Turn on a talk show and you'll be just as likely to hear advice from a life coach as a licensed psychologist. That's because the field of life coaching has taken off in recent years, with the International Coach Federation boasting more than 20,000 members. Psychology, however, remains a well-respected field that offers a wide variety of opportunities. Knowing which field to choose requires a clear picture of what each has to offer.
Clinical, counseling and school psychologists earn a median income of $67,880 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Organizational psychologists – the people who tell advertisers just what color cereal box is likely to entice you to have a second helping – earn an average of $94,720 each year. A life coach has the potential to earn even more; 20 percent of business and life coaches earn over six figures, according to Tom Van Riper of Forbes.com. Of course, you'll want to consider the other 80 percent who likely are making considerably less.
Clinical and school psychologists need to obtain a terminal degree, which means you'll spend at least nine years in a university. Organizational psychologists can find employment with a master's degree. A life coach does not need a degree at all, but can advertise herself as such without any regulation. The thing a life coach does need, however, is something to offer, and that might mean 20 years of corporate experience or a history of success helping people to lose weight. Life coaches can become credentialed through the International Coach Federation, which lends credibility to a coaching practice. This route requires a minimum of 125 hours of training.
A big difference between life coaches and psychologists is that life coaches get to choose their clients. The more in-demand a life coach is, the more selective she can be. Psychologists, on the other hand, often must work with the individuals they have been assigned at a hospital, government agency, school or other facility. This is not true if the psychologist has a private practice, however. Psychologists with private practices and life coaches can choose a specialty and work with the individuals they believe will most benefit from what they have to offer. For example, some psychologists choose to specialize in eating disorders, while a life coach might decide to focus on time management issues. Psychologists are more likely to work during typical working hours; life coaches often work evenings and weekends to accommodate working clients. However, psychologists who work in healthcare facilities or who have a private practice may have irregular hours as well.
Schools, hospitals and corporations all hire psychologists, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a job as a life coach listed in job databases. If you're thinking about pursuing this career, shine up a shingle and get ready to start your own business, because your job is going to be what you make it. If you're more comfortable working a 9-to-5 job, your best bet is to suck it up and put in the hard work to become a licensed psychologist.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: 19-3031 Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: 19-3032 Industrial-Organizational Psychologists
- Forbes.com: Surprising Six-Figure Jobs
- International Coach Federation: Coach Training Programs
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Psychologists
- International Coach Federation: Promotional Opportunities
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.