I earned a Master’s degree in counseling and have done a fair amount of counseling over the years. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of personal coaching for leaders and for people wanting to make progress in their lives or get somewhere they aren’t currently. Before now, I haven’t really thought much about the difference and why I seem to enjoy coaching more than counseling. I will attempt to share my personal, unscientific explanation as I see it.
First, let me establish that I actually think there is a place for BOTH counseling and coaching. I’ve also noticed what some call counseling is actually coaching and vice versa. I’m not sure there really is value in changing a designation if indeed it’s helpful for what the person needs. At the end of the day, it’s the person and helping them become who they were made to be, unhindered, that is the goal of all this kind of work. So the distinctions I’ll create here are maybe more for nerds like me. However, I am sharing them to also help define for the reader if indeed us working together in a coaching relationship is the right move for you.
In counseling, the goal is the present. There is some level of pain, discomfort or challenge that is causing struggle or in some cases paralyzing the person. As a counselor, my goal here is to create understanding, to help healing to happen and hopefully to provide both temporary relief and comfort as well as long term. Often in counseling we will spend more time on digging deeper, uncovering heart issues and often lead to tranforming the individual. The path in counseling is often on-going, long term and slower.
In coaching, the goal is the future. The coach and the person want to see change, transformation and new actions or skills. As a coach I’m interested in the past, the pain and even mental stressors like anxiety however it’s always in the context of how those things are an obstacle or hindrance to the person’s vision or goals for life. The coach is focused on helping you overcome the obstacles (and will dig deep if necessary to root them out) and to see a new vision of who you want to be (and are made to be) become your reality.
The truth is, coaching can be ineffective if there are unexplored, deep seated issues. So coaching is very effective for people who have done some counseling, have some level of self awareness and are ready for a change. They have a vision for who they could be and want help in getting there.
Coaching can also be effective for people who are reluctant, adverse to or intimidated by counseling. A good coach will meet the person where they are, build trust and begin working together. If counseling is needed, it will become apparent (to both people) in the coaching relationship and can often become a recommendation out of coaching. The coach can also provide direction to the right counselor who specializes in the specific needs that are uncovered in coaching. Because the coach has a trusted relationship with the person, people will be more open to the counseling because of this.
I’ve experienced both counseling and coaching and have found great benefit in both. I have also offered counseling and coaching and have greatly enjoyed both privileges. I definitely lean towards coaching because of my bent as a person. I am action-oriented and vision focused person. I love seeing a person get free, grow significantly or be transformed. I’ve also recently started doing some marriage coaching which is more focused on helping the couple realize their dream or vision for their relationship. As I mentioned in the above paragraph, I’ve found men in particular who were opposed to “marriage counseling” embrace “marriage coaching” because it was less intimidating and change-oriented.
The reality is while most of us are adverse to change on the surface, deep down we long for it. Not change for change’s sake, but something currently is hindering us or causing pain/frustration. Change can happen and you and I can have the lives, the marriages, the relationships that God made us for and that we long for, deep down! And the reality is that we often can’t get there on our own. A good coach can walk with us, motivate us, keep us accountable, and teach us the skills to see a new reality.
Curious? Let’s chat and see if coaching might be the right step for you?