The Difference Between Counselling & Coaching

How do you know whether Coaching or Counselling is better suited for you? What are the myths surrounding the two that you need to know about?

Because I'm trained as both a life coach and a counsellor, I get this question a lot. I started out on the traditional path, first obtaining a Diploma in Psychology and then a Masters in Counselling Psychology. But then I wanted more. I, like my clients, often felt frustrated with the limitations of traditional therapy. So I studied to be a professional Life Coach. Now, I have the privilege of working with clients both in Barcelona, and the rest of the world online. 

Because of my background, and the fact that I provide both coaching and counselling, I understand the similarities and the differences and am able to to-and-fro between the two with my clients as and when I feel it necessary. While coaching and counseling are the same in that they both provide you with a helpful relationship with a person that supports your wellness and growth, coaches and counselors can have significant differences in their training, their methods, and their goals. 

It’s extremely important to educate yourself about both approaches so that you can choose the right person to help you on your journey of growth. I hope the following information helps you decide what’s best for you.

 

WHAT IS LIFE/PERSONAL COACHING?

In short, a Life Coach is someone who is trained to help you acknowledge where you are today more clearly, and then help and support you in finding ways, strategies and tools to move you forward and closer toward your goals.

A Life/Personal Coach does not tell you what to do,  but rather acts as a sounding board to help you discover what is that you want to do in your life, career and with your personal wellbeing.

 image by  Stefan Cosma

image by Stefan Cosma

WHO IS LIFE COACHING FOR?

You might be a leader, an executive or the owner of a successful small business looking to find balance between the demands of work and the needs of your family. 

You might be a young adult with a dream or desire to have more clarity about your future and career. 

You might be a mature woman or man looking to re-energize, re-juvenate and enhance your sense of self, self-image, confidence and wellness.

You might be a parent looking to understand your children better and get more informed about parenting skills.

You might be a retired professional or an empty-nester looking to find a higher purpose or simply to make the difference in the lives of others, but unsure as to which direction to choose. 

Perhaps you are a writer, a musician or an artist looking for a creative breakthrough or support juggling your craft with other responsibilities. 

You might be a cancer or other life-threatening disease survivor looking to plan out and begin practicing a totally new lifestyle.

Maybe you desire to take your already strong relationship to new heights and venture out of your comfort zone.

May be you are a twenty-something tech whiz enterpreneur with a brilliant idea or a dream you want to come true but with little access to advice and guidance on how to bring it to fruition. 

Maybe you simply want to learn how to have more fun. 

 

THE OBJECTIVE OF COACHING

Helping people achieve their goals. The basic presumption of coaching is that coaching clients are in a good and willing place mentally and emotionally, and ready to receive guidance and instruction on how to make changes that will help them achieve their goals. The work focuses on creating and maintaining motivation for change, exploring obstacles to change, and creating plans for change.

MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS ON COACHING
(From Stella's Mum Gets Her Groove Back p. 248) 

"What I like about coaching is that it is action oriented, with the focus on the client's current life and plans for the future. Coaching is about assisting the client in clarifying his/her present values and beliefs, intentions, needs, abilities, strategies, goals and purposes. Clients are in charge of their destinations and they are asked to find solutions from within themselves: this can be an empowering experience. Though life-personal coaching may use the past as a point of reference to move into tomorrow, it is not counselling or psychotherapy for which you need a specific training." 

 

WHY COACHING IS DIFFERENT TO TALKING TO A FRIEND

  1. Coaching is confidential
  2. Coaching comes with clear boundaries
  3. Coaching focuses on you
  4. Coaching focuses on your present and future, working on a conscious level and addressing what we're already aware of and want to achieve
  5. Coaches are skilled motivators and communicators
  6. Coaches are trained professionals and you are entitled to ask for their credentials
  7. Coaches are objective. Family and friends are emotionally invested, not only in their own dreams and desires, but also in the dreams and desires they have for you.  Plus, they see you through the filters of their history with you.

WHAT IS COUNSELLING?

In general, a Counsellor is someone who creates a safe and supportive space for you to explore who you are and cope with what you are facing in life.  They help you identify problems and act as a support system to help you gain the strength and clarity to cope and to move forward at last.

Counselling is a term that can be used to describe any sort of short term talking therapy (psychotherapy, as opposed to counselling, is long term and more focused on past issues). 

In counselling you share what is troubling you in a safe, objective and confidential environment, with a person trained to listen and respond in a way that will help you to understand yourself and others better. Counselling generally helps you find more effective ways to live a satisfying life.

The issues that counselling most often deals with are the things a client is currently feeling stressed about, whether that it be challenges they are facing on a daily basis at home or work or a traumatic event such as a break-up, divorce, or bereavement. Counselling can also help with things like self-confidence, self-esteeem, depression, anxiety and addictions.

Like psychotherapy, Counselling deals with cognitive and emotional blockages, which may be impeding you to functionally and healthily deal with life, work and relationships. 

 image by Ross Findon

image by Ross Findon

WHO IS COUNSELLING FOR?

Counselling is for people facing any life situations where emotional and/or cognitive shifts are required.

It is suited for people who are healthy and functional, as well as people coming from a past of trauma, depression, mood disorder, bereavement, addiction, bullying, abuse and neglect, etc.

 

THE OBJECTIVE OF COUNSELLING

Helping people address and resolve problems that make them feel bad emotionally, or are impairing their ability to function well This can include healing from anxiety, depression, mood disorders, trauma, domestic violence, issues with family of origin, relationships, addictions.

MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS ON COUNSELLING AND PSYCHOTHERAPY
(From Stella's Mum Gets Her Groove Back p. 247) 

"As someone with a background in psychology and counselling, my belief is that one should explore the possibility of counselling or psychotherapy as openly as they would consider consulting their own family doctor. The idea that therapy is only for those who are deeply disturbed or have mental problems is, in my opinion, incorrect. 

There are times when we need help, and healthy and functional people may often benefit from counselling or psychotherapy, just as they do from traditional medicine. 

Many counsellors today, have practices that focus not on disturbed patients but on people with life issues such as divorce, separation, family concerns, relationships conflicts, work, stress and life transition.

The goal of counselling and psychotherapy is to heal some of the pain experienced in childhood and adulthood, and support us to build self-esteem and self-confidence. It is meant to provide one place in the world where we don't have to meet anyone else's agenda or suppress any aspects of who we are.

Some of the varieties of counselling or psychotherapy -such as Transpersonal Psychology, Family Therapy, Primal Therapy, Hypnotherapy, Jungian Analysis, Gestalt, Transactional Analysis and Psychosynthesis- focus on understanding how our childhood experience influences our current attitudes and actions and how we can transfrom and change. Other models of counselling or psychotherapy (e.g. Cognitiva or Behavioural Therapy) focus on changing behaviours, without much emphasis on exploring the past and the roots of our infancy. "

 image by  Raw Pixel

image by Raw Pixel

WHY COUNSELLING IS NOT THE SAME AS TALKING TO A FRIEND

Many people describe counselling or psychotherapy as the same as talking to a friend, except that you don’t have to pay for your friend to listen to you. However, even though therapy can certainly be a friendly relationship, and your therapist may be friendly and easy to talk to, it is important to remember that therapy is not the same as a friendship. Both friendships and counselling are invaluable in their own ways, but there are significant differences between them.

  1. Counselling is confidential
  2. Counselling comes with clear boundaries
  3. Counselling focuses on you
  4. Counselling focuses on visiting the subconscious and bringing it to the conscious level, allowing for a emotional or cognitive shift.
  5. Counsellors are trained in dealing with cognitive and emotional blockages and issues
  6. Counsellors are trained professionals and you are entitled to ask for their credentials
  7. Counsellors are objective. Family and friends are invested, not only in their own dreams and desires, but also in the dreams and desires they have for you. Plus, they see you through the filters of their history with you 

HOW TO CHOOSE A COACH OR A COUNSELLOR
(From Stella's Mum Gets Her Groove Back - a True Story - 2008 p. 248) 

  • As a consumer of professional services you are the one in charge. I coach and train people to communicate from their heart and vocalise their needs and wants. Therefore I believe that you are the one and only in charge who owns the right to ask probing questions andy professional services, training or intervention. You have the right to investigate and ask questions about the background of the couch or counsellor and the years of experience she/he has. 
  • Invest time and money in seeing two or three coaches or counsellors if you feel it is necessary at the beginning of your process.It is worth it!.... Try different approaches and styles and see what suits your needs best; chemistry matters here.
  • Make use of your evaluation and discernment when choosing a coach or a counsellor. As always, intuition should be relied on. 
  • If after a few sessions, you do not feel comfortable or the bond is not happening, communicate it to yourself and then to the coach and counsellor. They might refer you to other professionals, helping you to find a new direction in your journey. 

 

FINAL TIPS

It all sounds pretty straightforward, right? For the most part it is, however, the biggest challenge in differentiating between counselling and coaching arises when it's time to choose which one is for you.

Most life coaches are not trained to face the deep-rooted obstacles in the way of their client’s goals, unless they have a background in traditional counselling. These might be clinical cases such as depression, anxiety or an active addiction or disorder.

Life/personal coaches, as well as executive coaches, have been educated and taught that it is not within the ethical coaching paradigm to attempt to work with people on such a deep level if they do not have the required training or experience to help. For example, I do not personally have any experience or specialised training in helping people with chemical addictions. Ethically, I need to refer these clients to someone who does, and can help them.

Coaches who have had formal coaching training are taught that it is inappropriate for them to attempt to help anyone who is struggling emotionally, dealing with depression, anxiety, mood disorders, or other recognized mental health problems.  Certified life/personal coaches are not required to receive education and be trained regarding how to identify depression, anxiety and so on, and could fail to identify the real needs of their clients in this case.

This might become an issue when a client approaches a coach, reaching out for help, and the coach, who's not trained as a counsellor, spends months adopting and issuing life coaching strategies (such as increasing motivation and outlining action steps) to someone who actually needs the support of a trained counsellor in order to get better. In cases such as this, a lot of time, energy and money can be wasted on futile results so it is incredibly important to be vigilant as both a coach and a client.

This article was featured on Thrive Global


Read my blog posts Self Awareness: A Lifetime Journey for more on the importance of getting to know yourself and steps on how to and Do I Need a Life Coach? for an in-depth look at how to find the right coach for you and who needs a life coach to begin with.

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