In my time I have been the client to both coach and counsellor. And as I go through my training, I’m experiencing a true sense of what counselling aims to achieve and the differences to coaching.
As a client, up to a point, my 12 months of counselling were valuable and enjoyable. It was good to have an ear to hear my thoughts and grievances. At that time I felt too that it lacked the ‘and what next?” element. The important part so I could break some of my limited thinking and allow me to make changes.
However I left most sessions (and eventually ended the counselling) feeling my head was a little clearer but there was a piece missing. We could fill the session with talking yet I wanted to have a plan of what to do. Not to be told what to do, but for me to have decisions and commitments in place.
It was as though we swirled the water and then just watched it settle back down. Only to swirl it again at the next session.
I can look back on these counselling sessions and know that they were using a person centred approach which is based in allowing the client to develop their own awareness and subsequent change.
According to the NHS, ‘a counsellor is trained to listen with empathy (by putting themselves in your shoes)’. Now, it may be subtle but here is difference worth noting. I don’t regard a coach’s role to be that of ‘stepping into your shoes’. In fact the idea of doing this would, for me, be limiting my ability to assist the client. While a coach uses empathy to develop rapport, by standing in someone else’s shoes, you’re limited to only feeling what that person feels. You begin to become the subject and lose the objective position. It is this objective position where your coach can challenge your subjective, internal, thinking and introduce a new behaviour.
The mainstay of any coaching model will often include, ‘What are you going to do now?’ or ‘What action will you do differently?’. We are not looking at therapeutically discussing a situation and leaving it there, open. It’s about going in to find ways that you need to take action. To get you closer to the solution. To get yourself out of the stuck state you find yourself in.
Through questions and discussion, we raise and shift awareness. Not unlike counselling, the aim is to bring to the surface the tools you have already inside you. This can be through challenging some sets of beliefs that are causing the problem
This is an important point. Coaching delivers the steps that see you doing something differently. The saying goes, ‘If you carry on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten’. Something needs to change in some form. Coaching assists you in not only changing behaviour but also life-long tools to use to help you get out stuck states that can crop up time to time. As the quote says:
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Maimonides
Coaching brings with it a degree of accountability on the client to action something: you agree to go and action the points that take you towards your goal. That’s the agreement; and that accountability is quite powerful.
In general, coaching and coaches will spend less time peeling back the layers of your personal history, and be keener to take the you as they find you and work toward an agreed outcome.
There is an important distinction that also needs mentioning: how protected a client is when they employ a counsellor or coach.
Most reputable counsellors will be registered to a professional organisation such as the BACP that maintains certain standards of training, governance and importantly, complaints. Giving clients greater protection and a minimum level of training.
Coaching is a late-comer to this and the two primary organisations are beginning to set and uphold clearer guidelines, that have high ethical and professional standards. There are the International Coaching Federation and the Association of Coaching. As a member of the Association of Coaching, I have to abide by their global code of ethics as set out by Professional Charter for Coaching and Mentoring. Yet there is no real jurisdiction that these associations have. You can coach without being a member.
It’s worth adding that this is also true of counselling. It is not a protected title and can be used unregulated with little to no accountability.
While qualifications can be the decision maker for many; and without disputing their validity, what needs to be a substantial part of your decision is, ‘Do I connect with this person?’. How often have you met someone who is highly qualified but you just don’t connect with them? How likely are you to share, disclose or discuss anything if a reasonable degree of connection and trust – rapport – isn’t established?
This is why I insist that prospective clients and I have a chat over the phone to make sure I am the right fit for them. If not, I can refer them on to someone who might be.
There are those that will prefer counselling and others that want coaching. There is certainly no right or wrong, better or worse. And this article is by no means definitive and very much subjective. Yet I hope it’s helped introduce you to some useful questions. Helped you think about what the next steps might look like, and what kind of help would be best placed to get you closer to resolve some of those challenges and problems you’re facing.
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Ben Jackson is a registered counsellor, coach, and lecturer with nearly 10 years of professional experience. He helps clients with stress and anxiety, anger management, self esteem, confidence, and depression.
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