I asked a friend of mine recently, who happens to be a successful life coach, what she sees as the differences between coaching and counseling. Admittedly over-simplifying, she responded: Coaching is future-focused, while counseling is past-focused.I would say it more like this: Counseling starts in the present and digs deeply into the past when necessary to uncover trauma, pain, or patterns not serving a client well. Coaching starts in the present and helps a client name goals and processes for better functioning, often in the professional arena of his/her life.
That being said, there is much overlap between coaching and counseling. As a Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, my desire is not only to uncover past pain, trauma, or roots of dysfunction, but also to discover personal strengths and identify desires for the future, which can lead to goal-setting. A life coach does not only help a person become better in his/her profession but also within personal relationships and in self-care.
In my work with clients, there seems to be a natural wind down to a season of counseling when a client decides to shift from weekly sessions to every other week, then to once a month.
At this point, there have been a couple of times that I have referred to a life coach to help move the client from his/her points of discovery into further defining goals and formulating a plan that will use the client’s skills.
The life coach can offer accountability and a new structure for encouragement and support. That said, I do not always refer to a life coach. Counseling also involves goal-setting and discovering new skills and strengths.
Through reading this article thus far, I am sure you have noticed that the distinctions between coaching and counseling are not perfectly clear. Future-focused vs. past-focused.
Counseling is uncovering and recovering, and coaching is discovering. Counseling deals with dysfunction while coaching deals with function.
These attempts to define the difference between counseling and coaching fall short, because both involve discovery. Counseling deals with wellness and self-actualization, and not just dysfunction. Both coaching and counseling will have future implications.
Michael Walsh, president of the Counseling Association for Humanistic Education and Development, a division of ACA, says the boundaries may not be that clear:
“Like many things in life, rarely are things so simple. Clearly, there are counselors who focus on prevention, maximizing emotional health and achieving peak performance,” he says. “The difference is that counselors also have the additional training to help clients when things are not going so well.”
“I think that both coaching and counseling can be an incredibly beneficial process for folks,” Walsh continues. “The key here is the training of the counselor or coach and the personal fit between the client and the counselor or coach.
I would encourage folks to first be sure that any professional has the requisite training and credentials in order to ensure the quality of the services provided. This is especially important in fields in which there is limited regulation and oversight, such as coaching.
Then, I would encourage folks to look for a good personal fit with the style, approach and training of the provider. We know, based on the literature in both peak performance work and in counseling, that personal connections often foster the greatest motivation toward success.”
If you are unsure whether to pursue counseling or coaching at this time in your life, know that Seattle Christian Counseling offers an initial risk-free session. We can help you determine your needs and will offer referrals whenever necessary. Please consider calling us today.
“Thinking,” courtesy of Klearchos Kapoutsis, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Relaxing,” courtesy of Lee Haywood, Flickr Creative Commons, CC0 License; “Lunch meeting,” courtesy of LinkedIn Sales Navigator, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Consultation,” courtesy of Nik Macmillan, unsplash.com, CC0 License
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