There are so many questions to ask when we think about seeking help.
What kind of help do I need?
Who is the best person to help? What is the most effective method?
Do I need advice & information, counselling or therapy, a mentor, a life coach, business coaching, a self-help book or something else entirely? Like just a few more friends? (yes, really).
With so much psychological support available to us now in a range of different forms, it can be anxiety evoking just thinking about how to make a decision!
It can be overwhelming to navigate your way through webpage after webpage of information, professional qualifications, psycho-babble and jargon, as you try to connect with someone you genuinely believe is adequately qualified, you can trust and will be able to take good care of your emotional wellbeing.
So, what are the differences between some of these different forms of help?
Reading These Five Areas Can Help You Decide
Speaking as both a qualified and experienced therapist (Integrative Counsellor, and Transformational Coach) I’ll start by sharing the similarities and differences between these two forms of help; which are popular and effective when seeking support and a desire to make changes in your life; coaching and counselling (or therapy, as it’s also referred to).
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
Coaches work with you to help you define and set clear goals and intentions for the change you’d like to see in your life, before supporting you to achieve those goals. They do this by helping you to maintain a positive mindset and to overcome – or transform – beliefs you have which may be limiting you as you begin to make changes in your life.
Coaching sessions can be anything from forty-five minutes up to two hours long (or longer if a specific arrangement has been made for a half-day session, for example to work on a key area, in-depth). A typical session is an hour.
The coach and you, as client, will decide on the number of sessions at the start of the relationship, however this can be extended or even reduced, depending on a client’s progress as the relationship continues.
It is advisable to seek out coaches who have gained formal qualifications from professional, accredited training and are either accredited coaches or are working towards an accreditation with a governing body.
These coaches have good awareness of – and a commitment to – working within sound, ethical practices. This is one example of a Code of Ethics for Coaches here.
However, coaches who have extensive experience or expertise in an area of support you seek may also be a good fit for you whether or not they have undertaken any formal training. Just be sure you’re comfortable with their working practices and professionalism before making a commitment to work together.
Counsellors (or therapists and/or psychotherapists as they are sometimes interchangeably called) have usually undertaken a deeper and longer period of training in psychological theories, as well as having experienced their own therapy (often for a number of years, but not always – sometimes short-term therapy only).
They also have a broader knowledge and insight into mental health, mental illness and the safeguarding of clients.
Again, not always, but often.
And therapists (in the UK at least) should also adhere to working within an Ethical Framework. Another example is here.
So, What Are the Differences Between Counselling, Therapy and Coaching?
It’s probably important to highlight that there are more similarities than differences between counselling/therapy and coaching!
They are both Talking Therapies.
They both support clients to make positive changes in their lives.
They both base their help on theoretical, psychological models which support behaviour change and encourage positive mental health.
Both operate in confidential and non-judgemental settings from a position of unconditional positive regard.
Both counsellors and coaches use active listening skills, build trusting relationships to work alongside their clients using empathy and careful questioning to help clients become more self-aware and psychologically healthy.
Neither coaches or counsellors give advice to their clients. They help them to find their own solutions using the inner-resources available to them.
They both value and observe relationship dynamics, which help clients transform their perceptions and live happier and more fulfilling lives. It is probably fair to say that counsellors and therapists often work more deeply with relationship dynamics than coaches, but again, not always.
Counsellors and coaches should both be covered by insurance to work with clients and also engage in professional Supervision to support their work. Sessions can be held face-to-face, online or via telephone.
Supervision is a regular, professional relationship the coach (or therapist) has with another coach (or therapist) who provides support for them to a) develop and maintain their own professional practice and b) discuss any client challenges which may arise for them during their everyday practice.
Your personal, identifying information should never be disclosed to a Supervisor. The purpose of Supervision is to ensure adequate, professional support is provided to the coach/therapist practitioner and to maintain the integrity of the coaching and/or counselling profession and ultimately, the care of you – the client.
It’s a good idea to ask whether a coach or therapist is engaging in regular supervision when you are seeking support.
So, The Differences Are…?
There are probably two key differences between coaching and counselling or therapy.
The first is that coaching is likely to take place for a much shorter period of time (again, in the majority of cases, but not always) and sessions are usually held more infrequently. For example, bi-weekly or monthly is common, but it could be every couple of months (with agreed actions being taken by clients in between and perhaps regular email contact).
Counselling and/or therapy sessions are usually held weekly in either an open-ended agreement or for a fixed number of sessions, which is discussed between therapist and client at the start of their working relationship – and clients are usually supported without email contact in between. Sessions can be held face-to-face, online or via telephone.
Secondly, the majority of counselling and therapy models (but not all e.g. CBT) encourage – and place a high value on – clients sharing details from their past, including trauma, abuse, dysfunctional family dynamics and the like. Coaching primarily focuses on the present and future, without overly involving clients in any past patterns or pain. Once again, mostly, but not always!
