When Counseling Today announced it was going to be publishing an article on counseling vs. life coaching, responses poured in from ACA members. While we didn’t have enough space in the magazine to include them all, we wanted to offer some of the other perspectives here CT Online.
“The majority of my work is coaching. I still do clinical work, but not with the same clients I coach. Coaching clients and therapy clients are kept separate. I enjoy the work I do with clients, working by their side to make healthy changes in their life. The clients I work with choose my service as an addition to their program, are highly motivated and want additional support and accountability to help them achieve their goal of a healthier weight and lifestyle. Coaching is based on the belief that the client has the answers. My job is to listen, and to ask the right question.”
Marit D. Weikel, Durham, N.C.
“It is my opinion that coaching actually supports counseling. As a coach, holding the client as complete and whole, I support the client in being responsible for the outcome of their life. This includes their well-being and any therapeutic work needed to support them in being present to their current life situation and the future they desire. If this occurs for the client, I hold it as an opportunity for them to be supported by another professional along with their coach to fulfill their dreams. I hold it that this provides a win/win situation for everyone. It is up to the professionals involved to keep clear boundaries and support each other on behalf of the client and in keeping the client’s best interest and requests at the forefront.”
Laura Bushnell, McKinney, Texas
“I am a licensed and board-certified mental health therapist who at one point considered going into life coaching. I began the process of life coaching myself with a local life coach so I could gain a better understanding of this line of work and the process itself.
In my estimation, both personally and professionally, coaching is NOT therapy and many times the reasons that people get “stuck” is because they are dealing with some old wounds (subconscious many times) and old patterns of behavior that only through true therapy with a trained therapist can those wounds and patterns be uncovered and addressed in order for change to occur. From my own limited experience, the opportunity for psychological exploration is not inherent in the life coaching process.
What gives me cause for concern is that the distinction between the two processes are not clear to the general population (much less our own profession), and those who are in need of real therapeutic support might not seek out the proper therapist to treat them. Furthermore, since life coaches are not as yet regulated, people without proper educational training and schooling can and will be practicing.”
Stephanie Baffone, Newark, Del.
“Coaching has become the frontier, like the Internet. There appear to be some legitimate people using mentoring approaches; however, the vast majority that I have seen are usually people who have no license, training or are skirting the laws for some reason. At AASCB meetings, we have had discussions about this, and most of us don’t quite know what to make of coaching. To borrow that old line about a duck, if it looks like counseling, walks like counseling and sounds like counseling … Well you get it. States with title laws are often prevented from acting as long as you use a different title (coaching). Practice law states can look to see if it “looks like a duck” and take action for practicing counseling without a license. I would like to see counselor educators be proactive with students (and I am not saying they aren’t) to ensure that they leave our programs being clear about the scope of practice and the potential deceptive qualities of using the term “coaching” for what is mostly counseling.
We have taken a strong position on coaching in our licensing board activities. We have taken action against a few counselors who we either revoked or accepted surrender of their license and are now “coaching.” Often these people did not even change their office locations.”
Barry Mascari, Union, N.J., Acting Chair, Counselor Education Department, Kean University
“I am an LPC in private practice specializing in career counseling. After personally experiencing a career transition utilizing a coach, I took courses to become a life coach. I worked in the coaching profession for three years and found that the industry was not getting itself together in terms of training and credentialing. I also found that some of my clients were (to use a coaching term) “circling Dallas” — i.e. stuck. They had other personal issues to deal with, and I was not equipped to counsel them through these issues. At this point, I opted to earn my M.S. and Ed.S. in professional counseling, focusing on career counseling.
Career counseling (or career therapy, as it usually turns out) is the safe door into counseling that many are willing to walk through. The majority of the people I work with are dealing with some issue other than simple discontent with their life work. I can tell you firsthand that as a coach, I was not prepared to deal with life trauma, ADD or ADHD, addictions and other life issues that may be complicating the work life of an individual. I do feel that the coaching and counseling professions are very complementary, but I did find some limitations to my effectiveness as a coach.”
Patrice Hinton Oswalt, Birmingham, Ala.
“I have experienced both coaching and psychotherapy, and I have colleagues in both areas. I have studied the commonalities between various modalities that are reputed to get rapid results for anxiety and trauma, such as EMDR, and have a clear, direct way of describing those “active ingredients,” as well as their relevance to self-help psychology and unlicensed coaching. It helps explain the popularity of Emotional Freedom Technique and its use by both coaches and psychotherapists.
