Are they wildly different? What might I expect? And which one is right for me? These are some great questions that you may be asking yourself.
I have been both a client of a counsellor and of a coach. I’ve experienced both roles as the client and understand the benefits of both.
For me, my 12 months of counselling were valuable and enjoyable, up to a point. I had counselling prior to being a coach, so this was my first experience. And whilst it was good to have an ear to hear my thoughts and grievances, it lacked the ‘and what next?” element. We talk, we share, we discuss. But what did I walk away with that I could go and actually do?
I left most sessions and 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.
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. If you stand 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 subjective, internal thinking is best placed to be challenged and a new behaviour introduced.
The mainstay of any coaching model will often include, “What are you going to do now?”, “What action will you do differently?”, “What are you going to go and do?”. This is the important part of it. 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 your awareness. And 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. For example, “How do you get upset about ‘x’?”. “What needs to happen to make you feel better?”. “What specifically is it about the problem that you get angry over?”.
And that is such 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”. So 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
So 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.
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 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.
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?
Which 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. It has happened that a client hasn’t booked with me because they felt I didn’t have enough qualifications, only to come back a month or so later having changed their mind (delightfully, his testimony is on my website).
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, problems you’re facing.