How are coaching and counseling different?

I’m guessing that you’ve heard of a counselor. Have you heard of a “life coach”?

This is a newer side of the mental health profession, and it is one that iHope is excited to be expanding into during 2021. There are certainly overlaps between counseling and coaching, but there are some important differences.

What’s similar? Counselors and coaches are both trained and prepared to help clients find healing, change, and growth.

What’s different? Typically, the difference comes down to training to dig into deeper issues (such as struggles in your past) and more severe issues (such as depression or mental illness.)

Let’s explore in a bit more detail.

Life Coaching

Coaching focuses on helping a client move forward on a specific goal in their life. These goals may be in a variety of areas, such as work, lifestyle, or relationships. This is a professional relationship and is typically very focused on a specific concern and goal. In South Carolina, life coaches are not licensed by the state.

A life coach may be a great person to help a client answer questions like “How do I move ahead in my career?” or “How can I get out of this rut I’m stuck in?”

Professional Counseling

Professional counseling also works with a client to address goals. Counselors often help clients understand, process, and fix deeper issues or transitions in life. This may include processing past events, deep hurts, or destructive patterns and then actively building new patterns of thinking, relating, and acting. This does not mean that clients must have a severe mental illness or mental health concern, though professional counselors are trained to provide a diagnosis from the DSM-V if appropriate.

Many presenting concerns are more appropriate for counseling rather than coaching. Certainly, deeper issues such as mental illness, depression, anxiety, abuse, or infidelity will be more appropriate for a counseling relationship. If you need or want to dig into past events in order to address current concerns, counseling is also a good fit.

How do I know which is the best fit for me?

First, it is helpful to know that all of the counselors and coaches at iHope are trained, professional, and Christ-centered in their approach. All of our iHope counselors and coaches will maintain your privacy and confidentiality. There is no hierarchy in terms of the quality of care you will receive, there is simply a difference in the training and focus of your service provider.

Some questions that you may find helpful to consider in advance are:

  • What is my struggle, concern, or goal? Do I have a specific goal in mind?
  • How much do I think it will be necessary to dig into the past, in order to work on this issue?
  • What severity level would I put this problem on? Am I thinking about suicide, dealing with infidelity, or wondering if I have a diagnosis?
  • Would a specialized area of expertise be helpful for my issue?
  • Should other people join me in this process, such as my spouse or child?

If you are unsure if coaching or counseling would be a better fit for you, it may be helpful to call and talk this through with our front office staff. We want you to have the best experience possible. If you do wind up in a service that it turns out is not the right fit, our counselors and coaches are trained to recognize that and assist you with switching gears to a more appropriate route.

Finally, you may find this article on Crosswalk helpful in exploring the differences between a counselor, life coach, therapist, and pastor.

Written by Jessica Hayes
iHope Communications Director