What is the Difference Between Coaching and Counseling?

When I first started my career in counseling, I had never really heard of coaching as a career within mental health. I knew about it in terms of “executive business coaching” and even had read a book on this subject when I started working for American Century Investment Company. Well, I did not like dealing with money and I found that investing money wasn’t something I enjoyed.

I made a career switch and thought I was going to combine my talent for counseling with my HR degree and blaze a path in HR. I very quickly found out my idea was not going to work and thus another career change occurred.

In the end, I wished for some direction or mentorship to help me understand what I was doing or not doing. This is where coaching comes in for many people who have had this same or a similar struggle.

To be clear, I have never branded myself as a career or life coach, only as a mental health provider. But I like the fact that with training and understanding, this is something to add to my skill set in the future.

I like seeing the change in my clients as they find their new stride, passion, and healing. I think, as mental health providers, we can combine our talents into the best of both worlds and offer clients the ability to be coached and healed, and do it all from a Christian worldview.

It is my belief that when we put God first, in life and in our sessions with clients, we can accomplish more than great things.

In this article on counseling versus coaching, I am going to define the terms in general, talk about the differences between the two, and then highlight the Christian worldview of coaching.

What is Coaching?

What is coaching? How do we define it in a meaningful way?  Christian Coaches Network defines coaching like this: “a confidential relationship in which the coach partners with a client in order to deepen the learning about self and move forward into action. It involves a 3-6 month commitment, at least 1-2 times per week in person or via telephone” (Christian Coaches Network, n.d.).

Tony Robbins, a life coach, asks us to define what is an extraordinary quality of life. That definition is going to be different for every person, depending on the stage they are currently in, and the perspective or values they hold.

One of my favorite authors is Valorie Burton, an African-American woman whose work in Positive Psychology really resonated with me. She has written at least 11 books and I have read at least 5 of them. She’s the founder of The Coaching and Positive Psychology (CaPP) Institute in Washington, DC. Valorie defines her work in coaching in these terms:

  • Resilience (the ability to adapt to change and navigate setbacks — remember that definition)
  • Authentic Life (think in terms of Brene Brown)
  • Successful goals (think of well-being, flow, and optimism)
  • Happiness (how do you define happiness)

I found that both of these coaches are asking: What does it mean to take what you have, envision it, and make it real? How are you finding your way when you make decisions in life?

Burton (2013) stated, “With more choices than ever before comes more opportunity for second-guessing and regret.” WOW! I have never thought of choice as a chance for second-guessing or regret. I have thought of choice in the context of opportunity. Truly a reframing moment for me.

Robbins (n.d.) stated that “life coaching is truly its own designated and unique service to help ambition people meet their personal outcomes that will bring them success and fulfillment.”

Differences Between a Life Coach and a Counselor

I think one of the biggest and more obvious differences between a life coach and a counselor is training. To become a life coach, one can take an online course or pay to go to a “coaching retreat” and then become certified as a life coach. This is not possible with a counselor.

All counselors, at a minimum, have a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling, Social Work, Counseling Psychology, or some related field. We are required by law to have completed a practicum and internship consisting of at least 1,000-4,000 client contact hours. In addition, we must pass a certification exam and be under supervision for as long as 2 years post-graduation. We also have a standardized Code of Ethics we are taught and must adhere to.

At this point, life coaching is a mostly unregulated field. This isn’t to say life coaches are not trained or qualified, because some are very well trained. An online search for training to become a Certified Life Coach gave results that ran anywhere from an online course that was a yearlong learning experience for $11,500 to a weekend retreat for $1400. So, there are a wide variety of training opportunities available for becoming a life coach.

Through my research, I did find that many mental health counselors, social workers, and others are taking their mental health skills and applying them to coaching.

The next big difference is that coaching offers guidance, whereas counseling focuses on recovery. Both involve the development of a relationship between a professional and a client (Biswas-Diener, 2009).

Think about that for a minute: guidance over recovery! Are you seeking to get your life to the next level or achieve some goals that are a little overwhelming and scary, or are you trying to heal from past traumas and emotional wounds?

Differences Between Coaching and Counseling

Below are a few more differences I found between coaching and counseling:

Coaching Counseling
* Enhance growth within lifestyles, improve businesses

* Cope with stress related to lifestyle stress

* Goals are specifically measurable and actions are visible

* Focus is on effective actions

* Coaches are more personable

* Coaches are not always mental health providers

* Work to improve communication skills

* Achieve work-life balance

* Don’t always have to be licensed or certified in their state

* Cope with emotional difficulties

* Healing from trauma wounds or chemical imbalances

* Deal with mental illness such as depression and anxiety

* Goals are not always visible; they work to change emotional distress and are self-reported

* Explores the origins of problems and ways to confront those problems.