I am very concerned about the failure of the mental health field to appropriately assess, counsel and refer for brain injuries, and have experienced this firsthand as a brain injury survivor. I can see some valuable additional applications of coaching for this population because of the high resource demand and long course of recovery from this kind of injury.
I advocate for using coaching for families with underachieving adult children and write about this problem here: www.Yourell.com/hostage. I have worked with such families as a licensed therapist and as a coach.
I am concerned about changes to the MFT licensing process in California and risks to coaches that appear to be the result of a guild mentality. At a time when we have increased demands for mental health practitioners, and a scarcity of such resources resulting from factors such as the graying of the field, there are numerous ways that coaches can be of value in augmenting these services. But artificially and arbitrarily screening out good therapists with an arcane testing system is bad policy, especially now.
Properly trained coaches could be a very cost-effective resource for improving recovery from mental illnesses. Research tells us that cognitive issues are MORE disabling than psychosis (negative signs are more disabling than positive signs). We are learning that second generation antipsychotics work, at least in part, because of their neuroprotective and neurogenerative aspects. This has been studied since 2000 and is increasingly well documented. Therefore, cognitive rehab is a very important aspect of mental illness recovery. Coaches may prove to be an excellent resource for this and will need to be well integrated into mental health services delivery in order to be maximally effective.”
Robert A. Yourell, San Diego, CA
“I have worked as a life coach for 15 years with a major international company, delivering many workshops on strategies to present yourself better and “how to clinch that next new better suited for you job.” I traveled for the company to many countries in South America and learned a lot about the different interpretations of what this term means in different countries and cultures.
What is the difference between counseling and life coaching? The major similarities are that as counselors, we try to have our clients understand themselves better in terms of their personalities, characteristics and skill set. The life coaching is much more of a superficial understanding of who the person is and how he/she presents him/herself to the world and how can you present yourself in a more acceptable manner and work better in your environment and with your peers.
In counseling, the counselor is generally more directed to help a person with a specific issue and aid in the understanding of that issue from a personal point of view and how to deal with that issue more effectively so that the person does not get hurt more or can get rid of some of the hurt they are dealing with. Counseling is a much more in-depth and longer process, since we are trying to help the person understand the why, what and how to deal with issues and stop the ’hurting.’
In lilfe coaching, we help the person adapt better to the outside world and become aware of their own shortcomings and change those to be able to handle the outside world issues in a more effective manner.
Recently, I attended a six-week course on grieving for HIV/AIDS patients and how we as counselors can help the patients and their families grieve before and after the passing of the patient. One of the participants was a life coach, and he had been sent to the course to become ’more empathetic’ toward his clients!!! As you can imagine, the person was exactly the same unpleasant, nonempathetic person after he finished the course as at the start of the course. I do not believe we can ’learn’ empahty. This is an innate part of an effective counselor or life coach.
I have lived in South Africa for the past eight years and find it fascinating how counselors here are viewed. You are either a life coach or a social worker. A counselor here is someone who gives you advice on finances or on a host of other mundane issues such as: ’What kind of windows should you install in your home?’ A counselor will come around to advise you! Wow … fascinating.”
Martha Iskyan, South Africa
“In my area (northern Idaho), there are a few life coaches, but unfortunately, not all of them have counseling degrees. The ones that I have seen are bachelor-level people who have a degree in either developmental psychology or basic psychology, and then they go into business as a life coach. I disagree with how they represent themselves because some people come away thinking that counseling and coaching are the same thing!!! I have also known people in counseling programs say that their life coach was doing what the counseling program was teaching them to do and they (the life coach) didn’t have to go through all the requirements the university and the state of Idaho was expecting them to do!!!
So if there are requirements such as licensure for life coaches, I would like to see standards that all states adhere to, similar to how LPCs and LCPCs are licensed. That way it is clear to the public about what service you are paying for counselor vs. coach. And/or have a requirement that all life coaches are licensed counselors.”
Emily M. Hart, Coeur d’Alene, ID
“I am completing a counseling degree at NLU in Chicago. I plan to use my degree to pursue a career in personal coaching. This is a very timely topic, one I have given much thought and analysis to. I believe personal coaching should be considered a specialty area within the counseling umbrella for the following reasons:
- Not all people who would like to utilize the skills of a counselor are ’dysfunctional.’ There is a spectrum of need. Currently, counseling focuses on moving people from a state of dysfunction (DSM diagnosis) to one of being functional. There are many people who are ’functional’ but still not ’highly functional’ or achieving their full potential. Coaching can address this side of the spectrum. There are so many people who are trying to cope with life adjustments, anxieties and personal challenges. Their concerns limit their productivity at work and the quality of their relationships. If they go to see a counselor, then they are given a DSM code and treated like a diseased person. There still exists a negative social stigma around counseling. There is something more positive about the coaching industry. People and companies are more receptive to it.
