Everyone needs help getting ahead in life.
Fortunately, there are grounded, knowledgeable, empathetic people who are ready to assist us in defining our goals and achieving them. These are coaches, counselors, and mentors.
It’s not hard to find a coach, counselor, or mentor, but which one best suits your needs?
The first step in choosing the right kind of guide is ditching some incompletely informed assumptions about the roles these three kinds of helpers play in personal development. Coaches aren’t just on football fields and basketball courts. Counselors don’t just work with people who are mentally ill. Mentors aren’t there just to hold your hand and show you a ready-made guide to success.
Every coach, counselor, and mentor is a little different, and the overall framework for each type of personal development helper is different from the others. There are rules and reasonable expectations for everyone looking for a helping professional for achieving their life goals.
In this article, we will tell you what you can expect from each kind of helping professional in your pursuit of success.
What Is the Difference Between Coaching and Counseling?
There are many commonly held misconceptions about the nature of coaching and counseling.
Coaching and counseling have overlapping roles in assisting personal growth. Many professional coaches and counselors borrow from both approaches in dealing with their clients. Therapists may introduce elements of coaching into their interaction with their patients, and coaches may introduce elements of counseling into their coaching sessions.
But there really is a difference between the two approaches. Put simply, it is this:
Coaching can be therapeutic, but it isn’t therapy.
The International Coaching Federation sets clear boundaries between coaching and counseling. No coach should ever practice unlicensed therapy, and well-trained coaches will know the difference between coaching and counseling.
Coaches with adequate training will recognize situations that call for licensed mental health professionals. They will have a system set up for referring their clients to mental health help as needed, and will maintain relationships with licensed counselors available to help their clients.
Counselors, for their part, recognize situations where coaching is what is needed. Coaching tends to be goal-directed and solution-oriented. As counseling clients make progress toward their counseling goal, handing off a counseling patient to become a coaching client can be a natural, healthy, life-affirming progression.
Some other differences between coaching and counseling reflect major differences between the two approaches.
- Coaching specifies goals to be achieved. Counseling is usually open-ended.
- Coaching follows a business model, while counseling follows a medical model. Coaches are usually very clear about what they expect to achieve for their clients and aren’t hesitant to say so, publicly. Counselors keep patient conversations and goals confidential.
- Government officials can compel disclosure of conversations between coaches and their clients. Government entities cannot demand disclosure of conversations between counselors and patients.
- The boundaries of relationships with coaches and counselors are different. It’s OK, for example, for a coach to meet a client at Starbucks for a cup of coffee. This would be out of bounds for a counselor and a patient. Coaches and the people they coach can be friends. Counselors and counselees cannot.
- Counselors tend to burn out in their professions a lot faster than coaches. A counselor who has been practicing for decades is someone who has the knowledge, personal insight, and professional discipline to deal with their own emotions in a purely professional way.
Coaching is forward-looking. Counseling usually helps a patient resolve issues in their past.
Coaching is all about creating positive accomplishments. Counseling is about achieving functionality.
Coaching is usually a shorter-term relationship than counseling, although there are exceptions to the rules.
Coaches see their clients are whole when they enter the coaching relationship. Coaches help trainees achieve a better life. Counselors help patients become whole on their way to a better life.
What Are the Benefits of Coaching?
Certified coaches create a space for their clients to achieve their goals. These goals can be framed in terms of better relationships, a better job, financial success, or, in the case of the kind of coach most of us know best, increased strength, stamina, and success in a sport.
Coaches help their clients achieve clarity. Coaches help clients see ways around obstacles that have kept them from achieving their goals in the past.
Accountability is at the heart of coaching. Progress toward goals is something both coach and client can measure. Coaches set milestones that give their coaching clients a track record of success that builds confidence in meeting goals once the coaching relationship is over.
What Are the Benefits of Counseling?
Counselors create a space in which their patients can heal. They help patients remain functional in difficult situations. They help patients find relief from emotional distress.
Following a medical model, counseling is scientifically validated to achieve its stated goals. Counselors have a wealth of therapeutic approaches they can use to bring their patients comfort and restoration.
Mentors fill a more specific role than either coaches or counselors. Mentors typically help their mentees achieve effectiveness in their careers. Success in mentorship is measured in terms of income or job success. When a mentor is mentoring a business organization, the success of the process is measured in terms of revenue, expenses, company reputation, and the financial bottom line.
Benefits of mentoring include:
- An increased sense of empowerment on the job or in one’s career.
- Greater productivity.
- Improved communication skills.
- Movement of the locus of control from external to internal.
- Enhanced sense of self-efficacy.
- Reduction in self-defeating behaviors.
- More motivation to succeed.
It’s hard to find a good mentor, and mentoring is not free. However, mentoring is a logical progression from the success of counseling and coaching on the pathway to personal success.
For many people, the first step on the road to success in life is counseling. The most important factor in the success of counseling is finding a therapist who can both maintain professional distance and be your ally. You need a counseling psychologist who is clearly on your side in meeting your life goals—or discovering your life goals and understanding them better. And with counseling psychologists, the ability to be you’re ally in therapeutic endeavours is something that grows with experience.
Ellen Savage LCPC has been providing counseling for individuals and families since 1982. If you live near Havre, MT, schedule an in-person trial session with Ellen to discuss your goals in therapy. If you live in a more distant location, Ellen is also available for online sessions.