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What’s the difference between coaching and counseling?

September 13, 2019

I’m Kim.
I’m an M.D.-turned-coach and I’m dedicated to helping you build your dream career + lifestyle. Welcome to my blog, where I write (and podcast) about wellness, business + success!
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I had a conversation with a new health coach recently, and one of the things she’s struggling with is drawing the boundaries between coaching and counseling. That’s because she is a licensed psychotherapist.

And I find this distinction is something a lot of people struggle with. Many people feel confused about where counselling ends and coaching begins. 

So let’s talk about this.

What IS the difference? And … more importantly for an aspiring coach, how do you delineate the boundaries for your clients?

First…what is coaching?

A coach is someone who is trained to help you acknowledge where you are today more clearly, and then help and support you in finding ways, strategies and tools to move you forward and closer toward your goals.

A well-trained coach does not tell you what to do,  but rather acts as a sounding board to help you discover what is that you want to do in your life, career and with your personal wellbeing.

A coach’s main task is to help people people achieve their goals. The basic presumption of coaching is that clients are in a good and willing place emotionally and mentally, and they’re available to receive guidance and on how to make changes that will help them achieve their goals. The work focuses on tapping into your motivation for change, exploring barriers and obstacles to change, and creating plans.

Now…what is counselling?

Counselling can be used to describe any type of short-term talking therapy (in contrast, psychotherapy is more long term and focused on past issues). 

A counsellor is someone who creates a safe and supportive space for clients to explore who they are, and cope with what they are facing in life.  A counsellor helps people identify problems, and then acts as a support system to help them gain the strength and clarity to finally move forward.

Counsellors most often help clients deal with stress, various challenges at home or work, or trauma such as a divorce or bereavement. Counselling can also help with issues like confidence, self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and addictions.

How to make the boundary clear as a coach

So the question is: if you hold a license as a counsellor or a therapist (or other licensed healthcare professional, for that matter), how do you make the transition to coaching? And more to the point, when you’re signing on a new client, or actually coaching them, how do you maintain your boundaries?

The most important step is to make it clear that this is not a therapy relationship. It’s the same thing that I have to do when working as a physician versus working as a coach. It needs to be stated upfront — on your marketing material, your sales pages, and your contracts & agreements — that the coach-client relationship is not a therapist-patient relationship (or a doctor-patient relationship, if that’s relevant to you). 

I recommend having this delineation spelled out in writing, and then also verbally, during your discovery calls or other enrolment process. In my opinion, you really can’t go to far in making this distinction crystal clear, so that both parties are entirely on the same page. It’s your job as a coach to create this container, which sets up the relationship properly and allows you both to move forward with clarity and confidence.

It can sometimes feel tricky to transition into coaching if you already hold a license in another, somewhat related, “helping” profession…but it doesn’t have to be complicated. If you feel like you need more support around this issue, know that I help coaches with this all the time, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Now, I know this can feel overwhelming, and a lot to do when you’re just trying to get off the ground. So I’ve created a PDF guide called “3 Ways To Win New Clients This Week” and you can grab it for free–it’s 3 things you can do right now to find and enroll new clients into your health coaching business. Go ahead and click the link to download that guide and then get started on the road to a much more profitable health coaching business.

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