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Understanding the Difference Between Coaching and Counseling If you do decide to step out and seek help to help, would you go to a counselor or a life coach?

By Geeta Ramakrishnan

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Coaching and counselling, both germinate with the same premise. The presumption for both will always remain that every individual undergoes pain in their life in some form or the other. And that many individuals do not go to the bottom of the core problem and rather live with the wound unhealed - raw or camouflaged. This happens more unconsciously and many accept their problem as part of life and do not feel the need to seek help. Sometimes these often recurring problems are so entrenched into their daily way of living, that it seems normal.

This is mainly due to the lack of awareness on what counseling and coaching are and what it has to offer and how it can help people. Some people also live in denial and do not want to accept they have a problem. The social stigma and acceptance level of going to a counselor or a coach, let alone a psychologist or a psychiatric is still very negative. This can lead to self-sabotage of some kind.

At some point in their life, to desire a different result, they must allow themselves to become vulnerable, to seek help. After all, everything you want is on the other side of fear, as aptly said by Jack Canfield, an American author and motivational speaker who co-authored the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

Mental illness like prolonged bouts of feeling sad or depressed for no apparent reason, where going through with your day to day activities becomes a challenge, or feeling suicidal requires immediate help and clinical treatment. On the other hand if you are surrounded with stress and don't know how to handle it, like un-reconcilable differences or conflict in a relationship or at work, you feel stuck in life, you lack motivation and don't know what the next better step in life is, or you are curious and want some help with introspecting life, what do you do? If you do decide to step out and seek help to help, would you go to a counselor or a life coach?

The biggest difference in coaching and counselling is the difference in approaches. Life coaches focus on creating a new life path to achieve certain goals. They help you introspect and help you find your solutions. They focus on the now and what next.

Whereas counselors focus on specific problems in hand and look into emotional resolutions to past problems to move forward, finding solutions to those specific problems, while making "healing' as one of the main objectives. One must be aware of the many areas of overlap between these above methods of seeking help.

Let us Explore More on the Differences Between Coaching and Counselling:

Coaching Helps You Take Action and Counselling Enables You to Cope:

You seek a life coach when you are surrounded with stress, feel stuck in life with a problem or an issue, not knowing how to handle it and feel frustrated in life, you have low self-confidence, you need motivation, you need to be a better version of yourself and need that push, you need help to reflect your next step, you are unhappy and unsatisfied in your job and maybe want to change your job or your profession, you are feeling low, you have a relationship issues, you want a better work-life balance, you want to improve your health but don't know the next step and you need someone to handhold you, you procrastinate and waste time and need help in planning and organizing your life better.

Coaches focus on introspection and are action-oriented when it comes to resolving the issue. They believe in giving the clients problem-solving skills rather than specific solutions to a problem. It helps the client handle and successfully adapt to any other situation and stress the client may face in the future. They work with you to identify the problem, set goals to resolve the problems and create a path to achieve the goals.

Some situations which can help by going to a counselor are when you have addiction issues like smoking, alcohol, substance abuse, eating disorders like excessive eating or anorexia, physical or verbal abusive behavior, any phobias like fear of water or crowded places, feeling frustrated with others, suffered a traumatic experience, maybe a bereavement, or sometimes you are just feeling demotivated. Counselors encourage their clients to talk about their problems and help them cope with the problems that they are facing by finding solutions to those problems. They take you to your past, delve in the emotional turmoil, looking for links and solutions to your issues. Healing forms a big part of finding solutions. They also work with other coping mechanisms like communication skills, group support, and therapy to get better solutions for the problems at hand. This enables clients to either reduce or tolerate the stress or conflict in their lives. Broadly there are two types of coping mechanisms: active and avoidant. Counselors also guide clients on using adaptive coping mechanisms such as support, relaxation, physical activity or humour.

Feeling and Thinking

A life coach assists one in thinking and introspection. And thinking is hard! This by itself is challenging. Thinking is encouraged to overcome a situation and to optimize potential. Counselors help one realize the deepest of the feelings. They support one with a lot of understanding and help one stay at peace.

Goal-centric vis-à-vis Clarity-centric:

Coaches are trained to help one see clearly where one is today and then move towards the goals. Counselors create a safe and supportive space to find out where one is tuck in their life and not able to liberate themselves.

Training and Certification:

Counselors have various master's and doctorate degrees and they are licensed by their respective states too. Coaches obtain certification through an accredited program like the International Coaching Federation and there are no degree requirements. Though coaching training does consist of several weekends of in-person training along with online modules. Case studies are submitted for review. Counselors in the UK have extensive training in human emotions and thinking, followed by being a supervised trainee. However, anyone can legally designate themselves as a counselor or a coach in the UK. This is different in the United States, where it is not legal to call oneself a counselor without recognised training. In India, most counselors have a background in psychology. Hence it is important to ask one's coach or counselor about their training.

We Would Also Like to Cover a Few Myths on This Subject:

Myth 1

Coaching only focuses on the present and the future. Counselling exclusively focuses on the past.

Myth 2

Counselors offer advice and on what to do, whereas, coaches do not.


Coaching helps people achieve their goals. The basic presumption itself of coaching is that coaching clients are in a healthy mental and physical space and are prepared to receive guidance and direction on how to achieve their goals. And hence the work involved is on getting inspired and motivated on planning, changing and updating.

Counselors create safe and supportive spaces so that one can explore questions like "where one is stuck', "who one really is' and "how to cope up with what one is facing in life'. Counselors help you identify problems and act as a solid support system to assist you in gaining strength.

Geeta Ramakrishnan

Ontological coach and Author of#1 Amazon Best Seller book ‘The Game of Change.’

A motivation, wellness, and ontological coach, Geeta Ramakrishnan is also the author of the book, The Game Of Change. Keenly interested and intrigued by human behavior, Geeta’s curiosity and passion led her to attend an ontological coach training program from Newfield Asia, Singapore. Today, she offers coaching and conducts workshops on her favorite subject: change. Her life learnings and experiences reflect the balancing act of nurturing success with happiness in her book, The Game of Change

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