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Five Major differences between Coaching and Counseling AND how to choose which one is best for you!

As a leadership/executive and Wellness coach, I am often asked about the major differences between coaching and counseling.   Both professionals are concerned with the mental health of their clients.  In addition, both modalities are helpful for anyone who wants to improve their mental and personal life. 

First, let’s start with definitions of counseling and coaching.  Counseling is a therapeutic intervention that focuses on the past.  It helps individuals overcome barriers and issues from their past to move on.  

In contrast, coaching is a developmental approach that uses one-to-one conversations to enhance an individual’s skills, knowledge or performance. It can also help by dealing with personal and professional issues and challenges before they become significant problems. Therefore, a coaching session (60-90 minutes) will take place between the coach and the coachee (person being coached) and will focus on helping the coachee discover answers for themselves. 

The second difference between coaching and counseling is in their focus.  Counseling focuses on understanding and healing emotional trauma from the past.  Coaching is focused on the present and creating a more positive future.  A coach will help you identify your goals, leverage personal strengths, and take action towards them.  They will also be a valuable accountability partner as you pursue your goals.

The third difference between the two is that counselors are trained to aid those dealing with mental illness.  Coaches are qualified to work with people under the assumption that there is no underlying mental illness.  A coach will refer the client to a counselor if mental illness is detected.  

The fourth significant difference between coaching and counseling is that the type of relationship between counselor and client differs from that of a coach and client. A counselor helps you notice, understand, and heal from different issues in your life.  They will offer advice and guidance on how to move forward.  Conversely, a coach works in a partnership with their coach and can be considered a ‘thinking partner’.  A coach will help you identify the challenges you are dealing with and hold you accountable while supporting you to achieve your goals.  

The final difference is that although you will speak to a trained professional with both coaching and counseling, there are distinct differences in the training required for each.  A Counselors’ training will require extensive expertise in the subject matter of therapy they will focus on after their initial qualifications are achieved, i.e. marital counseling, addiction or trauma counseling, etc. 

Coaches are more process-oriented and do not always require extensive subject-matter expertise. As process experts, coaches know how to create the learning environment needed for each client so that they can draw on their own experience, resources, and potential.  Some coaches, however, will have specialist training such as business, leadership or a psychology background to enhance the coaching process.  These experiences can be used to develop a better understanding and knowledge of the client’s strengths and weaknesses. 

At Onyx, we have leadership, executive, and wellness coaching for groups, individuals, and corporations.  As Onyx’s premier coach, I have a background in leadership and am also a trained Health coach and facilitator.  In addition, I am currently finishing my certification as a Positive Psychology practitioner.  

So how should you decide which one will be best for you?  Choosing between coaching and counseling will be determined according to your needs.  If you need to deal with past pain and trauma and how it affects your life, your relationships and mental health, then a counselor will be the right option for you.  At Onyx, we have trained counselors who can help with many concerns, such as family counseling and therapy. 

If you want to work on your goals and focus on improving your future, then working with a coach might be your best option.  For more information on coaching, please follow us on social media @onyxtherapygroup or on our website at  If you want to find out if coaching will work for you, please contact me at for a free 15-minute discovery session. 

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