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What is coaching?

Coaching is a process where you will work with a trained coach to improve an area of your life or help you reach a goal. Coaches can support you in overcoming a wide range of obstacles: from relationships to work; from sports performance and presentation confidence; from career transitions to redundancy.

While a coach may not give you a step-by-step guide or rigid to-do list, they will aim to create an environment in which you feel you can reach your goals. Coaches aim to empower you, their client, equipping you with a can-do mindset and the confidence to overcome your personal and professional challenges. 

Coaching is a partnership, where you will work closely with someone who will encourage you to stay on track. Coaches use techniques like active listening, questioning, observation and reflecting back, to help you find the answers you need in order to take positive action. Similarly to counselling and therapy, the relationship you have with your coach is of central importance – it's a lot about chemistry and feeling that you are understood by and can trust this other person. 

While this one-on-one partnership is similar in some ways to therapy and counselling, coaching does differ. These differences, however, are not rigidly defined – you'll find that coaches and therapists can both work with you on similar issues. However, if you are struggling with mental health difficulties, a therapist or counsellor is the best route; if you have a specific obstacle in your personal or professional life you would like to work on, coaching may be best. There is more information about the difference below. 

What are the different kinds of coaching?

Life coach

Life coaching is centred on you – working with a life coach will be a highly subjective journey in terms of what areas of your life you want to work on and how you would like to better yourself. Working with a life coach, like other forms of coaching, is action-oriented, however you may also spend time reflecting on why the obstacles are there for you in the first place. If you want to work on your confidence, you may need to consider why you lack it; if you are desperate for a better work-life balance, you may need to address why you can't leave your work behind at the end of the working day. 

Life coaching takes into account the varying facets that make up an individual's life and how these influence personal development: your personality, your relationships, your family, your cultural and social expectations for yourself. Some trained therapists and counsellors also work as life coaches. The aim of life coaching is to help you identify what matters to you, what you want from life, and your coach will walk alongside you until you get there. 

Life coaching may benefit you if you have been wanting to make changes in your life but you are struggling to make them on your own. If you need clarity and someone to hold you accountable, a life coach may well be the right option for you. 

Executive coach

Demands on executives are high – as you move up the career ladder, you will need to adapt from being involved with the day-to-day of the working environment, to planning, managing other people, and making decisions that impact the bigger picture. 

Executive coaches can help you with critical thinking, problem solving, management skills, strategising, and time keeping. An executive coach can help you identify your strengths and improve your performance in areas where you may feel challenged. They can also help you manage your work-life balance to ensure that you have the resources to keep up with what your role demands of you. 

Being able to work at your best is often a holistic task, and executive coaches may consider your general lifestyle and your relationships, understanding that both of these factors can affect working performance.

Leadership coach

As the name suggests, a leadership coach will help those in leadership positions improve the skills they need in order to fulfil the demands of their position. These coaches may have previous personal experience of leadership roles within corporate environments. 

A leadership coach can help you transition into your new role, which is likely full of new responsibilities – developing strategy, implementing long-term plans and making important decisions.

Leadership coaching can build your confidence, make you a more effective team leader, improve your relationships with those that work for you. Coaching will also provide you with space and time for reflection with someone you trust and who understands your challenges. This time for reflection can be invaluable and help you make impactful decisions that benefit your team. 

Career coach

Carving out a career path can seem like one of the most daunting tasks – where to begin? A career coach can help you make a plan that aligns with your values, desires and needs, and then they can help you stick to your agreed goals. 

Career coaching is a great place to gain insight into what really makes you tick, what your skills are, how you can use your previous experience (both in work and in your personal life) to your advantage. A career coach may also be able to help you with tasks such as creating a good CV and preparing for interviews. 

Health coach

If the area you want to work on is health and fitness, a coach specialising in this area may be the best support for you. 

Different from seeing a personal trainer for an hour of exercise, health coaches help their clients find holistic routes to overall better health. Health coaches may also help their clients navigate changes to their health (perhaps through illness, accident or age) and the ways that these physical changes might affect your emotional wellbeing and ability to maintain your motivation and stay on track with your life goals.

A health coach can also support you to kick unhealthy habits, and build new, healthier ones. 

