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Clinical Social Worker Vs. Life Coaching

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People who enjoy working with others and have a desire to make a difference in society often choose careers in the helping professions. Clinical social work and life coaching might seem similar because they both involve helping people solve problems and overcome obstacles to their well-being. But there are some significant differences in the treatment approach of clinical social workers and life coaches, as well as the required education, training and licensure.

About Clinical Social Work

Clinical social work is a specialized field that involves promoting mental, social and behavioral well-being and treating disorders that cause impairment in these areas. Clinical social workers provide assessments and individual, couples, family and group psychotherapy. They use a holistic, or biopsychosocial, approach to solving problems by looking at all the factors that affect a client's life, including family, job, relationship, psychological, physical and financial issues. They are trained in the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. In fact, clinical social workers are the largest provider of mental health services in the United States, according to the National Association of Social Workers.

Education and Training

To become a clinical social worker, you must complete a master's degree program in social work at a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. During your studies, you will need to complete two supervised clinical internships in which you will provide psychotherapy and other social work services to clients in a mental health clinic or similar setting. In addition to a graduate degree, clinical social workers need to show proof that they have completed at least two years of full-time, supervised postgraduate work and have a state license to practice clinical social work. State licensure requirements vary, but usually include passing a certification exam and submitting proof of education and experience.

About Life Coaching

Life coaches take a different approach to solving problems than counselors, social workers or other providers of mental health services. Life coaching isn't therapy. According to an article in, life coaching is mainly intended for people who are already in relatively good mental health, but need additional support and direction in specific areas of life, such as career, relationship, spiritual and social issues. Unlike therapists, life coaches don't focus on the past or on psychological or mental health disorders. They tackle specific projects, such as starting a new relationship or embarking on a new career, and provide suggestions to help clients choose a course of action.

Education and Training

Unlike clinical social work, almost anyone can start a life coaching business. You do not need any specific training or education to become a life coach; life coaches are not licensed by any government body, and the field isn't regulated. A few reputable schools and organizations, such as the International Coach Federation, offer independent certification programs in life coaching. Beware of programs that seem like scams - if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Programs that offer only a three-hour course or seminar aren't going to provide you with the education or training you need, advises Jennifer Corbin, the president of Coach U, in an interview with CBS MoneyWatch.


Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.

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