* Counselors rarely disclose personal information about themselves

* Must be licensed to practice in their states

To be clear about definitions, secular coaching operates around strength, strategy, and how to achieve personal and professional goals in life, whereas Christian coaching realizes that not all strength, strategy, and answers are found within the client. In Philippians 4:13, clients are encouraged to fully cooperate with God for those things that are in God’s will (see James 2:17 & Matthew 7:21).

While these distinctions are relative, one can be faster or slower than the other in terms of success rates. Part of the reason for this is the fact that psychological therapies (Positive Psychology, Solution-Focused and Brief Therapy, specifically) are often used by both coaches and licensed therapists.

With coaching, the goal is a little more specific for the individual.  Both hold the belief that individuals have the capacity to grow and develop, focus on mutually agreed upon goals, and that the relationship itself is equal and collaborative (Biswas-Diener, 2009).

What is important in determining personal well-being is this concept of progressing towards one’s personal goals (Henderson, 2009). Everything we do is understood through the concept of our relationship towards achieving our goals and the motivations that make it possible. Both can be accomplished through coaching or counseling.

In my opinion, both coaching and counseling offer clients support and encouragement, clarity in defining goals, strengths and values, and address both self- limiting obstacles and beliefs that stand in a client’s way of success and happiness.

Relationships in both coaching and counseling can take place over years, or several months. The client learns to become the expert of their own life. To me, this is exciting, especially in a Christian setting. Change is truly effective when a Biblical worldview is taken. It is the lens by which not only the client but the presenting problem is ideally viewed through.

Distinctions Between Christian Coaching and Secular Coaching

Speaking in terms of a Christian worldview of coaching, let me give this topic some space. The Christian Coaches Network International (n.d) offers a few biblically-based guidelines when it comes to coaching. These are some very clear distinctions between a Christian coach and a secular coach, in terms of approaching a client.

I have given a brief description below but for a full explanation, please go to their website at: https://christiancoaches.com/christian-coach-training-schools/

  • The human condition was altered by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 3:6; Romans 5:12-19)
  • Human nature became morally corrupt. (Acts 1:8)
  • Reconciliation is necessary to reach our God-given potential (Romans 6:9-10)
  • Knowing God in an intimate personal relationship (Ephesians 3:19, Hosea 4:6)
  • Our relationship with God begins an inward transformational process (2 Corinthians 3:18)
  • Christians have an eternal perspective (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • Human potential is limited (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 12:2)
  • Psychological approaches to human development have merit (2 Corinthians 3:18; Matthew 13.23; Galatians 5:22; Romans 12:2)
  • Hope cannot reside solely in the client or coaching process (Jeremiah 17:9; Philippians 1:6; 1 Peter 1:3)
  • Relativism tolerates all views on morality (John 17:17; Isaiah 5:20; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; 2 Corinthians 5:10; James 4:12; Matthew 7:1-2)
  • Christians are called to a life of holiness (1 Peter 1:13-16, Leviticus 19:2)
  • Values stem from personal beliefs (Matthew 6:33)
  • God provides for all of our needs (Philippians 4:19); He gives us our wants (Psalm 37:4)
  • Goal setting is the process of setting one’s mind and heart, focusing on the upward call of God (Philippians 3:13-14; Proverbs 16:9)
  • We have an internal and external focus of control. God has external control so we can become an internal control believer (John 10:10)
  • Responsibility and self-governance is an expectation; we are stewards of our lives (John 13:35; Ephesians 5:21)
  • Our motivation for growth and change works in tandem with our call to become Christ-like (Galatians 2:20; 1 Thessalonians 2:11-13; Matthew 5:15-17; Ephesians 2:10; Micah 6:8; Colossians 3:24; 1 Peter 1:3-5)
  • Christian coaching’s impression of self is based on Scripture and personal esteem is not built on the approval of man but on the approval of God (1 Thessalonians 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:15)

Finding a Christian Coach or Counselor

If you’re looking for Christian coaching or counseling in the Seattle area, we welcome you to browse our counselor directory and our list of office locations across the Pacific Northwest. We also offer online counseling options for residents of Washington State.

References

Biswas-Diener, R. (2009). Personal coaching as a positive intervention. Journal Of Clinical Psychology65(5), 544-553.

Christian Coaches Network International. (n.d) Christian coaching distinctions. Retrieved from https://christiancoaches.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/CCNI-Christian-Coaching-Distinctions.pdf

Henderson, S. (2009). Assessment of personal goals: an online tool for personal counseling, coaching, and business consulting. Measurement & Evaluation In Counseling & Development41(4), 244-249.

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