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  • Writer's pictureAya

Difference between counseling and coaching

When people ask this question, most of the time, people have limited knowledge and/or experience with coaching. They might know some about counseling, but often not much about coaching. So in this post, I try to provide as much information as possible about coaching by comparing it with counseling.

First of all, let me show the definition of coaching.

International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment. Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole.

Besides counseling, there are many other professions that cover similar topics and share some traits with coaching. For example, consulting and coaching are similar in the way that both of them work for a better future for a client. Mentoring and coaching are similar because both of them support a client to improve their skill/talent.

Among all the professions, counseling and coaching are probably most frequently asked what the differences are. Both of them are very similar and some people do both counseling AND coaching as a profession. I have a friend who has been a counselor for more than 15 years and recently she was certified as a coach as well. So she uses both counseling and coaching method/skill during her sessions. So it can be confusing and difficult to distinguish the two.

However, I would like to show a basic difference between counseling and coaching here.

Patrick Williams, a psychologist for 28 years who moved into the coaching profession in 1990, helped to found ICF in 1995. He says “Therapy is about uncovering and recovering, while coaching is about discovering” (

So it can be said that counseling focuses on the client’s past and try to figure out “why” whereas coaching focus on the future and seek “how”. Also, a counselor might see the client’s current situation/condition as “issues” and/or “problems”, so it has to be changed. However, a coach probably sees the situation/condition as “opportunities” and look for improvement.

Often counseling covers people who are at a dysfunctional level trying to bring them to a functional level. Therefore, counselors work with people who might be ill and need help to identify dysfunction or trauma to heal and/or recover from their past. On the other hand, coaching is for people who are functional but would like to achieve his/her full potential. You can say that coaches work with people who are healthy and focused on prevention and maximizing their emotional health. So they are striving to improve their circumstances.

So far, I’ve written the differences regarding professional focus. Next, I’d like to show the difference as a profession.

To become a counselor, you need to have a license. The processes to receive a license are varied by state, but in general, you have to have at least a Master’s degree and take training as well as to pass an exam. Also, regulations are strictly enforced. On the other hand, there is no official license system for coaches. You don’t need to have any certification to introduce yourself as a coach. So it is important to see if a coach has good training and experience before hiring him/her. There are several accrediting bodies for the coaching profession. One of the bodies, ICF (International Coach Federation) is probably the best-known body. It is one way to see if a coach has a certification from any coaching school accredited by one of those bodies. For example, one of the schools, iPEC (Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching) is ICF certified school and it requires 350+ hours of training followed by the final exam (knowledge test and oral exam) to be certified.

ICF defines coaching is not

>Analyzing clients’ mental status

>Trying to fix/cure clients

Therefore, a coach might refer to a counselor/psychologist when he/she acknowledges a need for that.

There are some differences between counseling and coaching, however, both professions are willing to support clients, hoping for a better life for clients, and happy to listen to your stories.

If you don’t know which profession is suitable for you and/or if you need those services, please contact me at or book a Free session (discovery session) with me from here ( I am more than happy to discuss this with you. If you want to talk to another coach after having a discovery session with me, I have a big coach network all over the world. So I am confident that I can find the best one for you.

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