The difference between a life coach and a counselor (and how to find a good one)

It’s common for people to seek help from a counselor when big events happen. The first time I saw a counselor was after my mother died (I was 27). I needed more support than usual, more than my husband and friends could give.

Over the years since then, I’ve hired a few other counselors and life coaches to help me with challenges and also work on goals in my life.

My current counselor helps me both personally and professionally. And as my business has evolved, I also have sought out a business coach, copy coaches and web and branding coaches too.

Good counselors and life coaches have counselors and coaches too (it helps them in their lives and professions).

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?

There is a difference between counselors and life coaches. I’m a life coach. In an article from Counseling Today, Paula Badget Baylor (counselor and life coach) says that life coaches mainly focus on four things:

    • Defining goals
    • Formulating a plan that will use the client’s skills
    • Holding the client accountable for progress
    • Providing structure, encouragement and support

Counselors are also life coaches. And counselors are certified with additional training and licensing to help people heal from trauma and deal with substance abuse, major depression and personality disorders like bipolar or borderline. It’s kind of like they are a doctor for the mind. Like doctors, there are regulations and laws counselors have to follow.

A counselor might call themselves a counselor, and they might also call themselves a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist or licensed clinical social worker.

Counselors can form long-term therapeutic relationships with some clients, like they can “mother” you or “father” you in healthy ways if they think it would be beneficial. In contrast, the coach/client partnership is usually centered around strategies, empowerment and goals. The coaching partnership is not therapeutic (it’s coaching).

Training, certification and licensing for coaches vary, and none of it is required by law. I received my education in seminary school (I have a Masters in Divinity) and I was trained at Life Coach Austin. I don’t have a license, but I follow the Ethical Principles of the International Association of Coaching because it’s good for my clients and me.

A life coach will call themselves a coach, mentor or consultant. Coaches often focus on wellness, and they also often have a particular focus. For example, my focus is on moms with hot tempers. Coaches are often people who have figured out a particular problem in their lives and they want to help people who have the same problem they did. (That’s what I do – I used to have a hot temper too.)

The time spent with a coach is also focused and often limited. For example, I will see a client for 2-10 sessions during a focused period of time for a particular goal, and not more. Clients continue to grow and practice the strategies they learn during our time together after the sessions have ended. They often go on to seek out other counselors, coaches, massage therapists, fitness teachers, etc., to get more help with their goals. Sometimes they ask me for a check-in at a later date, a review of strategies, or they ask if they can work with me on new goals.

If a long-term therapeutic relationship would be beneficial, a coach will tell a client that it’s time to see a counselor. After working with me, my clients often benefit from seeing a counselor (I have a list of referrals). A counselor will sometimes refer a client to a coach to work on a specific goal or challenge too. (Mine has.)

It’s not black and white (nothing is), and counselors and coaches will say that there is overlap in the professions, but they both fulfill a need in our society, and they bring each other business. The two professions complement each other.

To help you as best they can, with your permission, counselors and coaches will sometimes consult with each other about their clients.

So if you are not dealing with major depression, a personality disorder, trauma or a substance abuse problem, I might be a good fit for you. I’m also unable to work with families who are presently in abusive situations. (Please call 911 if you’re in an abusive situation.) I serve a particular niche, average moms who need some support.

HOW TO FIND A GOOD COUNSELOR OR COACH

If you’re looking for a counselor or coach, ask around. For a coach, ask your friends. For a counselor, ask leaders, pastors or bosses you know to see if they have someone they can refer you to.

The counselors and coaches you choose to work with is largely a matter of taste. Who gets you? Who helps you?

After a few meetings, you may decide a coach or counselor is not the right one for you. Or a coach or counselor also might decide that you’re not a good fit for them. If either of you decides it’s not a good fit, it’s ok. The counselor/coach relationship is a partnership, and to get the most out of it, you want both partners to be excited about working together.

Because you’re in a partnership, you might spend some time talking about what’s working and what’s not in your partnership. A coach or counselor might encourage you to talk more about something specific because it’s helping them to help you. If a coach or counselor said or did something helpful for you, let them know, or ask them to say it again. It will help them learn how best to help you.

You may see a coach or counselor for a short while, or it may be a partnership that lasts off and on for years. The way I see it, when two people work together to lift someone up, it’s a good thing. It’s a sign of love and wisdom, a sign of good things to come.

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