I am frequently asked about the differences between counseling and life coaching. In this post I will provide an overview of the similarities and differences to help you clarify which is the best route for you.
Life coaching, career coaching, and executive coaching are all ways to learn new skills to be more effective in reaching life goals, career development and overall satisfaction. When I am working in the role of coach I teach behavioral goal setting, interpersonal skills such as communication, conflict resolution, and boundary implementation. I help client's to find ways to grow creativity, flexible thinking, and stress management skills. Coaching is a completely unregulated industry at this time. Coaches can be certified by various organizations, but no certification or licensure is necessary to practice. This lack of regulation does not mean that a coach is necessarily unqualified, they certainly might be, but it is a good idea to ask what your coach's background, education and training are. Many therapists, such as myself, practice both counseling and coaching, and do meet regulatory requirements for licensure as a therapist or counselor. Coaches can practice from a variety of fields and experiences, and this variety of experience is a good thing, but again it's a good idea to ask your coach so that you know what experiences their coaching practices are derived from.
Counseling, or psychotherapy, is meant to address symptoms that meet criteria for a mental health diagnosis such as Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Disorder being the operative word. The term disorder implies that a person's symptoms meet criteria for diagnosis, and are frequent and intense enough that they significantly impair an individuals ability to function normally in one or more major life areas ( family relationships, social functioning, professional functioning). The first goal of counseling is to stabilize mood through a combination of verbal processing, reframing, and skills training; followed by quality of life enhancement and skills practice to maintain these gains. Health insurance typically covers counseling, as long as diagnosis and treatment meet the standard of medical necessity, insurance does not typically cover coaching. Regulations for counselors and other mental health practitioners vary somewhat by state, but in general mental health practitioners must have a Master's Degree or Ph.D. in Counseling, Social Work, Psychology or a related field, and maintain a state issued license to practice. Practitioners must also carry malpractice or liability insurance. Practitioners must practice in a way that is congruent with State and Federal laws, as well as comprehensive ethical guidelines, and failure to do so can result in criminal charges, malpractice claims, license suspension, or other disciplinary measures.
Which is right for you?
This really depends on what your goals are. Are you looking to enhance your life, set and meet important goals, improve relationships, build confidence? Are you considering a career change, starting your own business, or growing the business that you already have? If so, coaching might be the best option for you. Conversely, if you believe that you might be suffering from symptoms of a mood disorder, such as: sleeplessness, changes in appetite, frequent tearfulness, feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, anger or anxiety that prevents you from fully living your life, it might be time to meet with a mental health practitioner to discuss diagnosis and treatment.
Whichever route you take remember to be a little bit selfish with your treatment. Having a good rapport with your counselor or coach will make a big difference in your treatment outcome, so if you don't feel like you connect well with this person, it's a good idea to keep looking. There's an old saying that: you don't meet a good friend, you recognize them. Coaches and counselors aren't friends per se, but when you meet one that you connect well with, you'll recognize them.