The Difference between Life Coaching and Counselling

It is a human practice to group things alike together in order to understand them, that can lead to confusion. In my opinion there is confusion when it comes to the difference between coaching and counselling. So, some definitions… Counselling is defined in the dictionary as “ the provision of assistance and guidance in resolving personal, social, or psychological problems and difficulties, esp. by a professional”. And the International Coaching Foundation defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential”. Maybe you’ve already noticed a difference in the definitions? Counselling needs to locate the problem, while coaching is more interested in increasing the potential.

Similarities and Differences.

The coach deals with people, as does the counsellor. The coach accesses the situation, as does the counsellor. But when the coach asks the client what he wants to happen in the future, or indeed the counsellor asks his client to go into detail about his past, that’s when the two start to diverge. By involving the client in his future goals, or indeed talking about the future at all, the coach steers well away from the counselling model. Coaching begins with how things are right now and helps clients to set very clear, and specific goals for their future. In my opinion this is the main difference between the two. Coaching looks at the present situation and plans for the future while counselling is interested in explaining the present situation and does so by looking at the past.

When you go along to a counsellor one of the questions he will generally ask is “How do you feel about that?” Although innocuous enough, a simple question like this directs the client in a particular way – towards feelings. The coach knows that however the client feels has little to do with where they want to be or what they want to be doing. There is every chance they may be feeling miserable, but very little chance they want to remain in that state, but just asking that question can drop the client into a miserable state. The coach will be doing everything possible to guide their client towards what the client wants and away from what they don’t want. On the other hand the counsellor needs the client to access their feelings, in order to assess the past and explain the present.

Client Relationship

The coach and client relationship is a partnership with equal power. Although the coach is guiding the client, the direction for the guidance comes from the client. And although the coach will be holding the client responsible for the actual steps they must take, the client has already agreed to take these steps and is in full agreement with their worth. On the other hand the counsellor is the expert and the client is waiting to be told what is wrong. Counsellors spend years training to become experts in their area. This is what is required by their profession. On the other hand coaches don’t need to be experts in therapy, they are not trained to diagnose and they do not focus on healing emotional problems.

Time Frame.

A counselling relationship can go on for years. Whereas the coaching relationship is generally no longer than ten sessions and although the client and coach may go on to meet irregularly after that, the main change work has been accomplished in the initial sessions. The coach wants his clients to be able to coach themselves as quickly as possible, so that the coach’s service is no longer necessary. Having a coach with this intention, to complete the coaching and have you armed with tools, encourages success. Coaching sessions are also more enjoyable for the client as they sense the future they want is attainable and they will have the ability and the tools to deal with it. The client comes to believe that the future they want is possible by working to uncover potential and possibility right now. The coach looks at what is working for his client. When someone helps you look at what is working in your life this inevitably gives you confidence and empowers you. With an attitude of confidence and empowerment the world looks brighter and it is easier to see possibilities.

What do you want?

The client who chooses to work with a coach, wants something. He wants to be different in work, in relationship, in his family situation or whatever. The client who goes to a counsellor needs something. He needs things to be different. It may be related to exactly the same areas, work, relationship, etc., but the difference is his attitude towards the area.

From his method of questioning to his directing the client towards feelings, the counsellor is always searching for an explanation. The coach on the other hand has no interest in explaining the problem, his interest is in inspiring solution. The coach’s work therefore is more to do with discovering things about the client that would inspire, things that are already working for the client and could be put to work in creating the future they want. In the discovery of things to inspire and things that are working there is an added bonus of confidence and empowerment for the client. This is the difference between counselling and coaching.

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