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Counselling & Life Coaching

Coaching vs Counselling

In brief: Counselling is a regulated profession with a formal relationship, and has specific legal protection for confidentiality. IE: what a court can force a therapist to say. Counselling focuses on treatment for specific disorders and issues. Some counsellors can even diagnosis mental illness, although that is out of my scope of practice. Coaching is different in that we focus on your goals and any challenges in the way of those goals rather than focusing on your disorder or problem.

Coaching is peer-based, relaxed, informal relationship. Once in a counselling relationship we can’t change, vice versa. The tools and approach we use is very similar since I use coaching tools in my TEAM-CBT counselling. There maybe some tools not appropriate for coaching as well as certain circumstances such as dealing with an abusive situation, OCD treatments, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, or memory rescripting.

What is Counselling/Therapy?

Counselling deals with your current mental state but also works on personal growth, relationships, and positive life choices. The CPA states: "Counselling psychology is a broad specialization within professional psychology concerned with using psychological principles to enhance and promote the positive growth, well-being, and mental health of individuals, families, groups, and the broader community." Counsellor and therapist are often interchangeable terms in this field. While psychologist is a special designation for those who've undergone specific training. Psychologist's have a Masters or Doctorate and generally, but not exclusively, work with more difficult clients and mental health disorders such as severe phobias, schizophrenia, paranoia, and psychosis.

What is Life Coaching?

Coaching is a process of working through goals and challenges as defined by the client. Coaching is all about moving toward a specific goal working through challenges that may impede that process. At times some of the language sounds similar since we can feel anxious or depressed or be diagnosed with GAD/Panic disorder or depression. These, feelings vs mental illness, are very different. A life coach will NOT (or should not be) treating depression as a mental illness but many tools used in life coaching can ease feelings of depression in persons who are functioning well overall (IE: doing ok in school, holding down a job, etc.).

As a certified life coach, I use TEAM-CBT in my coaching practice. In one-on-one sessions we work together, creating solutions to life problems or goals in a peer-like relationship. Again, I'll repeat coaching is not meant to assess or treat specific mental illnesses/disorders or work through past events. There may be an opportunity for a life coach and doctor or therapist to work together. As in the case of some Addiction Recovery Coaches who work in conjunction with a mental health professional..

While life coaching is not the same as therapy, there can be an amazing healing take place when working on the present. Fractal theory states life has infinite patterns that are broken into small segments. Deal with one tiny part of the pattern and you can change the whole picture.

Similarities Between Counselling & Coaching

Both counselling and life coaching use many techniques that overlap. Some counsellors work more like coaches, while others use more traditional forms of therapy. Interestingly, how a session looks will vary from life coach to life coach, but it varies even more from therapists to therapist. Both are supportive roles intended to help a client find clarity and move forward. Since I do work online and am solution focused my life coaching and counselling approaches, in terms of the methods I use and the issues I work with, are almost indistinguishable. This is NOT the case for every counsellor and coach, it is unique to my training and circumstances.

Both coaching and counselling work with a client:

  • on personal growth
  • dealing with life challenges
  • building better relationships
  • dealing with current painful emotions
  • moving past trauma and through grief
  • work through road blocks to success

Differences Between Counselling & Life Coaching

When you search the internet for the difference between coaching and counselling you'll often see it stated, usually by coaches, that counselling focuses on the past and coaching on the future, and other arbitrary lists of differences. But counselling is also about moving a person forward, and there are many therapists that focus on current issues. It is the role of the relationship, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, and legal matters where coaching and counselling diverge.

In general counselling gets into deeper issues. There are certain tools and techniques used by therapists that should not be used by coaches. Counsellors are trained to work with those dealing with mental illness and/or those who are not functioning or barely functioning, whereas coaches should only accept individuals who are generally emotionally well adjusted and functioning in most areas of their lives but are dealing with specific challenges. You should see a licensed mental health professional for deeper mental health issues along with any symptoms or thoughts of delusion, hallucinations, self-harm, suicidal ideation, severe phobias, or addictions.

Because I do telehealth and I am a counsellor not a psychologist, the biggest difference between coaching and counseling in terms of how I practice, is the relationship of client and practitioner. Life coaching is a flexible, unregulated relationship (SDA's see here). Counseling is a professional, clinical relationship and we can only meet during sessions with no social media or other contact.

5 Quick & Key Difference between life coaching and counselling.

  1. The legal relationship between the coach and client is fluid and peer like. A counselling relationship is professional and has legal restrictions and ethical boundaries on interactions.
  2. Counselling may offer diagnostic opportunities whereas in life coaching we are legally unable to offer any diagnostic services.
  3. The treatment of mental health illness/disorders is specific to counselling/therapy. In coaching we focus on building skills to meet your emotional goals such as feeling more joy, feeling less worry, etc.  
  4. The intake session for life coaching is to give us a foundation on where to start and setup your goals whereas in counselling an intake session helps inform possible issues and treatments and maybe more involved in diving into your past.
  5. Counselling is usually (but not always) regulated by state/province/country which means there are legal parameters to follow, standardized education, and association guidelines that dictate practices. There is usually a licensing board where complaints can be registered and then investigated. Where as Life Coaching is unregulated in most parts of the world. There are no legal or ethical standards set by government organizations. This leads to MANY entering the field with just their own ideas and experience. Often there are life coaches that use strong sales tactics and even cross the line with what they guarantee. Some life coaches do join an association and even have years of training but because there is no standardization and it's up to the individual to research the credentials of the life coach they wish to work with.

Which one should I choose?

It can be confusing since there are many similarities between coaching and counselling. They both can be very effective with the right practitioner. Some help on which way to go:

  • If you your emotions are very intense or are you are having trouble functioning at some level, you should seek a mental health professional like a counsellor. If you are struggling with severe depression, active suicidal thoughts, debilitating phobias, extreme OCD, dangerous eating disorder, or mental illness/disorder, in person counselling or psychotherapy is a better option.
  • Discuss it with your doctor or other mental health professional. A good life coach will be willing to work as a team with other professionals.
  • I book my counselling through the Feeling Good Institute Canada.
  • Book a free 20 minute session to discuss it further. If during intake I feel you need more than the scope of my practice I'll let you know and help you with referrals for appropriate help.

*NOTE: Information above varies in different countries. At this time coaching is not regulated in ANY country that I am currently aware of. BUT this article/page is by no means legal or medical advice.

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