Being Bruce -: Is It Coaching or Is it Counseling?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Is It Coaching or Is it Counseling?

This question often arises, sometimes stated this way, "What's the difference between coaching and counseling?" Here's a quick response: One helps you get over your pain and back on track, while the other helps you reach your potential and attain your dreams.

As someone with experience in both fields, I'd like to address this question, along with the disclaimer that I do not have a counseling practice nor am I licensed to do so in my current state of residence, North Carolina.

I was an active counselor in Connecticut, however, and for several years was on the graduate faculty of Saint Joseph College and taught courses and supervised graduate students enrolled in counseling programs for Masters and advanced degrees. I'm also a member of the Cape Fear Psychological Association, but the primary purpose of that alliance for me is knowing local counseling or mental health professionals for referral purposes.

I coach, and consult, but I do not counsel.

Phew! So with that out of the way (and sorry if it seems belabored, but in these days it's necessary), let's get briefly into the basic differences between counseling and coaching.

The graphic below (which I'm happy to provide in PDF format on request) shows my take on this dichotomy. Just as some coaches (mistakenly) think their coaching skills, training, and experience enable them to counsel folks (it doesn't), it's also the case that counselors aren't by virtue of their training and experience prepared to be good coaches. There are overlapping skills, for sure, and as the graphic below indicates, at times the goals of the client overlap the two professions, but they really are different.

If your life isn't working and you're in pain, you likely should see a counselor.

If your life isn't all that you want it to be, sounds to me like you could connect with a coach.

Some folks have both, btw, a coach and a counselor. And it's best in those cases when there can be some mutual communications (as allowed and advisable by professional standards and the law, of course).

So if all these words so far are a lot of blur, just check out the graphic below and hopefully that will answer your question.

Thanks for help with the concepts in the graphic to Ray Smith, btw, my friend and former partner in the West Hartford Counseling Service, which we started together in 1979 along with Jim Leary.


  1. Excellent post, Bruce. I would just take exception with career counseling as a tool to not necessarily relieve one's pain, but to help with career assessment, decision-making, and discover fulfilling work options.

    We tend to call ourselves career counselors, but in reality we probably should be deemed career coaches.

  2. Excellent point. The terms "coach", "counselor", and "consultant" are often used differently in different fields, and in different states.

    I worked in the past as a career counselor and indeed, you're correct, probably should be better referred to as career coaching or even consulting, but in many areas it's called career counseling. Just as guidance counselors in school don't work with mental health issues, neither do career counselors.

    Thanks for pointing that out.


  3. Thanks, Bruce! The post really revealed a new perspective for me. In brief, people (including myself) have sought solutions to the counselling part of challenges by using methods belonging to the coaching world.

    I believe that in networked contexts the counselling and coaching can get mixed at times - with good results. I was just accepted to the first ever in Finland organized two year training process preparing for Certified Philosophy Practitioner within the field of organizational knowledge. THE thing we discussed in our group interview was this: traditionally philosophy practice takes distance to medical care - many of the applicants exactly come from the health care field and feel so needing the philosophical skills to continue their work. It will work the other way around as well.

    And yes, you are among the very first to get the news of my acceptance to the training :)

  4. Wow! Congratulations, Irmeli, that is wonderful!! Good job, my friend!

  5. Irmeli, In the next day or so I'm going to add another perspective as well, that of the expert consultant and how s/he differs/overlaps with the coaching and counseling roles.



  6. You are absolutely correct, if you follow all of those steps completely, you will be successful. Of course, things are easier said than done, and it still takes a lot of work. I keep seeing articles like these

  7. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.