Is it Counselling? Is it Coaching? Is it Consulting?

It is usually taken as gospel that coaching is not counselling and that it certainly isn’t consulting. Coaching isn’t supposed to dwell on the past like therapy and it is not supposed to tell people what they should do at work as that is considered to fall within the purview of consulting.

However it is my belief that regardless of espoused coaching dogma there is definitely a significant overlap in which coaching occupies and fills the sweet spot between counselling and consulting.

It almost seems that “the coach doth protest too much” when they insist upon clearly differentiating the field of coaching from that of counselling or consulting.

Certainly a person enters into a coaching relationship in an attempt to get more out of life in either a professional or personal context. The coaching process invariably requires a change in some aspect of a person’s behaviour that is affecting their long-term career prospects 

Becoming aware of and accepting the things that need to be changed is never going to be an easy journey and it only becomes possible when a person is able to find the strength to actually and wholeheartedly accept and tackle the things that need to be changed. It is the responsibility of the coach to support the client through the difficulties that will surely be encountered.

A coach must offer his or her client a safe, supportive and non-judgemental environment in which to work on those things that need to be changed. In reality is this any different from an effective counselling relationship?

Of course it is said that coaching is all about helping well-adjusted people move forward with their lives without ruminating on the past, while counselling tends to linger on their past before people can move on. 

With the exception of traditional psychodynamic approaches, most modern psychotherapy tends to be short term and forward looking. I am not advocating that coaching is in actuality counselling under a different name but I firmly believe that effective behavioural change must take into consideration those elements of a person’s background that make it difficult for them to bring about change.

Bringing about real and lasting change is never going to be easy. Today, through modern advances in neuroscience we are manifestly aware of the deleterious effect of stress on our lives. Helping a client learn how to deal with stress, in and out of the office, must now play an essential role in the coaching process.

When we become emotionally aroused the limbic system takes control of our emotions releasing a potent cocktail of stress hormones into the bloodstream. When this happens we fall under the control of our emotional brain rather than using our intellect and we will temporarily say goodbye to thousands of years of evolution.

This is never going to be a good time to make important decisions or lead other people. Unfortunately these are the conditions under which many people operate on a daily basis to the detriment of themselves, their companies and the people they care about or have the responsibility to lead.

I am in agreement that coaching is not consulting, but there is certainly a great value in teaching a client about mindfulness and mindful meditation as this will give the client a set of skills they can use to recognise and hopefully wrest control of their thinking process from the ravages of the limbic system and allow them to return to a position of mental clarity.

Behavioural change requires knowledge and acceptance of the things that need to be changed. To achieve success in a coaching engagement our clients must develop real courage to face up to the personal demons that can make change so difficult.

As coaches, we need to listen, we need to question, we need to support and we need to teach.

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