When I give public presentations and teach coaching skills, I sometimes get asked what the difference is between counseling (which I used to practice) and coaching (what I practice today). This is an excerpt from my upcoming book “Coaching Other People”.

Most counselors want to help people resolve emotional or mental difficulties, develop insight and achieve self-acceptance and self-understanding. Most counselors assume there is something broken or that needs healing and that the root of the problem lies in past situations and present behaviors.

So counselors tend to focus on a client’s past and present circumstances and habitual attitudes to help the client identify their overall patterns and ways of reacting to things. The assumption is that if a client understands his or her habitual patterns that s/he will feel differently and then act differently.

While some counselors may also focus on helping the client create action steps to address situations, it is not usually the main focus of counseling.

On the other hand, coaches assume people are inherently wise about themselves-that every client is creative, resourceful and whole. Coaches believe the best way to feeling better is to identify what the client wants and for the client to devise steps to get there. Since coaches want to increase a client’s motivation and ability to take effective action, they tend to focus on developing present actions to create the future.

If a client requests assistance on past issues, a coach will do so in the context of how to overcome past obstacles so the client can achieve what they want today.

Unlike a counselor, a coach’s focus isn’t necessarily to delve deeply into the details of the client’s past or to explore the deep inner workings of a client’s psyche. (It doesn’t mean they won’t ever do this, just that it isn’t part of the usual coaching process.)

Also, unlike counseling, a coach will not expect, encourage nor compel a client to reveal any past secrets s/he wishes to remain secret.

The coach’s focus always returns to what the client wants now and to assisting them through compelling questions and encouragement to discover the best way for them to achieve what they want. Coaching is always action-oriented.

Unlike counseling, a coach also routinely uses a client’s thoughts and feelings to bring the client to positive action, not to focus on why they’re thinking/feeling that way or the story behind it.

A good metaphor is that counseling is like mining and coaching is like building.

Choose counseling if you want to go deep into your life. Choose coaching if you want to build toward your goals.

Both activities are valuable, depending on what you want at a particular time in your life.

May we pursue our paths, knowing when to mine and when to build,

Best wishes,

Elizabeth