Coaching Or Counselling? Making An Informed Choice

Psychotherapist and Coach MARTYN WATSON explains the crucial differences between a Coach and a Counsellor, and how you can choose the right person and the right approach to suit your situation.

Let’s first begin with the similarities. After all, the purpose of both Counselling and Coaching is to provide a supportive relationship that focuses on making life more fulfilling, and to contribute to a person’s overall wellness.

Both counsellors and coaches are trained in active listening, and both recognise that a client needs to feel heard and understood. In both disciplines, ongoing professional development, training and supervision are essential too. A final commonality is that both will seek to build rapport and a positive relationship with the client, where they can trust and feel safe to be open and honest during sessions. 

The Coach’s Lens

The lens the life coach uses when working with a client is one that looks at the client’s potential and desire for personal and professional growth. People often engage coaches because they have specific professional goals to which they aspire. The focus is on growth and on enhancing professional performance.

The coach and coachee will initially set up a coaching agreement with specific aims for the future. There is very little focus on the client’s past. The coaching approach is more about helping the client to find tools and strategies that move them towards achievable goals. The life coach operates more as a sounding board for the client. They will not tell clients what to do but will assist them, through probing questions and active listening, to uncover their blocks to growth, and then they will help them find their own creative solutions to these blocks.

It’s important to note that people who engage with coaching should have a good enough level of psychological resilience and sufficient motivation to make the necessary changes in order to achieve their goals. An important aspect of coaching is exploring and understanding obstacles to change and putting plans in place that enable change. Individuals within the humanitarian/mission work who typically can make good use of coaching are individuals who are:

  • Wanting to know how to better thrive physically, emotionally and spiritually
  • Are restless and wondering if it’s time to make a career move 
  • In the process of a major career or life transition 
  • Seeking to put measures in place to avoid burnout 
  • Hoping to make improvements in personal and professional relationships
  • Exploring how best to fulfill their potential so that their work is more in alignment with who they are as a person 
  • Looking for support and validation from someone outside themselves and their organisation in order to help them achieve their goals

Typically coaching does not address deeper psychological issues and this is where counselling can be more beneficial. 

People who engage with coaching should have a good enough level of psychological resilience and sufficient motivation to make the necessary changes to achieve their goals

The Counsellor’s Lens

The perspective that a therapeutic counsellor uses is based on the recognition that something is out of balance, which is causing unhappiness and psychological distress. One of the major differences between counselling and life coaching is that counselling pays significant attention to the past, and how past experiences intrude upon the present in ways that are life-limiting and distressing.

These are often deep-rooted obstacles, and the counsellor is trained to help the client integrate the pain of past experiences, either from childhood or adulthood, into the present so that they can function better. Counsellors are trained to recognise and treat mental or psychosocial illness through ‘talk therapy’, and do so from a particular school of thought (i.e. psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioural therapy, person-centred, etc…)

Individuals can use counselling when they are feeling stressed (e.g. relationship difficulties, workplace stress); experiencing a low mood or depression; exhibiting high levels of anxiety; feeling overwhelmed; experiencing an addiction (e.g. alcohol, drugs, or sex); or suffering a bereavement.

Within the field of humanitarian and mission work, counselling can be helpful with regard to symptoms relating to trauma particularly if an individual is exposed to cumulative trauma in their working environment. This includes working alongside vulnerable groups and individuals. Typically, counsellors are trained to deal with a range of mental health issues such as depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders, etc.

Choose an approach that suits your growth and development

Recognising these differences between counselling and life coaching, it is also important to know that each approach has its limit. For example coaches who have had formal training should not work with individuals with deep rooted psychological issues. And counsellors who work with trauma should have received specific training to respond appropriately to client’s mental health issues. If there are no serious presenting mental health issues, a coach may be a more appropriate choice. When looking for assistance, the key is to find the right person and the right approach that best suits your growth and development needs.

If you’d like to explore Counselling with us then click here, and for Coaching click here.

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