A frequently asked question for personal coaches is “what’s the difference between coaching and counselling?”
The answer really depends on which counsellor, which coach? There are many individual approaches and there are certainly skills common to both roles. But I think it is possible to make a general statement about how they differ.
Coaching is goal-oriented: it is focussed on helping you take action to make the best of your future life.
Counselling is problem-oriented: it is focussed on helping you to overcome things that threaten your well-being.
However, counselling often helps people set goals and coaching often helps people recognise and overcome problems. It is really a matter of depth and emphasis.
My job as a Clean (see ‘The Rough Guide to Clean’ For more about this) coach is to help you see. See what you want for yourself; what resources and attributes you possess; what patterns in your live are helping and which hindering; what options there are for change. Inevitably that will take us into areas that go beyond the surface, and that is where some long-standing hindrances may lie. We can work on those in coaching, but only up to a point.
When there are hindrances that are long-standing, intractable and/or threatening your wellbeing and progress, you need a counsellor.
Here’s an example.
I was coaching someone who was just struggling a bit, they felt glum about life, had lost their sense of humour and didn’t like who they’d become recently. Their goal was to regain joy in life and to like themself mores.
We started to explore what was helping and hindering progress towards the goals. As we did so the goals changed a bit, and some tangible actions emerged. And as action was taken, things started to improve.
But there was one hindrance that kept coming back. My client kept going back to when she was a teenager. How her father had died suddenly, and who ‘she had to become’ as the eldest in the family and support to her mother. It occupied her thoughts every day.
At this point I suggested she might want to have some counselling about that event, because it needed some specific skills and a clear focus on it for her to really overcome the feelings it left her with.
As a coach I could suggest ways of advancing to her goals, and we could recognise the significance of her father’s death in preventing the achievement of those goals. Using Clean, we went quite deep into the impact of the event, and what it meant for everything else.
But a counsellor has skills to specifically resolve this kind of deep-seated problem experience and would spend considerable time doing so. Counselling, in this case, could help coaching. And there are many situations where coaching can help counselling too.
The Romans had a god called Janus. Janus was the god with a single head and two faces. One face looked forward to what was possible, the other face looked backed at what had occurred. Both are important to that single head and moving from one face to another signifies personal transition, leaving the past, and looking to the future. That’s why January – named after Janus – is the first month of the year. The month when we celebrate what has gone before and set goals for what lies ahead.
I see this as being a bit like the distinction between counselling and coaching.
This is also good summary from Happiful magazine: “Do I Need a Counsellor or a Coach?”