The Difference Between Counseling and Coaching

In my journey as both a professional counselor and certified coach, I have been on both sides of the fence hiring my own therapist when needed and consistently found in a coaching relationship. I became both professionally because of how beneficial they both can be on this journey. Yet, I find that many are unsure of the differences. So, let me briefly explain.

First, counseling also known as therapy, for me is founded in the renewing of the mind, restoration of hope, and process of healing through relationship I consider to be sacred. See Romans 8:28

Another way of looking at it is counselors or therapists walk with you from issues generally rooted in the past that are affecting you presently to bring clarity and healing to the present. They even step into the future thoughts and if necessary, help reel you back to present focus.

You may ask, what foundational skills should a good licensed counselor or therapist possess? Here’s a quick list.

  1. the ability to attend to you; that is; to be fully present with you
  2. the ability to listen and hear well; hearing what you say and don’t say
  3. the ability to empathize with you
  4. the ability to help you identify thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that tell he full story
  5. the ability to ask great questions that help you tell your story and move beyond to important issues that need resolving
  6. the ability to act as a sounding board as to the key issues and challenge you to move forward
  7. the ability to not only communicate but to connect with you

Now onto coaching, a lot of people really don’t understand it. So, what exactly is it?

My favorite coach, Paul Martinelli, of the John Maxwell Team defines it this way, “Coaching is, at its core, a series of intentional conversations that empower a person to gain clarity and embody their calling. It is the art of influence that underpins leadership in the 21st century.”

Often times, you will hear the term “coaching and mentoring” as if they are the same but Paul further explains that mentoring involves a process of putting in and is based on telling. Whereas the process of coaching involves drawing out answers from within a person and is based on asking.

This is why you may yet and still confuse coaching with counseling; they have some great foundational similarities. In essence, counseling many times is rooted in a past or future focus that clouds the present; coaching is intentionally present focused; and mentoring is intentionally future focused.

So, what foundational skills should a great coach possess? Carl Jung stated, “Until you make the unconscious conscious it will rule your world and you will call it fate.”  This is what great coaches help you do. Great coaches possess:

  1. an ability to be self-aware; mastering their own mindset first then others
  2. an ability to connect with you
  3. an ability to be present with you
  4. an ability to listen well; without advising or telling you what to do
  5. an ability to be curious and ask great questions

Again, almost identical to counseling, so it seems, but these are just a few basics. There are some major differences. They are:

  1. Counseling or therapy has been around for a long time and has been scientifically proven to be beneficial. Coaching is new and does not have a mandated regulatory board; however, those serious about coaching follow International Coaching Federation Guidelines (ICF).
  2. Counselors or therapists must earn a Master’s degree, be licensed by their state and can only practice in that state, and must continually earn education credits yearly. Coaches are not required to have certification so anyone can call themselves a coach, and they can practice globally meaning there are not state boundaries. So be careful.
  3. There are many types of counseling or therapy modalities and more emerging to deal with many issues listed in the bible for counselors, which we refer to as the DSM-V.
  4. Counselors or therapists have legal obligations such as “duty to warn” which is to inform third parties or authorities if a client poses a threat to himself or herself or another identifiable individual. Coaches are not obligated as such.
  5. