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What's The Difference Between Counselling & Coaching? How To Choose The Right One For You

Written by: Michael Hetherington, 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.


There are many ways to help you with stress, anxiety, depression, or other life challenges. One of the most accessible and affordable options is coaching or counselling.

Group of people sitting in a circle looking at their therapist and listening.

Both can be effective in helping you resolve personal challenges and achieve your goals but they have different approaches to how to do that. Both counsellors and coaches can provide support during challenging times in your life.

However, that’s where the similarities end. They have very different roles, methods and responsibilities in your recovery process. Understanding how each one can help you is the first step to choosing the right one for you.

What is Counselling?

Counselling is a therapeutic & confidential process where you develop a trusting relationship with a mental health professional to help you address a personal challenge, usually through a process of increasing self-awareness and self-reflection.

It’s usually a one-on-one process (group counselling is also available) where your counsellor actively listens and responds to your perspective and feelings. You might also talk about your past, present, and future goals.

The goal is to help you identify what you want to change, learn how to cope with your feelings, and create a plan for moving forward in your life. There are many approaches in counselling, however in traditional counselling, they will not give advice or tell you what to do. Their goal is to assist you in discovering your own answers by asking the right questions.

Counselling is good for helping you process life experiences, learn more about yourself, address lingering emotions, or work through other challenges in your life. It can also be helpful if you are having trouble managing your career, relationships, and emotions and developing effective coping skills.

Most counsellors who are academically trained are considered to be mental health professionals. Only psychiatrists and medical doctors can prescribe medications, whereas counsellors and psychologists can not.

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a process that focuses on helping you identify a very specific goal and develop a plan, or utilise a specific method to get you there in a specified time frame. Most coaches come from a background of success in a particular area or have a unique skill set that the client is seeking similar success in. This previous success is what usually qualifies the person to move into a coaching role - which usually involves taking a client through a similar, or a refined process, to what they did for their own success.

This coaching process is, therefore, more associated with a mentorship-type relationship than that of working with a counsellor.

A good coach will help you achieve your goals and provide guidance and accountability to keep you on track. Some coaches can be confrontational and highly assertive in their methods if they believe it will help their clients to move through various challenges successfully. A good coach will also help the client to discover their strengths, weaknesses, and self-sabotaging behaviours and will work through any challenges they might be facing along the way. Often when the client achieves the specified goal that was identified at the beginning of the process, the relationship ends.

A coach is not a therapist, psychiatrist or mental health professional.

The 5 main differences between counselling and coaching

1. Goals

Counselling helps you increase your capacity for self-reflection and self-awareness so that you can resolve a painful past or current struggle that is keeping you from living the life you want. Counselling helps you to discover “who you really are” so you can move forward and create goals from a greater place of insight and self-awareness. Coaching tends to be focused primarily on helping you achieve a very specific goal or skill set that you have in mind and creates a path or uses a method to help you achieve it.

2. Time frame

Most counselling relationships usually last several months or longer. They are designed to help you progress through the self-awareness process at a pace that is right for you. Coaching is usually a short-term or mid-term relationship, usually lasting for several months and is designed around a specific goal. Your coach will help you achieve your short to mid-term goals and then often end the coaching process.

3. Relationship

The relationship between counsellor and client is very different from that of coaches and clients. Traditional counsellors are meant to be completely non-directive and neutral in their relationship with clients, which means they practice non-judgement and do not impose their views or methods upon the client, but instead, help the clients discover what works for them. Coaches have very specific goals for you and therefore tend to be directive which means they share their methods and process with the client and expect the client to “jump on board” with their process and method in order to achieve the specific goal. The coaching relationship tends to be more along the lines of a mentorship dynamic than the counselling relationship.

4. Training & Qualifications

Counsellors are often highly trained academically, usually holding a master's degree in counselling or social work with many hours of supervision training. In many countries, the title “counsellor/counselor” is unregulated by the government (whereas the title “psychologist” for example, is regulated by most governments). Therefore, association bodies for the counselling professions have been put into place to help regulate the practice and standards in these countries. Coaching (eg. Life Coaching) is a relatively new job title that is part of a highly unregulated industry.