- Wellness is the trend. In the medical model, people can see a doctor if they are ill. However, if they want to prevent disease and illness, then they can see a personal trainer, a nutritionist, a massage therapist. Wellness programs like these are well accepted in corporate employee assistance programs. I believe this model can be applied to counseling. If you are ill, see a counselor. If you are focused on prevention and maximizing your emotional health, see a coach.
- I think counseling has come a long way in legitimizing the profession. Licensing and accredited master-level degrees exist. The coaching world is all over the place in this regard. By including coaching as a specialty area, it would benefit from the level of industry professionalism. I also believe counselors can be good coaches, but coaches (untrained) should not attempt to counsel people.
I would like to see personal coaching legitimized and brought into the counseling fold. In the meantime, I will continue to develop my ’wellness counseling’/personal coaching business.”
Lynn Mitchell, Chicago
“Regarding counseling versus coaching, as a current grad counseling student, I have the following comments:
Counseling is a means to an end; it allows counselors to work with clients to help resolve their issues. It is my belief that coaching is a value-add to counseling as it provides a life-long learning experience for the client. I am considering adding coaching to my future counseling practice.”
“I am a licensed clinician who conducts life coaching in addition to face-to-face counseling. I have a contract with The Dr. Phil Show to provide ’aftercare’ with some of their guests after they appear on the show and consult with the show’s staff. I work as a long-distance life coach via phone and e-mail. I believe by observing appropriate guidelines for issues, clients’ mental state and techniques, I am able to provide quality care for these clients. I also have helped clients connect with counselors in their areas as needed.
I do believe licensed counselors are better prepared and governed than non-licensed life coaches. My training allows me to better assess an individual and their issues for life coaching versus true counseling and make appropriate referrals when needed.”
Andy Sibley, Shreveport, La.
“I am a five-year life coach who is now seeking an MHC degree. I have predominately worked with divorcees. I have heard an interesting comment from at least three of my coaching clients that coaching was more beneficial than years of therapy.
I think this is an important issue that is becoming convoluted by many using the coaching terminology loosely on one end and counselors penning the title without coach training on the other. It is important that the consumer understand what services they can expect and the training of those providing those services.”
“I am both an LPC and CPC and enjoy delivering both modalities, but my passion is for counseling. As part of my private practice, I coach therapists to become professional coaches. It’s a perfect match. We therapists have been trained to listen to clients tell their stories while taking notice of the common patterns in their thinking, feeling and behaving embedded in each story.
Frequently, I am asked how therapy and coaching differ. Therapy focuses on the client’s past while working through trauma, depression or any other presenting problem in order to help the client see their patterns and why they are using these outdated defenses. Once that is achieved, the client can then learn how to use healthy and helpful ways of navigating through life.
Coaching, on the other hand, is more focused on the present and future. I see the primary functions of a coach as one who helps the client:
- Define his/her goals
- Formulate a plan that will use the skills of the client
- The coach holds the client accountable for his/her progress * The coach provides structure, encouragement, support
It is imperative to remain ethical throughout both processes. Psychotherapy has no place in coaching. At this point in time, certification is not required for coaching, but hopefully it will be soon.”
Paula Padget Baylor, St. Davids, Pa.
“I did grief and loss counseling with children for close to 15 years, started and ran an agency, then went to school to get my doctorate — I’m a few months shy of defending my dissertation. I finished a coaching course in the spring with Martha Beck Inc. and have started my coaching practice. My website isn’t even up yet, and I’ve got clients. All of them are at a major crossroads. All have had counseling in the past and wanted to do something that would help them move forward in a different way than counseling did for them. All of them got great things from their counseling experiences, and I know that’s helped them as we’ve worked together.
The benefits for me: I have clients who are motivated and emotionally healthy (I don’t take them if they aren’t both). I can work from my house in my pajamas if I want to. I can support myself very well with no insurance hassles. One of my clients got her first ever consulting contract with a school district yesterday. Another is working on making a CD of her piano music — she’s 66. My clients are delighted/elated with their progress, as am I. I’m having an absolute blast.”
