Understanding the Difference Between Coaching and Counseling

Dec 01, 2022

There has been an ongoing conversation about the difference between coaching and counseling.  Many times people prefer to seek life coaching services versus therapy due to the negative stereotypes associated with therapeutic services.  Over the years, counseling has been deemed for “crazy people” and that is simply not the case.  


Counseling allows clients a safe place to explore their past and grasp a better understanding of the impact their past may have on their current lives.  Counseling helps people work through past traumas and identify how past traumatic experiences have shaped their personalities.  During therapy sessions, the therapist and client develop therapeutic goals to initiate a healing process for the client, thus encouraging clients to move from past to present. 

In contrast, Life Coaching encourages clients to work from present to future by establishing specific personal and/or professional goals.  The Professional Coach then serves as an accountability partner, supporter, resource, and listener, which allows the client the creative space to explore options to achieve their personal and/or professional goals.


Over the years, counseling professionals have opted to add coaching as an additional certification to support their clients.  By adding coaching services to their repertoire, Counselors can offer hybrid models – where they can take the time to understand their clients' history and work through those challenges.  But then utilize coaching techniques to support their clients’ specific goals and collaborate to create plans of action.  


3 Key Differences to be mindful of when seeking support from a Coach or Counselor:

  1. Education 

Counselors/Therapists have a minimum of a Master's degree in the Counseling field.  During the graduate program, Counselors/Therapists are required to complete an internship where they have the opportunity to practice their counseling skills and psychological theories to support their clients while under supervision.  Upon graduating from a Master's program, Counselors/Therapists are then able to work full-time as a Counselor/Therapist.  However, they are still required to spend several years under direct supervision before getting fully licensed.  On the contrary, Coaches (life coaches, executive coaches, relationship coaches, etc.) are not required to have any training or certification.  Therefore, you may see some Coaches who have Certifications and some may not.  In essence, anyone can refer to themselves as a “Life Coach”.  Therefore, it is imperative that as you seek a Life Coach you inquire about their training and/or professional experience to ensure it is someone you feel can truly support your goals.  

  1. The Approach

Counselors/Therapists operate under strict ethical guidelines and are typically trained not to give clients advice but to assist clients with finding their answers.  This approach is often referred to as “talk therapy”, where clients spend most of their sessions talking about their past and the feelings associated with those feelings.  However, some Counselors/Therapists use other proven therapeutic methods, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, that is more goal-oriented.  Every Counselor/Therapist uses a different approach so it is important to find what works best for you.  Meanwhile, a Coach will feel more like an active participant when addressing challenges.  For instance, a Coach will offer recommendations, and advice, and may even share personal experiences with you to help give you a different perspective.  Coaches will also collaborate with you to create a very direct plan of action and will hold you accountable to that plan to assist you with achieving your goals.


3. Ability to Treat 

One major difference between Counselors and Coaches is the ability of Counselors to diagnose clients with mental health disorders.  Due to their educational background, Counselors are trained to recognize the signs and characteristics of mental health disorders and create therapeutic plans to support their clients.  Counselors cannot prescribe medications but they can refer to a Psychiatrist for medications as needed.  Coaches are unable to diagnose mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc.  In the event a Coach has a client that displays mental health symptoms, they are required to refer the client to the appropriate mental health provider.  Therefore, people must understand Coaching is not a substitution for therapy.  If you need help, please get help from the appropriate professional.  


The key thing to remember is that both Coaches and Counselors help clients work towards positive growth, however, the approach is different due to the training and experience.  However, a achieve growth, it is important to connect with a Coach and/or Counselor that you feel comfortable with.  Consider taking advantage of complimentary consultations and do not be afraid to ask questions to get to know more about your potential Coach and/or Counselor.



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