Amy Morin and Mike Bayer
The Breakout Issue

When a Therapist and Life Coach Spill the Tea

I met Mike Bayer a few months ago when he was a guest on The Verywell Mind Podcast. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of also being a guest on his podcast, Always Evolving.

We do a lot of the same things—we write books, speak at conferences, and work with people who want help reaching their goals. The individuals we work with have some of the same problems, like depression or substance abuse. Yet, we have different titles. I’m a therapist, and Mike is a life coach.

We know our work often overlaps. But, there are some big differences between the way we work with people. So I thought it would be interesting to sit down and talk to Mike about the differences between therapists and life coaches.

Amy Morin: I’m a licensed therapist, and you’re a life coach. Yet, we treat many of the same issues. We just use a slightly different approach. For example, if someone is struggling with self-worth issues, I might explore their childhood or talk about how they developed their self-image. As a life coach, you might do something very different. Can you talk a bit about how life coaches work?

Mike Bayer: Well said, Amy. My work as a life coach focuses more on changing behaviors and accomplishing goals rather than revisiting the past and uncovering underlying issues. I primarily work 1-on-1 with clients to make sure they are being held accountable and taking the necessary steps to be their best selves.

Amy: One thing I appreciate about your work is that you have some freedom and flexibility I don’t. My work tends to take place in an office setting, and if I’m billing the insurance company, there are some strict rules about what I can and can’t do. What are some freedoms you might enjoy as a life coach that I can’t as a therapist?

Mike: That “freedom” to get creative and personal with my clients was one of the many reasons I decided to become a life coach. As you mentioned, life coaches are not bound by HIPAA, and the client-coach relationship is more casual. However, the public stigma around working with a life coach is very different from a therapist. I’ve found that people often think that life coaches strictly focus on superficial goals (such as losing weight, making more money, and being an attractive partner). This isn’t necessarily true. A lot of my work is geared towards helping people be more honest with themselves, make more authentic decisions in their life, and find the confidence within themselves to accomplish their goals.

Amy: People often wait until they feel sick to see a therapist. Someone might not want to talk to me until they have depression or know they likely have an anxiety disorder. Do people seek out life coaches when they’re already doing well but just want to do even better?

Mike: I think that many of the people who seek me out have either been through therapy before or will start seeing a therapist while they’re working with me. And yes, many people are doing very well and will work with a coach when they want to evolve or advance more in a particular area of their life. For example, it is very common for business executives to connect with a life coach to help them become better leaders. I often encourage these executives to consider working with a therapist during this time to focus their home lives as well. It’s really helpful when we can coordinate support and address the full picture when we’re making changes and moving forward.

Amy: One of the not-so-fun parts about being a therapist is the paperwork. Mental health organizations and insurance companies want a lot of justification about why someone needs treatment and how they’re progressing. We maintain an ongoing record that documents someone’s progress in treatment. As a life coach, do you keep notes?

Mike: I definitely do. I like to physically write down my notes when meeting or speaking with a client to make sure we don’t miss a beat. I find I’m less in the moment when I’m typing up notes, plus the noise can be distracting. If I’m working on a business plan or helping a client crunch numbers, I have my clients sit next to me, so they see all the notes, and we can work out a plan together. I’ve heard of some self-employed coaches that don’t take many notes, but it really helps me stay organized and keep the momentum going. I created a coaching program with my team at CAST Centers with this detail in mind. I have every coach take notes, and we have a great supervision system to work out any issues.

What clients talk about in therapy. Client and therapist in a session.

Verywell / Catherine Song

Amy: How about confidentiality? Therapists abide by strict rules surrounding confidentiality. I’m sure your clients are also concerned about wanting to ensure their information is kept confidential. What are the rules or your policies about that?

Mike: Confidentiality is always important. We have our clients sign clear agreements that have confidentiality understandings built in. Each client’s situation is different: Some clients have me involved in business-related issues, some strictly personal matters, so it varies on a case-by-case basis. My golden rule is to make sure we’re all on the same page before getting to work to set boundaries and minimize misunderstandings.

Amy: I’ve referred people to life coaches before when they need something other than therapy. One woman I worked with had ADHD, and rather than talking about her symptoms in an office, I knew she could benefit more from having someone help her get organized at home. A life coach was able to go to her home and give her some hands-on assistance. As a life coach, do you ever refer people to a therapist? If so, when?

Mike: That’s great! I always love hearing stories of life coaches and therapists teaming up to help create a positive impact. I refer almost every case I work with to a therapist.

Mike Bayer, Life Coach

I think the greatest combination of healing, growth, and maximizing one’s potential is when clients have the combination of impactful therapy and life coaching.

— Mike Bayer, Life Coach

Amy: What about substance use? How do life coaches help people who want to stop drinking or using drugs?

Mike: Life coaching is often a key ingredient in helping people get sober. A coach will often take someone newly sober to 12-step meetings, introduce them to friends and colleagues, help keep them accountable daily, and sometimes even help them obtain employment.

Amy: You’ve coached lots of people, including celebrities, about lots of different things. Is there a specific problem or “personality type” that makes someone an ideal coaching client?

Mike: As cliché as it sounds, the ideal personality is someone who is coachable. This means being honest, open-minded, and willing to work. A lot of people believe they are coachable, but they actually aren’t. When I work with someone, I am essentially their thinking partner. I do not tell them what to do; I allow them to come up with their own solutions to the problems we identify. I do this through a series of questions and assignments. The assignments are often fun and not at all grueling or painful. However, I’ve encountered many people who will say they want help but only talk about it instead of taking real action. A life coach is great for someone who wants to take action and be held accountable.

Amy: If someone out there is thinking about reaching out to a life coach but is hesitant to make contact because they’re nervous or they aren’t sure what to expect, what would be your advice to that person?

Mike: I would assure them that it is common to feel hesitant when asking for help, especially regarding mental health. I’d also want them to know that finding the right life coach may take some time. Thankfully, we have the luxury today of researching people and doing a deep dive on them online for context. My suggestion would be to find someone who has bodies of work that resonate with you. For example, some really great coaches can help with grief and loss. Those types of coaches fit a niche, and I would suggest working with someone like that instead of someone like myself who has different niches. You have to find someone that is the right fit for you and your goals.

Amy: I imagine your clients find you from your books, or they’ve seen you on Dr. Phil, right? Most life coaches aren’t on TV or bestseller lists, though. So how should someone go about finding a coach they want to work with?

Mike: Before being on Dr. Phil or writing books, I was actually at the peak of my life coaching practice. Every referral came from word of mouth. I offered very customized life coaching to small groups of people, and those people would refer other clients to me. If you know of someone working with a coach, I would suggest you speak to them about their experience. It also doesn’t hurt (if you’re willing to put yourself out there a bit) to post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a life coach. There’s a chance someone you know could share a local recommendation with you if they had a positive experience. And, of course, Google is a great source of getting information about specific life coaches.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.