Choosing Between Counselling & Coaching

As we head into the New Year, many of us are taking stock and realising that we want or need to make changes. For some of us, there are specific goals we’d like to achieve like prioritising our wellbeing, improving our relationships, getting fit and healthy or making a physical or career move.  For some of us however, there is just a nagging sense that things need to change, to get better.

Whether you’re in either scenario, you may feel that you need help to get out of the starting blocks to make sustainable changes and choosing the right kind of support can feel a bit confusing with all the different options out there. In this article, I’d like to highlight two of these options, counselling and coaching, and help you to decide if one of them may be a good option for you.

Both counselling and coaching can be helpful for people who are looking to make positive changes in their lives, and even though there is a lot of overlap between them, they are different approaches that are suitable for different situations. The boundary between counselling and coaching has become even more blurred since coaching has become more regulated and qualifications have evolved beyond a 6-week life-coaching course to include in-depth and advanced academic curricula that cover an array of psychology and behaviour modification subjects. Nevertheless, let’s try to discern how they’re different and how one of them may be better for you than the other.

What is Counselling?

Counselling is a type of mental health treatment in which a trained professional, such as a psychologist or therapist, helps you, the client, to work through your problems and overcome challenges. In counselling, the therapist provides a safe space for you to identify issues that may be challenging or distressing, and to find healthy ways to process, and develop more resilient ways to manage, these issues.

There are many forms of counselling and approaches to counselling, and even more reasons why counselling may be appropriate. Typically, people consider counselling when they find they are struggling with a particular problem or with the circumstances of their life in general. For example, someone may reach out when they have received a difficult diagnosis or lost a loved-one, have moved to a new job or community, or they may generally be feeling overwhelmed, unhappy or anxious.

How does Counselling Work?

Depending on your therapist’s approach, they will form a collaborative relationship with you and support you to identify patterns of thoughts and behaviours that may be causing unhealthy perspectives and responses to your experiences. As you’re deepening your level of self-awareness, your therapist will also support you to develop skills and resources that will help you to make and sustain shifts in how you think and behave, which will in turn change how you experience things.

Counselling is often referred to as being focused on the past and addressing underlying issues that may be causing problems in a person’s life. And in cases this is true, however, more contemporary approaches focus on how we’re experiencing things now, recognising and investigating the pattern in the present moment, and discovering how that pattern is influencing how we experience things now. Even though the patterns were likely developed early on in our development, and we may want to identify when, how and why they developed, the focus remains on how we’re organising things now. How the pattern plays out now, and how that affects our experiences. We can then look at how we may be able to rearrange those patterns so that we’re open to new [and potentially healthier] experiences. Counselling has in this way become a lot more present focused.

What is Coaching?

Coaching, is a process that focuses on helping individuals achieve specific goals or improve specific areas of their lives. A coach works with you to identify your goals and create a plan to achieve them, providing support and guidance along the way. Coaching is often more action-oriented and goal-focused than counselling. This is not to say that coaching does not address patterns and behaviours in the way that counselling does. A good coach will also focus on developing self-awareness, helping you to be accountable for your thoughts and actions that may be getting in the way of you achieving your goals.

Coaching, is however, generally more focused on a specific goal or set of goals. For this reason, coaching is often a more finite and short-term process. For example, your coach may specify a duration for the process, which could be anything from 12-weeks to a year. Counselling, however, is more open-ended and you may need to commit for a longer period, because of the deeper nature of the work that is being done. For more about coaching, have a look at: 7 Reasons Coaching Could Be Just What You Need This Year?

How do I find the Right Counsellor or Coach for Me?

So, you’ve decided you want to take the leap and make proactive changes in your life, and now you need to find a counsellor or coach that is right for you. This can feel a bit daunting, given the choices out there, especially if you’ve had previous experiences that haven’t gone so well.  Here are some steps to help you get started:

5 Steps to Finding the Right Counsellor or Coach for You

  1. Do some research. This doesn’t have to be high-level and technical, a simple google search, to see what’s out there and what people are saying, will do. This will give you a sense of the types of support you can get, and you may also get a sense of the types of approaches that appeal to you.
  2. Talk to people you trust. Your family, friends and coworkers may have information about local or on-line resources that would suit you. If you’re not so keen on letting on to everyone you know that you’re needing support, consider talking to your GP or primary healthcare provider.
  3. Reach out. It is quite acceptable to reach out to a coach or counsellor to get a sense of them. Many will even offer a short “chemistry session” to determine if your working together would be a good fit. This is a good time to ask them to explain their approach, their availability, their pricing, etc.
  4. Communicate with your counsellor or coach. If you feel things are not going well or your expectations are not being met, discuss this with your counsellor or coach. This is a collaborative relationship, and it is therefore important to be transparent about your experience, so that your counsellor or coach can pivot where necessary.
  5. Make a change. If you really feel that things are not going well and your communications around this have not been heard or addressed, consider trying a new counsellor or coach. If you feel you’d like to try someone new, discuss this with your existing practitioner. It is tempting to just ghost them and move on, but this isn’t helpful [to either of you] in the long-term, and addressing your unhappiness may provide an opportunity for growth on both your parts.


I am interested to hear your views on counselling vs coaching. Please tell me what you think using the comment box below, and if you found this article interesting or useful, please like and share it on your social media platform of choice. Thank you.

If you’d like to work with me, please contact me directly.

Featured image by Grace Brauteseth of Stinkweed Studios sourced from Unsplash.


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