There has been an ongoing conversation about the differences between coaching and counseling.  Over the years, I have found that many of my clients prefer life coaching services versus therapy due to the negative stereotypes associated with therapeutic services.  I have lost count of how many times I have heard “counseling is for crazy people” and that is simply not the case!  For this very reason, I think it is important we as a society continue the conversations about mental health services but also understand the key differences between counseling and coaching.

Counseling serves as a safe place for clients to explore past traumas and identify how past traumatic experiences have shaped their personality today.  Therapy is a place where clients have the freedom to let out their deepest, darkest secrets without having to deal with the ridicule or judgement society may place on them.  To put it simply, it is the place you talk about the things you feel others just will not understand and know they will get the professional help to initiate the healing process and move forward with their lives.  The primary goal in counseling is to transition from past to present.   In contrast, Life Coaching encourages clients to work from present to future by establishing specific personal and/or professional goals.  The Professional Coach then serves as an accountability partner, supporter, resource and listener, which allows clients the creative space to explore options to achieve their personal and/or professional goals.

In recent years, counseling professionals have opted to add coaching as an additional service  for their clients.  By adding coaching services to their repertoire, Counselors are able to offer hybrid models – where they are able to take the time to understand their clients past history and work through those challenges.  But then utilize coaching techniques to support their clients’ specific goals and collaborate to create plans of action.

3 Key Differences

  1. Education: Counselors/Therapists have a minimum of a Masters degree in the Counseling field.  During the graduate program, Counselors/Therapists are required to complete an internship where they have the opportunity to practice their counseling skills and psychological theories to support their clients while under supervision.  Upon graduating from a Masters program, Counselors/Therapists are then able to work full time as a Counselor/Therapist.  However, they are still required to spend several years under direct supervision before getting fully licensed.  On the contrary, Coaches (life coaches, executive coaches, relationship coaches, etc.) are not required to have any training or certification.  Therefore, you may see some Coaches who have Certifications and some may not.  In essence, anyone can refer to themselves as a “Life Coach”.  Therefore, it is imperative that as you seek a Life Coach you inquire about their training and/or professional experience to ensure it is someone you feel can truly support your goal
  2. The Approach: Counselors/Therapists operate under strict ethical guidelines and are typically trained not to give clients advice but to assist clients with finding their own answers.  This approach is often referred to “talk therapy”, where clients spend most of their sessions talking about their past and the feelings associated with those feelings.  However, some Counselors/Therapists use other proven therapeutic methods, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, that is more goal oriented.  Every Counselor/Therapist uses a different approach so it is important to find what works best for you.  Meanwhile, a Coach will feel more like an active participant when addressing challenges.  For instance, a Coach will offer recommendations, advice, and may even share personal experiences with you to help give you a different perspective.  Coaches will also collaborate with you to create a very direct plan of action and will hold you accountable to that plan in efforts to assist you with achieving your goals.
  3. One major difference between Counselors and Coaches is the ability for Counselors to diagnose clients with mental health disorders. Due their educational background, Counselors are trained to recognize the signs and characteristics of mental health disorders and create therapeutic plans to support their clients.  Counselors do not have the ability to prescribe medications but they can refer to a Psychiatrist for medications as needed.  Coaches are unable to diagnose mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc.  In the event a Coach has a client that displays mental health symptoms, they are required to refer the client to the appropriate mental health provider.  Therefore, it is imperative for people to understand Coaching is not a substitution for therapy.  If you need help, please get help from the appropriate professional.

The key thing to remember is that both Coaches and Counselors help clients work towards positive growth, however the approach is different due to the training.  It is also important to note – that not all Coaches have the adequate training and certification to provide coaching, so please make it a point to ask your Coach about their training process. Neither a Coach or Counselor are better than the other, the key is to find what works best for you!


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