Management & Leadership

What’s the difference between counselling and coaching?

Nov 20, 2014
Difference between counselling and coaching

The relationship between professional counsellors and coaches is sometimes compared to that of stepsiblings. They are loosely connected because they share the same family name: ‘helping professional’ and both make use of similar interpersonal communication skills. But, although counsellors and coaches offer a service intended to enable both the individual and corporate clients to achieve their full potential, their roles are, in fact, markedly different.

There are a variety of approaches used in counselling and coaching. So what follows is not always true in all forms of counselling and coaching, but the general distinctions are helpful in developing an understanding of how the two helping approaches may typically differ.

One of the first areas of difference is the primary focus for each discipline. Where counselling concentrates predominantly on the person’s past and deals with healing emotional pain, coaching focuses more on a person’s present and future, with the goal of helping them to create actionable strategies for achieving specific goals in their personal or work life with which they can act towards their envisioned future. The emphasis in a coaching relationship is on goals, action and accountability, although an experienced coach will know when to look at the past should it inform the present and help pinpoint limiting belief systems. So, while counselling is geared towards understanding and resolving the past for healing, coaching works with functional people and uses the past only insofar as it provides a context in which future goals can be set.

There are also differences in the foundations on which counselling and coaching are typically based: Counselling is usually rooted in the clinical approach, focused on healing while coaching is more learning and development based, focusing on attainable goals and possibilities. Both counselling and coaching aim to build a person’s self and other awareness. The aim of counselling is, ultimately, to help patients resolve old pain and improve emotional states. The aim of coaching, on the other hand, is to help clients in their development, learn new skills and tools to build a more satisfying, successful future.

Further subtle differences arise when it comes to accountability for these goals. In the case of counselling, the aim is for the client to be accountable for his or her feelings and emotions and change may well be identified more internally than necessarily externally (unless cognitive behavioural therapy is the counselling modality in use). However, coaching goals, like business goals, are often related toone’s external world and one’s behaviour in it and are based on measurable outcomes.

While the relationship between client and counsellor/coach shares similarities in that both counsellor and coach offer perspectives and assist the individual to discover his or her own answers, coaching can be described as more of a ‘co-creative’ partnership: a counsellor may provide advice and guidelines to provide a path to healing; the coach, in contrast, is a thinking partner with the client and helps him or her identify the challenges faced and then partners with the client to turn these challenges into victories, all the while holding the client accountable and motivating and encouraging them to reach their desired goals.

Finally, there are distinct differences when it comes to the training required for the counselling and coaching professions. Where counsellors usually require extensive expertise in the subject matter of the therapy in question e.g. marital counselling, addiction counselling, dealing with trauma and childhood abuse; coaches hold the process and do not necessarily require extensive subject-matter expertise. They are process experts that know how to create the learning environment for clients to draw on their own experience, resources and activate their potential within their unique contexts. That said, however, a business, training, leadership or psychology background can deeply enhance the coaching process as coaches can utilise this experience towards a greater understanding and knowledge of the client’s issues.

The South African College of Applied Psychology offers a series of entry-point courses in both counselling and coaching, from which students can  obtain ‘work-ready’ practical training or go on to acquire further qualifications in the field in question.

SACAP’s Higher Certificate in Counselling, for instance, is an excellent springboard into the field of psychology, human behaviour and mental health. It’s a short, one-year, vocational qualification that has been specifically designed to equip the learner with an introductory knowledge of basic counselling and communication skills.

SACAP’s course in Coaching Fundamentals, on the other hand, offers theoretical and practical grounding in key concepts from Applied Psychology, as well as foundational coaching competencies to incorporate into intentional coaching conversations and interactions. What’s especially appealing about this four-month course is that it has a strong experiential component, including being coached around one’s own personal and professional development in relation to the concepts being learned and receiving customised feedback in application of fundamental coaching competencies.

Registrations for February 2015 are now open. Apply today.

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