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What Is The Difference Between Therapy, Counselling And Coaching?

Written by: Nicola Wakeling, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


How do you choose whether you need therapy or coaching? On my very first coaching course, much of the conversation centred around where coaching stopped and therapy started. Later when I got together with a psychotherapy group, the same conversation was happening! So if we are all confused, what does that mean for everyone else?

During a counseling session, a serious female counselor gives important advice to a male patient.

As with all good therapists/counsellors/coaches, I will ask another question that might clean things up for you – What is it that you are trying to achieve? If you are trying to make some changes in your life that will return some sort of ‘normality’, you want life to be as it was ‘before' the problem. You have an idea of how life should be – and you don’t want to suffer anymore. This generally falls into the category of Therapy and Counselling. We will return to these and distinguish between them later on. If you want some new horizons, to be able to express a new aspect of your life, maximising on what you already have, then that would mostly be Coaching. The interesting thing is that most people start by wantingto change something, and when that has dissolved, they then want to move forwards in new and exciting ways. In these instances, Therapy and Coaching are intertwined and that’s where the line blurs. Then there are the people who have taken a wrong turn in their life somewhere and have ended up in a less that satisfying place and that may be causing them all manner of distress. So you can see that by the definition above, this may be coaching or therapy… and it’s even more complicated when you might consider that you may not know where you are or what you want! But let’s continue on. Therapy is an umbrella term that can cover anything from Physical Massage, Reiki, and Somatic Movement, right through to Psychotherapy and Counselling. It would also be used to describe different forms of talking therapies such as hypnotherapy, trauma therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and other newer modalities that have excellent results in specific circumstances. Counselling is more specific in that it approaches change through conversation – with the counsellor specifically trained to lead you into finding the information that you need to understand your problem and move forwards. Counselling is not specifically solution based, in that it isn’t looking for ways of solving problems, more about bringing a full acceptance and understanding of your position and how to move forwards is formulated in the fullness of time. Other talking therapies look more specifically for ways of integrating other tools to bring about more rapid change. Hypnosis is very effective at bringing about relief and has some amazing study results proving efficacy. So whilst you might be trying to decide which route to go, you will find that many professionals out there are already combining many ‘modalities’ together. So another way of working out ‘Which is better for me, counselling, therapy or coaching?’ would be to ask your friends and family. See who has already been down this route. For whatever reason, we still don’t discuss these subjects amongst friends and family, but you may be surprised at who has a recommendation for you. Very few of my clients share their journeys with a wide group of friends – but they will often recommend if they hear of someone in a similar situation. Look at the websites and feeds of local therapists/coaches and look for posts that resonate in some way with you. Perhaps you are looking for a fast-paced, motivational solution, perhaps you are looking for gentle nurturing, or perhaps you are looking for a pragmatic and irreverent service that throws all sorts of challenging ideas at you. Some professionals are led by challenging their intellect and others will take a more holistic and intuitive, emotional approach. Mostly we pick someone who echoes our own approach to life – it’s not a bad policy – you will likely pick the professional that seems to ‘speak’ your language. The most important aspect of any therapeutic/ coaching relationship is rapport – this refers to the quality of the relationship that you have with your professional. Go with your instinct. There are a million different configurations of coaches, therapists and coaches/therapists out there – many will train in one modality and then specialise, while others will add more and more tools and understanding, that will enable them to be able to ‘follow’ you and bring you exactly what you need. Counsellors also train in Coaching, Coaches add in Hypnosis, and Trauma Therapists sometimes add in Massage. But nearly all of them will offer some sort of consultation or first appointment so that you can make your choice with a better understanding. Don’t be put off by someone that appears to ‘specialise’ in a broad range of problems, or a huge array of goals. When we are looking for a surgical intervention then it makes sense to choose someone that does it all day every day, but I would say that this isn’t necessarily the case with coaching/therapy. Some interesting questions to ask during your first consultation or session – How would you summarise your specific style of therapy/coaching? Have you seen someone before that is similar to me and what was the outcome? Do you work with other professionals in different fields? How would you summarise my situation and how would you see us progressing from here? What would you expect to be the signs that I would notice first if this is the right path for me to go down? These questions might give you an idea of the ‘flavour’ of the therapist/coach. From there, go on instinct – if it feels like a good match and fit for you – make the commitment and move forwards. Personally, I started with Hypnotherapy as it is proven, effective and often a bit like magic, and then carried on with Integrative Psychotherapy, Applied Neuroscience and Generative Coaching. I have studied for hundreds of hours and read hundreds of studies and books. I have been mentored and supervised for years by master coach Mark Schwimmer who, with 30 years of highly skilled work in transformation, challenges me to master my skills. I aim to bring not just results but also systemic change to my clients so that they get so much more than they ever thought was possible. I am also a skills-based coach for therapists/coaches to help integrate their work to a higher level. I mash everything together and often work with clients who have tried many other modalities and often traditional counselling and don’t seem to be getting to where they want to go. Whatever your need, there are many professionals out there who can work with you to help you get the outcomes you want. There is never one straight path or one answer. Ask for book recommendations and be prepared to really reflect on the changes that are happening and what then is possible for you. Professional coaching or therapy is not like going to a doctor to be made better. We cannot ever see our own issues and goals clearly and this is exactly what professional help is all about – having another set of highly skilled eyes to see where to put your attention to get what it is that you want.

Good luck!

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Nicola Wakeling, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Nicola Wakeling is an exceptional and passionate Therapist and Coach combining hypnosis, NLP, neuroscience, generative coaching and existential psychotherapy together into a fast-paced results driven practice. With years of SME experience and national award-winning businesses under her belt, she is passionate about optimising growth from within using all possible resources, even when they have to be discovered and unleashed first. Nicola is also a skills-based Mentor for Coaches.

She has a private practice both online and one to one in Buckinghamshire, UK



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