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What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Counseling?

We often get asked, what is the fundamental difference between coaching and counseling and also how do we identify which one is needed.

Here is a comprehensive breakdown between coaching and counseling:

Both coaching and counseling are relatively new additions to the range of human service professions currently available to the public. Counselors usually aim to provide a safe space for people to explore themselves and to cope with whatever life issues they may be facing. Coaches are mainly seen as guides or resource providers who help people achieve their goals.

However, there’s still a fair amount of overlap between these two professions, in that, they are much like step-siblings who share a family name. Here are some fundamental differences that can help clear the blurring boundaries between these two disciplines:

The Primary Focus For Coaches vs Counselors

Coaching tends to be more future-oriented and proactive. It focuses on the present by helping people create actionable strategies for achieving specific goals. The emphasis here is on action and accountability and a coach, in this case, would prod them onwards and periodically check up on their progress.

Counseling is often remedial in nature. It is therapeutic and retrospective and therefore, a counselor will often revisit the client’s past and identify potential rocky spots that negatively affect the client’s personal or professional life. The counselor will then help the client effectively disempower their past and will work according to his or her pace and learning style.

Required Training For Coaches vs Counselors

Counseling ordinarily requires 4-5 years of training for one to qualify. This is because of the expertise required to deal with some of the issues. A coach, on the other hand, goes through an average of 3-9 months to qualify.

How Accountability Differs between Coaches vs Counselors

Anyone who feels so called to, can brand themselves as a coach and begin working with people to create change in their life. While there is no nationally governing body or authority that overseas coaches, there are certifying bodies that review coaching certification programs such as the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and Board Certified Coach (BCC). 

Counselors, on the other hand, have to be registered with their local or national governing bodies and a license obtained. The respective governing bodies ensure counselors maintain high standards and also monitors good practices to safeguard the public.

Evidence of Effectiveness of Coaches vs Counselors

There exists an overwhelming body of research and scientific evidence that proves the effectiveness of counseling. Empirical data confirms that psychotherapy works to solve a range of issues such as depression, stress, anxiety, relationship issues, and overall psychological wellbeing.

While still a relatively new discipline, coaching is now one of the fastest growing professions in the world, due to its impact in effecting change. There are also many documented reports in such areas such as performance coaching, life coaching, career development, and team building. 

Issues Handled by Coaches vs Counselors

Counseling primarily tackles underlying psychological issues. It is a psychological process that deals with issues such as stress management, career development, anxiety, depression, self-confidence, self-esteem, loss, trauma, abuse, trauma, work-related problems and even relationship issues.

Coaching on the other hand deals primarily with such issues as personal development, business development, performance issues, and even personalized executive coaching for career development. It also deals with groups of individuals like management teams, organizations, or sports teams.

Areas of Excellence For Coaches vs Counselors

A counselor will help their client build both their personal and psychological well-being. Since a counselor works at the core of the individual, they help their client overcome their perennial stumbling blocks to succeed. Counselors seek out and help to address deep-rooted fears and blocks that a coach is not trained to address.

A coach helps in crafting strategies, action plans and even exercises which the client can use to clarify their goals and the required steps to achieve them. By rallying their clients towards their goals, coaches are a great source of motivation and spur action through accountability.

Shortcomings of Coaches vs Counselors

A coach can get their clients pumped and raring to go, especially in the near term. However, coaches are generally not trained to handle deep-rooted blocks to success. Therefore, coaches often refer their clients to professional counselors whenever they detect underlying psychological issues that cannot be resolved through coaching.

Psychotherapy can be daunting and even frustrating to clients, especially when it over-emphasizes on old techniques that dwell on their past. A client may have gone through a harrowing or tragic experience and a psychotherapist would do well to help them look to new experiences. Clients will most likely be more receptive to newer, future-focused, and more interactive therapies.

Methodology and Frequency of Coaches vs Counselors

Counseling generally employs a face to face mode of practice, usually once a week, or every two weeks. Depending on the need, clients can also schedule ad hoc sessions. Some counselors also give online sessions, over Skype, phone, or even email.

Coaches don’t quite have standardized or recommended modes of practice. Coached tend to work on a more flexible schedule so that clients can easily incorporate coaching into their live. Clients typically organize for weekly sessions as well as ad hoc sessions via phone, Skype or face to face meetings. 

Rate of Change of Coaches vs Counselors

Coaching usually aims to facilitate rapid change and stir action. Even though some clients work with coaches for years, the issues tackled are often straightforward and most clients can achieve success within a short period of time. For complex issues, a coach usually refers their clients to a counselor to help them tackle deep-seated issues that bar them from success.

In psychotherapy, the rate of change often depends on the complexity of the issues and even the client’s desired level of change. While some issues can be resolved after 3-6 sessions, others may require 12-24 or months of psychotherapy to properly address.

While they both employ a collaborative style, the fundamental difference between these two professions lies in their overall approach. In coaching, the answers lie with the client and a coach merely assists in finding them out. When it comes to counseling, it is the counselor who has the answers and, working with the client, will diagnose problems and give treatment.

To Your Success,

Jairek Robbins

As a coach, you can make a real lasting impact in the lives of others. But do you know how to develop your clients’ personal and professional performance? Don’t worry, we got you covered! PCU gives you the exact framework, tools, and support you need to succeed. Tap into the emerging demand of performance coaching. Learn more about Performance Coach University: