How to Choose Between Coaching, Counselling, and Therapy


I've had a couple of questions about coaching vs. counselling and what I offer here (coaching), so I thought it would be useful to explain some of the differences between these services, and what you might expect from each. Neither coaching nor counselling nor therapy is 'better' than the other two services; they're different. They are all incredibly valuable experiences that have the potential to improve your quality of life on a huge scale.Online and IRL, you'll find a lot of misperceptions about what each service represents, as well as the differences between them. That's not even mentioning some of the stigmas associated with these services, which is a whole other topic in itself… Hopefully this post will clear up some of these so you can make the right choice based on your needs without being too surprised at the other end :)

Caveat: each label covers a wide range of services

You can find many different types of coaching and counselling, so the range of experiences available under either label is broad. When I was researching this post, I found several resources that referred to a counsellor as someone who provides solutions. Some schools of counselling might do this, but it was a total no-no when I was training. Equally, some coaches coach purely through question and reflection, while others employ techniques like tapping and NLP (which you can also find in certain types of therapies).I've covered the main differences here, so just be aware that you'll find services under either label that differ from the general descriptions below.

The differences between coaching and counselling

The basic skills used for coaching and counselling are the same (such as active listening, empathy, non-judgement). In a nutshell, the main difference between coaching and counselling lies in the context:Coaching = looking at the present in relation to the future Counselling = looking at the past in relation to the present (and future)1. The two "R"s: Counselling often deals with painful issues or experiences from the past, while coaching usually deals with challenging goals for the future. In other words, counselling is about relief, while coaching is about results.2. The content: In counselling, we talk about trauma, events, or behavioural patterns that are stopping us from showing up or functioning as we would ideally like in our day-to-day lives. In coaching, we talk about unlocking potential and possibility that takes us higher than our base level of functioning. Counsellors are trained to deal with the results of trauma, like depression, self-harm, and suicidality, while a coach wouldn't work with these issues.3. Duration and outcome:  Counselling usually lasts longer than coaching, and it might also take longer to see tangible results (not that the experience is any less valuable). With coaching, you'll be accountable to your coach each session, and part of your work will involve deciding on and committing to steps you are going to take within a set timeframe.4. Skills/techniques: Counselling and coaching skills and techniques vary within each field. Generally, coaches will ask more questions while counsellors will focus on reflection and reframing (again, this isn't always the case and depends on the model of counselling/coaching).

The most important factor in any coaching, counselling, or therapeutic relationship

The model of coaching or counselling and the training and experience of the coach or counsellor isn't as important as the relationship and rapport you have with the person offering the service.As a client, both coaching and counselling involve stretching ourselves, exploring unchartered territory, being vulnerable, being transparent, and being honest. If we don't have a good relationship with the person we're working with, those things ain't gonna' happen.

What about therapy?

Therapy and counselling are basically the same service. The main difference between them is the amount of training (psychotherapy training takes longer), and you might also find subtle differences in how counsellors and psychotherapists practice.Generally, psychotherapists might work with a broader range of clients than counsellors and offer more in-depth work. Even then, the importance of the relationship still stands as this will have the most impact on your experience.

Which should you choose?

Before you approach a potential coach, counsellor, or therapist, think about what you want to get out of the relationship and what your ideal outcome will be.If you want to heal, talk to a few counsellors and get a feel for what they can offer. If you want to complete a big project or goal, get some direction in life, make a big transition, or explore new possibilities, then try coaching. If you're not sure, talk to your coach/counsellor and start a dialogue about it.

What next?

Whatever service you do choose, I recommend contacting and meeting with a couple of people before deciding on one. That way, you can get a feel for how different people work and what kind of rapport you have.Coaching:While some coaches still offer face-to-face work, most conduct sessions through telephone or Skype. One of the best ways to find a coach (or counsellor) is to ask friends and family if they can recommend someone. An online search can also be useful; most coaches have websites, where you can get a better idea of their personality and the kind of work they do.I offer coaching, so feel free to get in touch if you'd like to find out more and have a (free) introductory chat.Counselling/therapy:If you're in the UK, I recommend checking out the BACP or UKCP websites for list of counsellors and therapists in your area. You can also ask your GP for a referral.In the USA, you have a couple of options:If you have health insurance, you can ask your insurance company for their directory of approved therapists (thanks to Marisa for sharing this tip on Facebook!). Ashley Wilhite, a licensed counselor and life coach at Your Super Awesome Life, suggested three online resources:The National Board of Certified CounselorsNetworked TherapyPsychology Today TherapistsShe also mentioned that, if you're currently attending school, you might be able to ask for a referral through your on-campus clinic (thanks Ashley!)

In summary...

  • The main difference between coaching and counselling is that coaching focuses on results in the future, while counselling/therapy focuses on healing the past.
  • There are many different types of counselling, therapy, and coaching, with some overlap in the skills/techniques used in each
  • Counselling and therapy are practically synonymous. The main differences are the duration of the training and the depth of the work.
  • Whatever service you choose, the factor that will most influence your personal development is the relationship you have with the coach, counsellor, or therapist.

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