Counselling and coaching – what’s the difference?

In Coaching, Counselling and Personal Development, Mind and Movement by Rebecca RichLeave a Comment

While there is a lot of cross-over, coaching and counselling are two different modalities with unique approaches. So what’s the difference, and how can we decide which is right for us?


Seeing a counsellor is something many of us are still not comfortable broadcasting, as it insinuates that we are somehow not capable of dealing with life by ourselves or are weak, deficient, or dependent. Hopefully this will continue to change, as we envision and encourage our community, through our personal example, to be a place where our vulnerability and humanness are openly revealed and embraced, and where it is okay to seek guidance.

One fundamental difference that we can see in the definitions of counselling and coaching is the qualification required to call oneself a counsellor. More rigorous study and ongoing education and supervision are required in order to be a member of counselling associations, and the discipline of psychology takes this even one step further. Coaching, on the other hand, is unregulated, which means there are no legal limits on who can call him or herself a coach or how they provide their services.

Also, while counselling is offered for the full gamut of life situations and issues, coaching is largely applied in more specific niches such as business, relationship, or study. But the reach of coaching is expanding and percolating into other modalities, including counselling and psychology. Why is this the case?

Client-centred and outcome-focussed approaches

Coaching starts from a very client-centred premise that each one of us is the expert in our own life and it is up to us to determine what is important and what goals we want to achieve. Goals are personal and subjective and can span from changing careers to being more compassionate. They are a guiding star, the apple high up on the branch that promises juice, crunch, and flavour in the tasting. Goals can be useful, but are not synonymous with coaching.

A purely goal-focused therapy, on the other hand can be limiting to personal growth and self-realisation, and should be one dimensional, rather than the be-all-and-end-all of therapy.

Gone are the days when most of us would rely blindly on another person’s advice around matters of medical, psychological, emotional, or spiritual well-being. It is the collaborative aspect of coaching that appeals to many and is also central to its potential for success. It requires ongoing commitment, just as counselling does, but arguably it requires more engagement from the client. If we are equal partners in our therapy and in our development and self-realisation, then our chances of ‘success’ – no matter how we define that – are much higher. There is more clarity, transparency, and accountability. As it is focussed on positive outcomes, the energy of sessions is higher, more pumped and more future-orientated, which means there is less room for the past. This is not for everyone.

A coaching, results-based framework doesn’t mean we’re always talking about or focussing on goals. There is fluidity for what arises in the moment. Yet it is important to work with a framework – no matter how we operate within it – even if sometimes in the short-term what we have is an intention towards an outcome, rather than the outcome itself.

We are all so individual in our likes and dislikes, in what we are drawn to and what we are repelled by. And that is why there is room for, and a need for all modalities and approaches – including both counselling and coaching.

[author title=”About the author”] [share title="Share this post" facebook="true" twitter="true" google_plus="true" linkedin="true" email="true"]

Leave a Comment