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Life throws up all sorts of challenges from time to time, and getting expert support to find your way through difficult periods can be among the most valuable and empowering things you can do. If you’re currently considering what help might be available to you, you might have come across both counselling and life coaching. How do you know which will be right for you, and what is the difference between the two?

Past vs future

Counselling, and other talking therapies, focus on giving you a safe space to talk through your issues. Through the process, you will likely explore your feelings, and the therapist will help you to understand how your past might be influencing your present.

Coaching, by contrast, is more focused on the future. Coaches ask you to consider your future goals, and then work with you to put plans in place to help you achieve them. During coaching, you might reflect on how your past has influenced your present thoughts or behaviour, but this will be specifically with regards to how it is affecting your aims for the future.

Feelings vs actions

Counselling looks at your emotions and how you are experiencing your life. Therapists will ask you to talk about your feelings and how situations impact you on an emotional level. The aim is for you to come to a clearer understanding of your feelings and how they are influenced.

A coach will want to discuss your feelings, but their primary focus will be on your actions. They will want you to work out what actions you can take to achieve positive results for yourself, that help to increase your positive emotions, and how you can break negative patterns and behaviours that bring about negative emotions.

Compassion vs challenge

A therapist’s role is mostly to offer a compassionate and empathetic ear. They will mostly listen, and guide you through the process of coming to terms with your issues in your own time.

A coach will be caring and supportive, but they are there to challenge you. They will ask you tough questions about how you may currently be holding yourself back from your goals. They will prompt you to set tasks for yourself that will help you to achieve your objectives, and then hold you accountable for completing them.

Passive vs active

Whilst therapists are there to listen and provide you with a space that you control, coaches are more active in the process. They will often take you through activities and exercises to help you tackle certain problems, and if you work with a coach who specialises in a particular area – such as a career coach or business coach – they will give you advice and guidance on the issue you are struggling with. Whilst a therapist might teach you occasional techniques to help you, they will not lead or guide you in how to complete them or direct you in what approach you should take.

Health vs success

One of the most important distinctions between the two practices, is that counselling is designed to deal with mental health issues, whereas life coaching is intended for supporting goals. If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, thoughts of harming yourself or any troubling emotions or behaviours, you should see a counsellor or other specially trained professional who will be able to support you to manage this issue. You can be referred for talking therapies by your GP, in which case the treatment is likely to be free on the NHS, but waiting lists are often long, and so you may prefer to seek a private practice that you will need to fund yourself.

Life coaches should refuse to work with anyone they believe is currently experiencing mental health issues until they have begun some form of treatment. That doesn’t mean that you cannot work with a life coach if you have experienced any form of mental health issue, but a life coach will want to know that this issue is being managed and supported first. When you feel strong enough and able to, they can then help you work towards your life goals.

A counsellor can help you with (for example)…

  • Bereavement
  • Divorce or relationship breakdown
  • Recovering from trauma or abuse
  • Addiction
  • Self-harm
  • Managing mental health issues

A coach can help you with (for example)…

 Career goals or changing career

  • Changing negative behaviour patterns, such as stopping smoking or entering into destructive relationships
  • Starting or building a business
  • Improving your confidence
  • Managing your money
  • Creating greater work/life balance or increasing fulfilment in your life

If you are interested in finding out more about life coaching and how it can help you, click here to read about how typical sessions work and the benefits that previous clients have experienced.