Relationship coach

Finding the right relationship isn't easy. If you are someone who struggles to meet people, who lacks in confidence, or who seemingly keeps picking the wrong partners, a relationship coach may be able to help you. 

Relationship coaching does not only involve romantic relationships – a coach can also help you with friendships or workplace relationships. Maybe you find it difficult to connect with others or feel misunderstood by your peers – if so, relationship coaching could be a good fit for you. 

Relationships are a hugely influential part of our lives, shaping everything from our mental and physical health, to our likelihood of being successful in work, so if this is an area that is holding you back a relationship coach could be a good option to consider.

Self-development coach/Personal coach

A self-development coach or personal coach might be the right option for you if you feel like you hold yourself back. Maybe you have a sense of your potential, but you struggle to reach it, or you lack in motivation. Coaching can help you identify and overcome these major roadblocks.

Like most forms of coaching described on this page, one of the key benefits of self-development or personal coaching is that you have someone to hold you accountable and help you stick to your goals. The process will also boost your confidence, as you consistently move towards a life that is more like how you imagined it would be. 

This type of coaching is also useful if you have a particular area you want to work on – perhaps you feel like your inability to speak in public is really holding you back from progressing at work? A self-development coach can work with you on your presentation skills, shyness and delivery, to help you overcome this block. Self-belief is often at the heart of these difficulties and the right coach will help you to address your fears, embrace your strengths, and acknowledge and build on your successes.

What's the difference between coaching and therapy?

While psychotherapy and counselling may explore your past experiences in order to illuminate your present difficulties, coaching is more likely to focus on the here-and-now and the future. Coaches are aligned with therapists and counsellors, however, in the sense that they won't give you 'the answers'. Generally, coaches also work from the belief that you have the answers you need for yourself – their goal is to help you find them and to motivate you to overcome whatever challenges you have identified.

If your mental health is affecting your day-to-day life, a psychotherapist or counsellor is likely to be the best route for you. While coaching can help with a range of difficulties, when it comes to mental health problems like anxiety, depression, addiction, PTSD, or any other debilitating issue, it is best to consider seeing a psychotherapist or counsellor.

If, instead, you generally feel OK but have a niggling sense that you could be achieving more, a coach may be able to help you. Coaching is for you if you want someone to help keep you accountable for reaching your goals. Or if you have a very specific area of your life that you have identified as a problem and that you want to resolve. While therapy is considered more insight-oriented, coaching is more action-oriented.

Coaching may differ from psychotherapy and counselling in terms of how the service is delivered. While therapy is traditionally held at the same time each week, coaching doesn't necessarily stick to a rigid structure. Coaches may also offer packages, while many therapists take payment per session and offer an open-ended service. While it is not unheard of to see your coach face-to-face, a lot of coaching happens remotely, via video or phone.

Psychotherapists and counsellors have undergone years of training in order to become fully qualified. All of the therapists and counsellors on the welldoing.org directory are verified as members of recognised professional associations, meaning that we can guarantee they are qualified, insured, and that they adhere to a code of ethics. Coaching is an unregulated profession in the UK, meaning that anyone could call themselves a coach. There are, however, associations and membership bodies who ensure that coaches are insured and have trained in their field. All welldoing.org coaches will be verified as members of these associations.

Should I see a therapist or a coach?

When to see a therapist or counsellor:

  • you are living with a mental health issue
  • you want someone to listen to what's going on for you and help you learn about yourself
  • you want to develop self-awareness 

When to see a coach:

  • you have a specific goal you want to achieve
  • you want someone to hold you accountable and give you direction
  • you want to develop a plan for yourself

It is important to note, firstly, that these lists are far from exhaustive and, secondly, that therapists and counsellors may also be able to help you with some of the areas that coaching can help you with, and vice versa. 

Therapy or counselling can also help you achieve your goals, particularly if you need to overcome deep-rooted psychological blocks in order to do so. Likewise, you will likely develop self-awareness whilst working with a coach, as you learn more about your skills and where you need to improve. 

In both processes, the relationship you have with your coach or therapist should be one characterised by trust and support. 

Relevant associations

Association for Coaching

Association for Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision

International Coach Federation UK

UK Coaching

UK Health Coaches Association

Last updated 3 August 2020

lists welldoing.org for therapy and counselling