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What is the Difference between Coaching & Counselling?

Written By: Anna Presso on April 3, 2009 No Comment

Motto: Change your mind!

Both counseling and coaching, when properly done, will provide you with value and results. However, these two have different purposes and different methods and are dissimilar regarding at least the following aspects:

1. Motivation: coaching clients choose to work with a coach because they want to, not because they need to; the client who goes to see a counselor is usually trying to fix a problem (a disorder or even an addiction, maybe both or more of them) – the main reason is that this deficit is impairing to a certain degree his/her normal functioning as an individual and as a social being by not being able to meet a required standard of conduct; on the other side, someone would go to coaching not necessarily for a cure, for a remedy, but for the need for improvement or excellence in one particular area or in their life as a whole;

2. Main driver: (or the need to be addressed) is a brake-fix in counselling and a performance-tuning or performance-upgrading in coaching;

3. Qualifications: if a therapist is required to have obtained MS or PhD in Psychology, similar requirements for coaches do not exist, though a strong set of specific skills are mandatory; a university in Sidney, Australia is already developing a Coaching Psychology program so probably in the future training programs for coaching will increasingly be developed in academe and will be granted diplomas upon completion;

4. Power and status in the relationship: unlike the counsellor (who is supposed to “fix” the client, therefore somehow superior) the coach is not an expert or a guru of some sort, but a guide, unjudging and equal, but nevertheless helpful and resourcefull; a coach is needed to posess a set of skills (and tools) which he/she uses to assist people to set clear and specific goals that they want to reach in the future, to support them to achieve their goals and to take control of their professional, physical, emotional and financial destiny;

5. The spread in time: whereas most often counselling is needs based and frequently occasional, coaching involves ongoing development and long-term commitment;

6. The agenda: in therapy the client will follow the steps he would be required to as part of a specific program chosen or designed by the counsellor, while in coaching the client sets the agenda;

7. The state of mind: because of the different motivations for stepping into a counsellor’s office or meeting a coach, the mind-set in which one would approach the session from the very beginning would be quite different: the client will try to find some comfort, peace and even a more relaxed state on “the counsellor’s coach”, but he will drum up a lot of energy when being coached, the main idea being that once you have an unambiguous goal, you need to get-up-and-go and the whole mindset will be so much more action-oriented.

8. The method: even in behavior modification therapy or in non-directive counselling, which have lots of common ground with coaching, there is still enough to differentiate them by: unlike the counselling, in coaching the focus is always on the step forward and taking action, not as much on insight, on self-knowledge in terms of reflection and getting to understand the reasons behind or the roots of the client’s weaknesses or problems; the first would try to offer you a better understanding, an explanation of the reasons why you didn’t get the results you wanted, the later would rather focus on how to get them, on making a plan and following it through, with plenty of motivation and confidence-building to keep you going and getting what you planed for.

9. The timeframe: coaching is unlike therapy in that it does not focus on examining nor diagnosing the past, instead focusing on encouraging change in a client’s current and future behavior;

10. The feed-back: – in counselling you will be frequently advised, the coach will not advise you nor tell you what to do but rather help you discover your own goals;

11. The transition process: counselling implies the transition from a non-functional state to a functional one, while in coaching you would make the transition from a functional state to an optimum or excellent one;

12. The solution: the counselor suggests or even provides you a solution and a path to follow; the coach will assist you in drawing the path towards the most desirable outcome for you; in coaching the clients may be seeking solutions, but more often they seek to enhance their performance (or reach excellence);

13. The results: while is not uncommon to see results very soon after starting the sessions with a counsellor, it usually takes a quite long period of time before the healing process really starts producing visible effects; in coaching tough, because the approach is so action-oriented, the coachee will start giving up excuses, making changes and taking real steps forward very soon in the beginning, even right after the first couple of sessions;

14. Ownership of the results: when the outcome is not the expected one (or quite the opposite happens), there is quite often a feeling of guilt that a counsellor has to deal with, and sometimes (in extreme cases, like in suicide or other tragic outcomes) that feeling can be very hard to manage and it can take a long period of time to come to terms with it, without letting it impair you personally and more likely, your professional life; there is for sure responsibility in coaching, but the client owns the results, good or not so much, since the client is in charge with following through according to the plan and the client is in control of his own life;

15. Joy and excitement: one will very rarely get out of a couselling session shouting “I can rule the world! I know how to do it and I know I can do it”; undoubtedly, one can experience very positive feelings, like being understood, feeling some relief and being at peace with various things that happened in the past or with oneself, as a whole being; but because the main focus in coaching is clearing your goals and designing your path to them and also because of the ongoing motivation and confidence building, people many times feel so empowered, stimulated and clear minded that they do experience a very pure joy and enthusiasm.

16. The benefits: the counsellor would be the nurse who would bandage your wounds, the coach would be more like a midwife to your potential; a counselor will provide you with some sort of remedy, while a coach will emphasize empowerment, your strength, abilities, self-confidence and growth.

It’s obvious that coaching and counselling are different in numerous ways, but maybe the most important aspect in general is that counselling is more reactive, while coaching is more active, even proactive, since is not only aiming to address problems but also to recognize them and to even prevent them from happening.

Those two improvement processes are both so valuable and they do offer you excellent results when addressing the corresponding needs, since in peoples’ lifelong journey, at different times they need different support.

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