• Individual counselling and coaching both involve working one-to-one with a professional 

  • Funmi Oni, who works as both a counsellor and a coach, outlines some of the key differences between the two processes

  • You can find a coach here and find a counsellor here

Clients will generally contact a counsellor or coach based on their perceived level of expertise or experience. Naturally, clients who feel they can benefit from both coaching and counselling will contact the person who can provide both levels of support. It’s like having half and half of Domino’s pizza with different toppings.

Person-centred counselling is one of the humanist approaches to counselling and was founded by the psychologist Carl Rogers. It is based on the belief that with the presence of core conditions every human can self-actualise. Self-actualisation simply means individuals can grow and reach their full potential. The core conditions are:

  • Empathy – being able to demonstrate a level of understanding of what another person is feeling
  • Congruence – the counsellor's ability to openly experience the feelings and attitudes that are happening
  • Unconditional positive regard – the counsellor's ability to show acceptance of the client without being judgmental.

Personal Performance Coaching on the other hand was first made popular by Thomas Leonard in the 1980s. One of the main overriding philosophies of coaching is to support and challenge clients to be achieve their intended goals. This is the main aim of any coach, whether a business coach, executive coach, leadership coach, relationship coach, or other. Coaching is used to develop an individual's skills and abilities.

So, when clients come to counselling or coaching, it is important to take time to carefully explain the difference between the two and here are some of the main differences:

  • Counselling is used to help you understand your past experiences and how these may have a direct impact on your present state. On the other hand, coaches do not spend time delving into your past, though a a quick dip-in may be necessary. The core aim of the coach is to support a willing client in setting bite-size goals that are geared towards empowering the client to achieve future goals.
  • Counsellors focus mainly on emotions and feelings of their clients. When coaching, the focus is on setting goals and empowering clients to achieve their goals. It doesn’t mean that they care less about their client's feelings. It is the coach's responsibility to be open and honest so, whenever it is deemed you will benefit more from one form of intervention over another, your coach would make their observations known while remaining cognisant of the fact that you must make the final decision.
  • Often, clients come into counselling to find answers to the problems they have or to learn recovery techniques or even coping mechanisms. Coaching clients usually approach coaches because they know what they want but need support to get it. A good example would be an individual seeking counselling because of addiction problem. Counselling can help unravel the source of the problem, and the healing process can start from there. A coaching client may require support in career development. This client needs a carefully mapped out plan.
  • Counselling clients do take time to heal and progress could depend on a lot of different factors. It takes a more time for them to trust and build a relationship with their counsellors. Trauma, illness, addiction and other mental health issues require a healthy amount of time to heal. In coaching, progress can be a lot quicker.
  • Another difference I have found in my practice as a coach and counsellor is that in counselling clients are reacting to situations that have occurred in their lives, whilst coaching is more of a proactive or preventative measure.
  • The aim of an individual seeking counselling is usually to get 'back to normal' or what their perceived normal is. However, a person who seeks the help of a coach wants to achieve more or become better than their current 'normal'. The person is tired of his or her current state and wants something different or new.

A person who would like both counselling and coaching would find that the initial sessions would start with counselling and then progress unto coaching. A building is only as strong as its foundation.

Funmi Oni is a verified welldoing.org counsellor and coach based in Milton Keynes and online

Further reading

How emotions set high performers apart

Public speaking: how can I stop my voice from shaking?

What's the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?

Where success really comes from

Why self-compassion is key to success