Thursday, October 11, 2018

Coaching and Counseling: What’s the Difference?


Since many people are still not familiar with the coaching process, I usually begin the first session with a client giving a quick overview including the fact that the process is client-centered, conversations are confidential, and coaching is not counseling.  Therapy or counseling is very important and sometimes a person is not only being coaching around growth issues but he or she may also be seeing a counselor for deeper personal concerns.

The diagram from a coaching organization gives some clarity about the differences between coaching (or “life coaching”) and counseling (or “therapy”) as well as areas of commonality.

Here is what coaches do:

  • Coaches do not represent themselves as therapists.  Their work with the client is future oriented and does not deal with issues such as grief, anger, and loss.  
  • Coaches not only seek but need the client’s cooperation in order for the coaching relationship to be productive for the client. 
  • Coaches engage in active listening, not only listening TO the client, but listening FOR feelings, ideas, or possibilities that will aid the client in achieving the goals he or she has chosen.


On the other hand, therapists have these distinctives:

  • Therapists clearly represent themselves as trained and licensed professionals.  They are prepared to help the client address deep emotional issues.
  • Therapists have at least a Master’s degree and may have a Ph.D. or Doctor of Psychology degree. They have also gone through a lengthy credentialing process.
  • Therapists sometimes are required to treat patients even without their cooperation.  This may be due to a requirement or mandate from an outside party or organization.


The two professions hold these competencies in common:

  • Both need to build trust and rapport with their clients in order to be effective.
  • Both need good communications skills, asking good questions and listening carefully to the responses of the client.


Although a good coach does not have the level of training of a therapist, he or she is a professional and has sought out the training and practice to be effective and ethical.  If someone is seeking a coach, I recommend they ask about training, certification, and experience.  Don’t settle for less than the best!

Coaches recognize their limits and refer clients to therapists as needed.  Increasingly, many counselors see the value in coaching, making referrals to certified coaches.  Some therapists are even adding coach training to their portfolios and adding this as a separate practice.

In the best-case scenario, counselors and coaches can come to see themselves as partners in helping people.  Each has a positive role in people development.















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