Martha Atkins, San Antonio, Texas
“I do have a concern: The screening out process of prospective coaches is unregulated. I recently visited with someone who wanted to help others but barely moved to healthy notches of interdependence from her codependent status. I’ve also observed others who think coaching is a great way to get into counseling and a less costly shortcut to do so. This is particularly keen in the church. With well-meaning individuals who want to ’coach’ and sign up for ’coaching courses/seminars,’ the outcome in practical life is not always positive. A seeming arrogance may prevail rather than the discernment to refer to a professional. The mentality, I suspect, may not be limited to the church but to a broad population of those who are interested in taking the fast route, circumventing a college education and rigorous exams.”
Pat McLean, Point Lookout, Mo.
“They are certainly not the same, yet I have found my counseling skills invaluable as a career counselor and would love to be able to still consider myself to be a ’counselor’ if I ever delve into a private ’life coaching’ practice.”
Amanda G. Flora, Charlottesville, Va.
“I am a Licensed Professional Counselor. My clients are individuals, couples, families, groups. My area of expertise is with SMI and crisis intervention. I have worked with abused, abusers, trauma victims and suicidal clients as well as many others.
While seeing a seriously mentally ill woman who was stable at the time, she told me she was interested in becoming a life coach. It was the first I had heard the term. Because she had successfully controlled her symptoms, she felt qualified to help others. The information she provided was that the course was weeks long and cost in the area of $5,000.
My thoughts are that, like the midwife controversy, when things go well, it might be a fine choice. When things go wrong, it can have dire consequences. In any profession, there are people who are gifted. So an intuitive life coach may have something to offer. But as my title implies, there are years of education, testing, training and certification requirements to achieve. Even after that, there is continuing education to remain certified. Becoming a counselor requires a long-term investment.
My concern is for the client who places trust in a well-meaning individual who has the position to do harm. If a client understands that they are getting one person’s opinion and uses a life coach as a friendly ear rather than assuming they are a trained professional, the outcome might be the same as talking to a friend or family member. With that in mind, someone seeking that level of input would have realistic expectations.
Society will probably make a space for life coaches. It is imperative that clients are aware of their training when consulted so effectiveness is in perspective.”
Barbara Mehnert, Kansasville, Wis.
“I am a former VCA member and am licensed as an LCSW and LSATP in Virginia. I have been providing life and executive coaching services for two years. I have completed 60 hours of training and am proceeding with continuing my coaching education. I have found the coaching relationship to be quite different from the clinical relationship. Converting from a pathos orientation was challenging at first, but engaging with individuals around creating excellence is energizing and tremendously fulfilling.”
Neely R. Conner, Roanoke, Va.
“I am certified professional coach and coach trainer. I am currently working with a coach once a week and have done so for five years. Additionally, I see a therapist two times a week. They provide vastly different expertise for different purposes. My therapist works with me to shore up the foundation. Dealing much with the past. Whereas coaching works on the premise that we are perfect, whole and complete, and from that place, works to create the future.
I have a colleague who was formerly a therapist and now works as a coach. She is one of the rare instances where a therapist respects and understands the distinction sufficiently to go get trained and certified. It’s not just therapists who take for granted the distinction coach. Many folks think that because you sit with any human being and have a conversation that you can call yourself a coach. This in my opinion is a great disservice to those of us committed to coaching as a profession.”
“Professional coaching can be a viable professional activity, provided that the person offering coaching services clearly distinguishes it from professional counseling. Coaches should also provide clients a professional disclosure statement outlining the nature of services, fees, education, training and limitations of coaching.
The issue that most concerns me are coaches with no counseling training who delve into the mental health arena. Additionally, unlike counselors, psychologists and other mental health professionals, what professional ethics board would clients lodge complaints against?”
“My view, as a counselor educator, is that ’life coaching,’ if that is what one wants to call it, is one of the primary differences between counselors from psychologists. In my opinion, counselors are best prepared to help people get through regular, common and typical life issues. Psychologists, in my opinion, are best prepared to help people with the heavier, more mentally unstable issues. Another way of looking at it would be counselors are better prepared to address neurosis, and psychologists are better prepared to address psychosis. I believe that the profession of counseling has a great opportunity to ’grab’ a corner on the market of well-being, wellness and the practice of life therapy. Even though the term ’life coaching’ implies the work of the life therapist, the term ’life coaching’ has been given a bad reputation and seems to carry baggage that seems to be less than professional or misguided. There are several other reasons the term ’counseling’ is less than ideal in terms of the name counseling. For one, it is so generic and nondescript; for another, it might be time to change or ’update’ the image of the profession of counseling so that more people can become aware of the work of the professional counselor.”
Joseph D. Dear, Sacramento, Calif.
“I am an LPC with my master’s degree in counseling. I love counseling and decided to start my own private practice. It took me time to decide on the name for my practice. I finally decided on Life Coach Services: offering counseling and life coaching. I thought this name would attract clients who would otherwise be shy about seeking help.
One client came to see me and said that she wanted life coaching. I asked her to tell me her story. She made it clear that she had had counseling before and did not want that. She just wanted to know how to move forward with coaching. After hearing her story, I knew that she needed counseling. She was not going to be able to move forward without that. Her son needed counseling too. He had suffered through many painful experiences during his childhood. Life coaching would not be enough or even appropriate at this time for either of them. It felt awkward concentrating on helping her set goals and being a cheerleader, when my training could offer them so much more. With my background and training in counseling, I missed not being able to serve my clients that way.
I decided to change the name of my practice to Carol Klenda Counseling and DROP the ’coaching.’ Sure, there is some coaching involved when we see our clients, but I do not want to feel like I am limited in the direction or skills that I use to assist my clients. I am happy that it is clear to me now where I should put my professional time and focus: into counseling, where I can use my years of training to make a difference, helping individuals get better and move forward in their lives.”
“I am of the opinion that life coaches should be licensed in much the same way as a counselor. The requirements may not necessarily be at the master’s or doctoral level degree (as in counseling), but at least some kind of standardized level of practitioner training (including some kind of ethics standards) should be required so that those who are looking for life coach services have some idea of the quality of service to expect.
Because of the stigma attached to seeking mental health services, I also believe many clients would prefer to seek the services of a ’life coach’ rather than a ’counselor.’ There is still this perception that counselors are going to delve into past history rather than offer real-world solutions to living life, which is why I think life coaches have become popular. Perhaps our biggest problem as counselors is that we have not done a good enough job at marketing ourselves as those who can offer assistance in helping clients cope with current life issues.
For the last 12 years, I have been working part time at the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland providing in vivo assistance to clients with anxiety disorders, using a CBT-based treatment modality, and am currently working on finishing my master’s in pastoral counseling at Loyola College in Maryland. I have been an ACA member ever since I began working at ASDI and have always tried to adhere to ACA ethics guidelines, which includes having insurance coverage. When HPSO took over as the insurance provider with ACA, I had a discussion with HPSO as to what level of liability insurance I should have, given the kind of services that I provide to clients. The result is that I am now listed as a ’life coach’ as well as a student professional member.
Clients who otherwise cannot afford to see a licensed provider at our clinic can usually afford my fees (and yes, I do offer a sliding scale), since my fees are often close to what they would be paying under their health insurance plan anyway. Before I started on my master’s degree, I was always careful to limit the scope of my practice to life skills coaching and still will refer clients to a therapist for psychotherapy issues as needed.
It is my opinion that there is a definite need for trained, unlicensed providers who can offer life skills coaching to clients who otherwise cannot afford to seek services. It is also important that such providers understand the limits of their expertise and be willing to refer clients to trained and licensed counselors as appropriate.
At the other end of the spectrum are small business owners and corporate executives who seek the services of a life coach in order to improve their business skills. Life coaches practicing in this arena should have a background in business administration in addition to basic relational skills training. Again, standards of service should be met before providing such services.”
Stephnie Thomas, Towson, Md.
“As a counselor, I am very concerned about ’life coaching’ as it relates to mental health in general. Life coaches are permitted to practice without a license. As such, there is no accountability for their profession. There are serious ethical issues at stake as a result:
- Ethical breaches have no repercussions.
- Standards of practice have no ’board’ to approve them.
- There is no guarantee of competence – of course this is the case for all professions, but licensure at least gives SOME security.
- In many ways, life coaching is counseling, which requires a license.
As a profession, counselors must be available and willing to ’stand up’ for ourselves. We have allowed too many ad hoc services to be provided under the guise of counseling, diluting the value of the services we provide. Life coaching, I believe, is one of those services that undermines the purpose and value that counselors bring.
The International Coach Federation defines coaching this way: The International Coach Federation adheres to a form of coaching that honors the client as the expert in his/her life and work and believes that every client is creative, resourceful and whole. Standing on this foundation, the coach’s responsibility is to:
- Discover, clarify and align with what the client wants to achieve
- Encourage client self-discovery
- Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
- Hold the client responsible and accountable
This appears to be a combination of humanistic and reality therapy approaches. As can be read on their website, coaching is a reality therapy-based model and, whether admitted or not, is based on Glasser’s WDEP model.”
Jason Newsome, Charleston, W.Va.