Counseling vs Life Coaching: What’s the difference?

Are counseling and life coaching essentially the same thing? Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but there’s actually a significant difference between them. One way to conceptualize this difference is to think of counseling and coaching in terms of running a race. 

What is Life Coaching?

When a client comes to us in need of coaching, they typically have a specific goal in mind. In this case, that goal is to finish the race ahead of them.

The coach steps in and helps the client to develop their technique and form, equipping them to achieve their established goal and finish the race.

The coach meets up with the client at different points along the route, redirecting them when they get off course and cheering them on as they cross the finish line. Coaches help them get clarity by coming alongside them and drawing out their strengths. They emphasize their talents, gifts, and potentialities. Together, they work to create a concrete plan of action. In this way, coaching is forward-facing and future-oriented.

What is Counseling?

Alternatively, when a client visits for counseling services, they have already started the race. Along the way, they were injured at some point. The counselor meets them where they are and helps bandage their wounds, encourages them to look back at what caused their pain, and helps them get back up on their feet so that they can continue to run the race ahead of them. Counseling delves deeply into a client’s life of thoughts, feelings, relationships, anxieties, financial pressures, stress, and fears. In this way, counseling begins with a past-oriented approach so that the client can be better equipped to move forward in the future.

What’s the difference?

Coaching tends to be focused on tangible, measurable goals and a coaching client will always leave a session with a plan, whereas counseling can be more abstract, open-ended, and discovery-based. Both modalities are based on a trusting, professional relationship that seeks the health of the client.