Although psychology continues to thrive in the health field, there’s still occasional skepticism about the industry, including comments from well-known life coaches, such as Iyanla Vanzant. During the 2015 interview featured on OWN Network, Vanzant discouraged singer Chris Brown’s off-and-on girlfriend Karrueche Tran from seeking a therapist, stating, “You’ve got a good friend so you don’t have to waste money on therapy.”
But if fixing an issue was as simple as having a “good friend,” there would be no need for psychologists. Skeptics may not understand the difference between the role of a psychologist and that of a life coach. The simplest difference, according to the Houston Chronicle, is that there is no degree needed to be a life coach. An interview with CBS News raises concern about how easily the term “life coach” is used from simply reading a few books or attending a few training classes.
For psychologists, there is no room for mislabeling. The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that in order to become a licensed psychologist, students must complete all courses needed to earn a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)
“I think life coaches can be useful, but I don’t think they’re anywhere close to a therapist or psychologist,” said Stephanie Whitman, who has a private practice in Chicago. “They can’t make the connections that psychologists or therapist can make. For instance, say somebody is 150 pounds overweight. They’ve tried every diet possible. They know what to do. Somebody says, ‘Here’s a diet for you. Here’s a workout regime.’ But they’re still stuck. You have to know about the theories in psychology and really dig deep. Explore what’s going on with the person and start making connections.”
Whitman holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in marital and family therapy and a juris doctorate.
“I got the law degree before I got the master’s in psychology. I realized pretty quickly that I did not want to be a lawyer. I was more interested in how the human brain works and how human emotions and behavior manifest itself.”
Regardless of whether students choose psychology, law or any other field, Whitman is a firm advocate of picking a profession that the student is passionate about.
“If you’re passionate about something no matter what it is you should stick with it. That’s where you’re going to be the most successful and happy.”
Shamontiel L. Vaughn is a professional journalist who has work featured in AXS, Yahoo!, Chicago Defender and Chicago Tribune. She’s been an Examiner since 2009 and currently writes about 10 categories on Examiner.com.