What is the Difference between Coaching and Counselling?

Between a choice of coaching and counselling, which one is better suited for your issues? And what are the myths about coaching vs counselling you need to know?

(You might also find our article on “Counselling vs Psychotherapy” interesting).

WHAT IS LIFE COACHING?

A ‘life coach’ is someone who is trained to help you see clearly where you are today, then find ways to move forward towards your goals.

They do not tell you what to do, they are a sounding board to help you discover what it is you want to do. 

WHAT IS COUNSELLING?

In general, a ‘counsellor’ is someone who creates a safe and supportive space for you to explore who you are and what you want in life.  They help you identify and solve problems. 

They are a support system to help you gain the strength and clarity to cope and to move forward at last.

They sound very similar?

Coaches and counsellors are similar because of the following:

  • both coaches and counsellors want to help you find create a life you feel better about
  • they both create an atmosphere of trust, non judgement, and support
  • both help you identify what is holding you back
  • both counselling and coaching focus around good listening and asking you good questions
  • both counselling and coaching help you to be more resilient
  • they both want you to find your own answers that work for you
  • both coaching and counselling can help you identify and work towards life goals
  • they work to help you move forward in your career, relationships, and home life
  • both help you with identifying core beliefs and changing your perspective
  • they both have the goal of helping you reach your potential
  • coaches and counsellors both encourage self-discovery.

But there are crucial differences.

The differences between coaching and counselling

*It’s important to note that the terms ‘coaching’ and ‘counselling’ are both really umbrella terms nowadays, used to cover quite an array of coaching and counselling approaches. Plus, each coach and counsellor will bring their own personality and unique way of doing things to their work with clients. The below is a general overview only. 

Coaching is action orientated, vs counselling is coping orientated. 

Coaches want to help you recognise what you think vs counsellors also want to help you realise how you feel. 

Coaching helps you set and achieve goals vs counselling helps you recognise and solve your problems in life. 

A coach has the job to challenge you frequently vs a counsellor is there to support you with empathy and understanding (although they might gently challenge you). 

Coaches focus exclusively on the present and future vs some counsellors focus mostly on the present and the future, others on the past (depending on the type of therapy you choose).

A coach is focused on your potential vs a counsellor is focused on helping you be at peace with yourself and your life. 

Coaches are trained in helping clients move forward in life vs counsellors are also trained in human development, sexuality, family dynamics, and mental health conditions.

Coaches can recognise if it is old core beliefs stopping you in life vs counsellors can also recognise if it depression, adult ADHD, or another mental health disorder that is actually holding you back. 

Coaches can register with relatively new, non-regulated membership associations vs counsellors register with long established and very strict advisory boards. 

Coaches, once licensed, are not supervised vs counsellors and therapists generally have a supervisor overseeing their work. 

Coaching is something you pay for personally vs counselling can be private, but you can also have counselling covered by your work insurance or via the NHS and a GP referral. 

The biggest difference? Training and certification

Coaching training generally consists of several weekends of in-person training. This is combined with many months of online modules. Some schools instead offer week-long ‘intensives’, with students taking different levels over time. Generally, these trainings are all followed by the student working with volunteer clients then submitting case studies for review.

Coaches then must do many hours of coaching before being eligible to register with the different coaching ‘associations’, none of which are regulated at present.

A counsellor in the UK has extensive training (a minimum of 450 hours over three or more years) into human emotions and thinking, followed by being a supervised trainee.

When counsellors have enough hours of practise time they can apply to register with the very strict and long-established regulatory boards. The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) demands that a counsellor has been in practise for at least three years and has completed a minimum of 450 supervised practise hours before accreditation.

Unfortunately, however, anyone can legally call themselves a coach or a counsellor in the UK. This is different than then the United States, where it is not legal to call yourself a counsellor without recognised training.

The point here is that it is important to ask your coach or counsellor just what their training was. Of course it is also true just because a coach or counsellor has the best training does not mean they are good at what they do or are the right fit for you. You might need to try a few sessions before committing long term. 

A few myths about counsellors vs coaches

“Coaching focuses just on the present and the future, whereas counselling exclusively focuses on the past.”  Actually, there are forms of counselling and therapy that also don’t look much at the past, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

“Counsellors give advice and tell you what to do, while coaches never do.” This is an outdated, cliched idea about counselling maybe supported by bad films now and then. A good therapist is client-based. They never seeks to give you answers, but to help you find your answers. If you are working with a therapist who tries to tell you how to lead your life, or makes you in any way feel judged, it would be time to seek a new therapist.

 How do I know which one to choose?

It depends on your personal preference.

In general, if you only want to focus on what you are dealing with right now, don’t want someone to ask you anything too personal, want help making action steps, and/or the area of life you are most concerned about is your career, coaching might be a good choice.

If you are curious about breaking patterns of thinking and acting that have been plaguing your life for some time, what to feel understood at last, would like to raise your self-esteem and understand yourself, and want to figure out what you want in life and move towards it, counselling might be a good choice.

What about a counsellor who is ALSO a coach?

Many counsellors nowadays integrate life-coaching approaches, often called ‘psychological coaching’.  This includes helping you identify obstacles, set goals, change your perspective, and identify and change your core beliefs. Cognitive behavioural therapists in particular tend to integrate such tools.

Interested in a counsellor who used life coaching tools? Harley Therapy connects you with highly trained and versatile counsellors in three London locations and worldwide via online counselling


Have a question about the difference between coaching and counselling, or want to share your experience with our readers? Use the comment box below. 

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