As a wellness coach and digital media marketing consultant, I’ve discovered there is a lot of confusion around the difference between coaching, consulting and counseling. Here is a breakdown that will hopefully give some insight.

Coaching

Coaching is focused on goal setting, outcome creation and personal change management. The coach – client relationship is equal and not hierarchal like we find in consulting and counseling. This means the coach holds the belief that the client is already creative, resourceful and whole. The coach recognizes that clients are experts in their own lives, and the coach’s job is to listen well and act as a supportive guide in drilling down to what it is the client really wants. By asking powerful questions, the coach shines a flashlight so-to-speak in areas of the client’s life as possibilities of areas to explore. Great coaches succeed in helping clients discover personal “aha” moments and assist in helping them create SMART action steps using the Kaizen approach (small steps toward great change) in order to reach their goals.

In general, the assumption with coaching is that individuals or teams are capable of generating their own solutions, with the coach supplying supportive, discovery-based approaches and frameworks.

Consulting

Consultants, on the other hand, are retained by individuals or organizations for the purpose of accessing specialized expertise that the client is unaware of and therefore pays to learn. While consulting approaches vary widely, there is often an assumption that the consultant diagnoses problems then prescribes and implements solutions. Therefore, unlike coaching, the consulting-client relationship is hierarchical.

Counseling

Coaching can be distinguished from counseling or therapy in a number of ways. First, coaching is a profession that supports personal and professional growth and development based on individual-initiated change in pursuit of specific actionable outcomes. These outcomes are linked to personal or professional success. Coaching is forward moving and future focused. Therapy, on the other hand, deals with healing pain, dysfunction and conflict within an individual or a relationship between two or more individuals. The focus is often on resolving difficulties arising from the past which hamper an individual’s emotional functioning in the present, improving overall psychological functioning, and dealing with present life and work circumstances in more emotionally healthy ways.

Therapy outcomes often include improved emotional states. While positive feelings and emotions may be a natural outcome of coaching, the primary focus is on creating actionable strategies for achieving specific goals in one’s work or personal life. The emphasis in a coaching relationship is on action, accountability and follow through.

Life as a Coach and Consultant

An interesting thing has occurred in my business The Zen Girl as both a coach and consultant. I notice that while consulting, it is incredibly powerful and helpful to the client when I remain aware of when to switch over and wear my coaching hat. For example, let’s say I am sharing ideas and giving advice on branding and website development as a consultant. Then my client says, “Gee, I am not sure that’s what I really want” or “I am fearful if I do that then I won’t be successful.” That’s when I pause, switch hats and ask a powerful coaching question, such as “Ok, in that case, what is it that you really want?” or “What about that idea scares you?”

During those moments, it is not my job to tell the client what they want or that they shouldn’t be scared. Rather, it’s to give them an open, safe ground to explore their concerns and come to their own conclusions, with me solely acting as a gentle guide along the way until we reach an appropriate space and time to move forward.

What has your experience been with coaches, consultants and/or counseling? How does this breakdown resonate for you?