the way of you pursuing your goals, not problem solving those goals themselves.

You might want to speak with a psychiatrist if you think medicine could be helpful in feeling mentally well. It may be particularly worth considering if you have tried a number of strategies to manage your mental health, but you are still not satisfied with the results. If you are experiencing a serious mental health crisis, connecting with a psychiatrist may be important in order to get lifesaving treatment.

Getting started with therapy

Setting up a time to chat with a therapist is often a helpful way to clarify whether therapy could be helpful for you at this point in life. If you think you may be interested in starting therapy with me, click the button below to book a free phone consultation - we can talk more about what therapy looks like and what I can offer you in my practice.


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