I am currently involved in an interesting conversation thread as part of an American Counseling Association group on LinkedIn. First off, I highly recommend that counselors get on LinkedIn and create a profile. It is a great way to network and be part of a counseling community. Once on there, take a moment to join the ACA discussion group – it is there that you can communicate with other professionals and expand your knowledge. Discussion thread messages may be directly emailed to you – in case your want to be in the know. And in the know, I am!
Currently, among other topics, counselors and counselors-in-training are discussing the difference between coaching and counseling. The general consensus is that the difference lies in the level of functioning of the client. Coaching is suited for people who are basically mentally healthy and want to improve and counseling is best for those who are emotionally fragile and/or mentally ill. Although I agree with this as a general statement, I don’t believe that all counseling clients are required to have emotional problems or to be mentally ill. Counseling is vehicle for change for any client who chooses to use it as such. That being said, there is so much more to consider – such as similarities between the two.
Coaching and counseling have much in common. I’ve mentioned before that I became a certified life coach before entering graduate school for clinical mental health counseling. When I began my grad-schooling I was amazed to learn of counseling theories that are virtually identical to coaching. An example is solution focused therapy which is a strength-based approach that focuses on action, goals and solutions to problems. It is a non-medical model approach that is present and future oriented and sees the client and therapist as partners. When I learned of this in my theories class: I thought , That is coaching! Other theories that are right at home in the coaching realm are existential and reality therapy. In fact, in reality therapy the client is encouraged to envision their “quality world” – an idea that can be paramount in coaching. Can it be that coaching was born from counseling? If so, the relationship continues. I received information from my coaching school regarding new approaches to coaching and one was Cognitive Behavioral Coaching, another was coaching based on Choice Theory; the precursor to reality therapy. I was quite surprised by this, but in retrospect it makes sense. Although coaching and counseling run parallel the two paths seem to intersect often.
The thorough history of the two disciplines is a blog for another day – right now counselors are concerned about what coaching is, should they part-take and where do ethics fit into it all. My perspective is that someone with a mental health degree can add on coaching to their tool box. Unadulterated coaching is very powerful and part of the power is the complete absence of psychopathology. I wouldn’t, however, encourage a counselor to call themselves a coach if they haven’t gotten certified as such – therein lies the true difference between coaching and counseling: counselors are licensed professionals who are required to be supervised and tested before receiving credentials. As an unregulated, budding field life coaching is not licensed, and exists in a grey area in which ethics can be murky. And so the debate rages on.
Susan Jennifer Polese is a counselor in training, a personal coach and a freelance writer. Her areas of interest are mindfulness, divergent thinking, and creativity in counseling.