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Counselling vs Coaching - What's the difference?

Counsellor, coach, mentor, spiritual healer, astrologist, the list of support options is endless, and it can be difficult to choose what’s right for you, because often it's difficult to know the difference between them.

Today, I am going to talk you through the difference between counselling and coaching (because I do both) to help you understand which of the two may be suitable for you.

Firstly, I think it's important to note that there are different types of counsellors (something I will cover in a future blog) and coaches, and for the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on the difference between the counselling profession as an integrative practitioner (one that uses tools from a variety of different theoretical practices) and life coaching.

So what’s the difference?

Simply put, a life coach is someone who sees the person you are today and helps you work towards the goals that will help you become the person you want to be in the future. A counsellor is someone who sees the person you are today, alongside every different person you have been in the past, and works with you to heal the past pain inside of you that impinges on your current day life.

It can be really easy to get the two mixed up if you are not in the professional field, so to put it even simpler, counsellors look back to go forward, whereas coaches start where you are and move you forward.

Coaching focuses on taking action and doing, whereas counselling focuses on internal healing and coping.

A coach's focus is to help you identify what you think, and subsequently how you can leverage your mind to create actionable outcomes, whereas a counsellor's focus is to help you identify how you feel, deepening your connection with yourself to increase your self-awareness, self-love, and self-acceptance.

Coaching is goal-oriented in the sense of achievement. Counselling can also be goal-oriented (depending on the theoretical underpinning), but is more about the relational and emotional issues in your life.

A tool I love to use with my coaching clients is the wheel of life. I am going to insert it here to help illustrate the difference between counselling and coaching

Generally speaking, the things in the orange droplets are things that you work through during counselling, and the things in the blue droplets are things you work through in coaching. Now, notice I said generally speaking, and there are some areas (physical environment, fun and recreation, health and fitness, and personal growth) where there are two droplets. These are areas where there is likely to be overlap or a need for both a therapist and a coach.

For example, if you are someone who wants to work on developing new hobbies (fun and recreation), you would probably do well doing this with a coach. If you wanted to work through the social anxiety experienced while doing recreational activities, you would probably be best doing this with a counsellor.

Physical environment is another one where there is overlap. If you want to work towards decluttering your house or moving, then this is something you could work through nicely with a coach. If you want to work on your emotional attachment to your belongings because you find yourself hoarding, or if you are in an abusive or dangerous home environment, this is something best worked through with a counsellor and one who has experience in working with these issues, to be precise.

Generally speaking, counselling is the place you go to work through emotional and relational issues. Whereas coaching is the place you go to work through practical conundrums, for accountability, and other goal-oriented issues.

There is also a difference in the training. With the emergence of online learning, anyone and their mother can become a coach. Coaching is an unregulated profession in the UK, which means there is no governing body overseeing coaching courses and coaches to ensure best practice. Counselling, on the other hand, has two main governing bodies in the UK, the BACP and UKCP. There are others, but these two are the main ones you will hear about for general counselling.

Because coaching is unregulated, it means that anyone can go online, do a quick course, answer some multiple-choice questions, and call themselves a coach. I have seen so many adverts on Instagram recently that say things like “become a certified coach for £7”. And while I am not knocking these, I have done some for my own continuing professional development. I am concerned about the ease with which people can become a “certified coach”. Especially, if they don’t have any intensive core training that teaches them ethical safety, how to hold and contain a client, boundaries and more as an underpinning.

Generally speaking, counsellors have to go through a number of years of training. I myself did 6 years at university, doing my undergraduate degree in psychology with counselling, and then my masters in therapeutic counselling. I then went on to do two postgraduate diplomas, one in child and adolescent counselling and another in trauma therapy. Not everyone who is a counsellor will have done a master's. Some will have done a diploma and proficiency test to obtain their qualification.

A bit of a minefield, right?

It can be.

But I hope your new insight helps you understand which out of the two might be right for you and when. If you are in doubt, you can always reply to this email and let me know. I will see what I can do to help you figure it out :)

As always, if you have any questions, you can send me a DM on Instagram or pop a comment below.

Until next time!

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