For example, since I am both a qualified therapist and a coach, I have the added benefit of being able to work with both! My coaching primarily focuses on the present and future (since I practice as a Coach) however, I also hold in mind any past patterns that emerge and can work deeply helping clients become aware of them and release them safely as they journey towards a better future.
Therapists are skilled at helping clients to understand past difficulties, process any associated feelings and emotions which may be present for them as they establish new and improved coping strategies towards a better future.
How to Decide…Counsellor or Coach?
If your mental health is generally good and you do not have a mental health diagnosis, a serious addiction and you’re not in crisis, but you still want to make changes in your life (even if you may not yet know exactly what) you could benefit from speaking with a coach.
Coaches can work with you to improve your relationships (with yourself as well as how you relate to others) your thinking patterns, your work-life or career, family challenges or specific dreams and to define achievable goals for any area of your life.
These coaches are known as Life Coaches, Career Coaches, Transformational Coaches or just Coaches!
If you do have a diagnosed mental illness, you’ve suffered a recent bereavement, are suddenly in crisis, experiencing a lot of psychological pain or unprocessed trauma, you’re depressed and unable to cope with life generally, you would be better supported by a therapist (psychotherapist, psychiatrist or counsellor). Visiting your doctor or a GP Practice locally (in the UK, at least) is a good, first step to obtain a diagnosis or general assessment of your mental health.
Unlike most coaches, it’s fair to say, that counsellors and therapists have highly likely undertaken a much more rigorous and in-depth training around dealing with an array of mental health issues such as self-harm, depression, anger, suicidal ideation and/or diagnosed clinical disorders.
Counsellors and therapists have also (more-often-than-not) undergone extensive therapy of their own – prior to, during and/or after – their training. Of course, that certainly doesn’t mean that coaches have not also experienced personal therapy, have their own lived experience of mental health challenges and/or invested in other CPD workshops and/or training to enhance their skills, knowledge and expertise in this area.
3. Advice & Information
Unlike counselling or coaching, as this title suggests, advice doesn’t require the need for psychological reflections, an ongoing relationship with an advisor or the process of asking you what you think or feel about the advice. Information or advice is usually factual and provided in response to specific questions about a subject matter and to gain further knowledge about that topic and does not involve any psychological interventions.
Coaching and counselling/therapy does not include giving advice.
Mentoring is a relationship where someone who is more experienced or more knowledgeable in a specific subject helps guide another person who is less experienced or less knowledgeable in that subject.
It is a process of imparting information in a specific subject or area of expertise. Coaches sometimes use mentoring interchangeably with coaching, however, it is helpful if they advise clients of this and gain their permission before doing so at the start of any coaching relationship.
5. Executive, Business Coaching & Consultancy
Executive Coaches are often qualified coaches who have decided to specialise in providing coaching to executives and senior leaders in the corporate environment (but not always!). An executive may also be defined as purely a corporate employee. So do check how the coach or defines ‘executive’.
Some executive coaches have also undertaken specialist, executive coach training and have worked as a senior leader in a previous career.
Business Coaches are either qualified or unqualified coaches with experience of working in either a corporate setting or helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to grow their business.
Business coaches often specialise in providing coaching which is primarily focused on business matters, however, since they support people, personal issues almost always arise too, during a business coaching relationship. They usually work with Entrepreneurs, Team Leaders and/or Executives in both B2B and corporate settings in the areas of business growth, business process improvement and/or business development.
Sometimes a Business Coach has not undertaken a formal coaching qualification, however, has extensive experience in the area of business development, business processes and business growth and so uses the title of Business Coach and/or Consultant. Once again, check how their skills and experience fits with what goals, intentions and changes you are wanting to achieve.
Many studies and research has highlighted that often, the single most important thing in any professional, helping capacity is the quality of the relationship.
So, if you’re just not ‘feeling-it’ with a coach, mentor, consultant or therapist, trust your instinct (regardless of the length of their qualification or credential list!)
Equally, if you do resonate with someone’s energy (even if your head is saying you shouldn’t) trust your instincts – alongside doing your due-diligence checks, of course! The chances are, your ‘gut’ or your heart energy is connecting positively and you could already be building a good rapport with that person.
And if you have any questions at all about getting started or making positive changes in your life, get in touch! I’ll be happy to help you take that first step forwards, even if you decide not to work with me personally.
Sarah is an experienced Transformational Coach, Counsellor, Reiki and NLP Practitioner based in the World Heritage City of Bath, Somerset, UK. She supports people locally throughout Somerset, Wiltshire and across the South West of England, working face-to-face (Covid-19 safely) as well as providing both telephone and online coaching to clients nationally and internationally.
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