How do Coaching and Counselling differ?

Why we should be more willing to embrace both

As a coach I am often asked if coaching is similar to counselling. So I decided to create an article that goes some way to explain the similarities and differences and why I believe as a society we should more willingly embrace the benefits that come with telling your story to someone who will listen without judgment.

The biggest difference between these two listening professions lies in the nature of the support the client's needs;

Clients come to coaching because they want to change or improve something in their lives; this could be external to them like their career or it could be internal like becoming more confident. Coaching is goal orientated and focuses on the present and the future. To read more about coaching click here.

Clients who seek counselling need a space to talk and to be heard, they are more likely to feel lost, depressed, anxious or struggling with mental health issues. Counselling can help clients look at their past in the present, develop coping strategies for the present and deepen their understanding of themselves.

I believe that everyone experiences times when they could use support, but very often people resist asking for help for fear of stigma, or because their own defences refuse to allow them to admit anything is wrong.

Both professions create a confidential space for clients to tell their story, explore their narrative and start a journey of acceptance and/or change.

“It becomes easier for me to accept myself as a decidedly imperfect person, who by no means functions at all times in the way in which I would like to function. This must seem to some like a very strange direction in which to move. It seems to me to have value because the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change.” Carl R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy

There are many different kinds of counselling and coaching specialisms (i.e grief or trauma in counselling or business and life in coaching). There are also different counselling and coaching modalities; both making comparison more complicated. But as this could be an article in itself, for the purposes of keeping things simple I have ignored this added complexity in the creation of this short overview.

The comparison is based on 1-2-1 coaching and counselling (it does not consider groups) and gives an overview not a comprehensive comparison.


  • Both relationships will begin with contracting; an explanation of how the process will work and the ethics that guide the coach or counsellor

  • Both offer 100% confidentiality (within the constraints of the law)

  • Both believe that the client is autonomous and unique

  • Both involve a number of sessions usually 6 or more

  • Both are client led and believe in the importance of establishing a trusting relationship (sometimes called "therapeutic alliance")

  • Both work with clients thinking and behaviours and raising their client awareness

  • Both coaches and counsellors will have core skills in empathy, listening and communication

  • Both are expected to undertake regular supervision, practice self-care and engage in continued professional development (if members of recognised professional bodies)


  • Counsellors specialise in supporting clients with trauma, addiction, grief & loss, relationships, abuse, depression and anxiety.

  • Counselling clients can be referred from medical professionals (although this is starting to happen for coaching too)

  • Counsellors have additional training in safeguarding vulnerable people, evaluating risk, mental health disorders and supporting clients emotionally.

  • Counsellors are required to undertake more training to qualify than coaches, their training will include more client facing training hours than coaches. To become accredited counsellors must undertake 4 times as many hours with clients than coaches.

  • Coaching is goal orientated and assumes that the client is resourceful and capable of making the change that they seek.

  • Coaching supports clients in their working lives not only their personal life.

  • Coaching is more commonly used in organisations to help with employee development and performance improvements. Counselling may be available to support stress and burn out.


It is easy to see why I have been asked about the similarities as there are many cross overs and grey areas especially when taking into account the many specialisms.

I believe that coaching can be a transformational experience that helps clients to feel more empowered to be the change they seek in our constantly changing world. Whilst it can provide a space for healing and acceptance, it is not the right space for clients that need to deal with trauma, loss, addiction, depression, OCD or other mental health conditions.

If you seek the answers to the question in order to decide whether to contact a coach or a counsellor for support then, firstly I encourage you to follow your instinct and start your search for the right person to help you.

If you focus on what you need support with, this will enable you to search for the right "listening" professional. There are some other useful links below that provide more information about NHS services. If you are keen to find out more about coaching explore the BEAR FRUIT website and get in touch.

Other Links

If you want to know more about talking therapies, visit the NHS website here for more advice. Where you will also find links to get support.

If you need help from a mental health charity click here to go to the NHS website.

If you're worried that you might be feeling depressed, follow this link to the NHS online self-assessment click here.

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