Coaching is not formally recognised as a job title by governments in most countries, including the USA and therefore, training and qualifications can range dramatically from online short courses to years of high-quality training and supervision. There are coaching association bodies set up in some countries that aim to set standards for the industry, however, due to the industry still being new, the association bodies, educational institutions and practitioners lack consistency regarding educational requirements, practice and standards. Because of the highly unregulated nature of the coaching industry, most coaching practitioners tend to focus on previous success, client results and client outcomes rather than on traditional qualifications to drive their practices and services forward.

5. Pricing and fees

Counsellors usually charge around $100-$250 per session in private practice which has been largely set by industry standards and public expectations. If they are employed inside schools, social services or health care facilities, their services will be available to those already using those services at no extra charge.

Coaches charge anything from $50 ‒ $10,000’s of dollars for their services. This tends to be because coaches are focused on specific outcomes, which means that depending on the specific outcome they provide, they can charge whatever they like and whatever the market is willing to pay. Also, because the coaching industry is unregulated, there are no set industry standards or expectations when it comes to pricing.

When to Choose Counselling

  • When you want to learn more about yourself, enhance your self-awareness, self-acceptance or boost your self-esteem

  • When you want to improve your communication and interpersonal skills

  • When you are having trouble managing certain emotions and want guidance in developing healthier ways of coping with those feelings.

  • When you want guidance in addressing a specific issue in your life such as relationships, parenting, career or a health concern

  • When you want to learn how to interpret and understand your emotions (and other people's emotions) in a new way that doesn’t cause you to stress

If you are asking yourself any of the following questions, counselling is the right choice for you:

  • What do I want to do with my life?

  • What am I good at?

  • What is important to me?

  • How can I deal with these emotional/relationship/career challenges more effectively?

When to Choose Coaching

  • When you have a very specific goal in mind

  • When you have been working towards a specific goal and have hit an impasse.

  • When you have specific challenges and want help overcoming them.

  • When you want to learn a new method or system to help achieve your goals with more ease.

  • When you want to discover your strengths and ways you can use them to achieve more in your life.

If you are asking yourself any of the following questions, coaching is the right choice for you:

  • How can I make $20,000 per month in my business?

  • How do I lose 30 pounds in 2 months?

  • How do I prepare for my upcoming sports event/competition?

  • How can I be a better public speaker?

What about combining counselling and coaching?

It is possible and increasingly common to see practitioners combining both approaches, especially if it helps clients come to increase positive outcomes. Combining these two approaches would largely depend on the client's needs and the amount of training the practitioner has as to how these two approaches can be combined effectively.

An example of combining the two approaches could look something like this; When a client doesn't know what their goals are or they feel confused about what to do or what path to take, then it’s more likely counselling skills and approaches would be applied. If the client came to a clear and concise goal that was in alignment with the practitioner’s expertise or previous success, then it would likely be appropriate for coaching skills to come to the forefront.

When it comes to my therapeutic work, I tend to employ both approaches with a slightly heavier emphasis on counselling. The consultation call and the first session I have with new clients are focused on identifying goals and finding the meanings behind their goals which is primarily a counselling process. However, after we uncover the goals and meanings, the method I use to help clients get there (eg. EFT also known as the emotional freedom technique and the “letting go technique”) would be considered more of a coaching approach.


The coaching vs. counselling debate is very simple once you understand the key differences between each. One tends to focus on enhancing self-awareness, whereas the other one helps you achieve a specific goal you have in mind.

You can choose the right one for you based on the type of help you need and the type of relationship you want with your coach or counsellor. Both can be incredibly helpful in helping you to move forward with your life. Now that you understand the key differences between counselling and coaching, you will be able to choose the right one for you.


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Michael Hetherington, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Michael Hetherington is an anxiety-release expert with over 13 years of experience in the health and wellness industry. He holds a bachelor of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a brown belt in Taekwondo, and postgraduate qualifications in education and counseling. Michael has been teaching and giving talks on energy medicine and traditional Chinese medicine around the world since 2012. Most people describe him as calm, knowledgable, and playful.



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