What’s the difference between
Counseling & Coaching?
How do I know which one I need?
Counseling and coaching utilize similar skills on the part of the professional but also have some key differences. Let’s break that down.
Counselors and coaches both listen intently to their clients and ask questions that hopefully move them to new insights about their situation and courses of action. Both types of practitioner should be highly empathetic – interested in understanding what is going on in a completely nonjudgmental way.
Counselors (otherwise known as therapists, or mental health professionals) are qualified to “diagnose” someone who has depression or anxiety, just like your doctor would, and to “treat” that condition. Coaches are not.
Coaches are focused on the “here & now” and the future because that’s where everything happens. Many counselors (especially of the Solution-focused school) spend more time on the present and future than the past, too. Both kinds of professionals can help you identify patterns of behavior that you are dissatisfied with and make changes. Counselors are trained to recognize particular types of defenses people use. Coaches identify habits, or fairly automatic ways of responding, and help clients get more intentional. Sometimes, defenses and habits are the same thing and sometimes they are not.
With both coaching and counseling, the professional should follow the client’s pace and agenda. Both kinds of practitioner will hold you accountable; this means both calling you on your B.S. and keeping you on track to reach goals that you set. Either helper can help you figure out “what I really want.”
What about training and credentials?
Counselors have a minimum of a masters degree in psychology, social work, or counseling. They must have a license to practice and often seek additional credentialing in marriage & family counseling, substance abuse work, or other specialties.
Coaches are not required by law to have specific training, but the International Coaching Federation offers credentialing. Some coaches come from business backgrounds and some from mental health. Ask your potential coach about how they came to coaching … make sure the education and experience is a match for your needs.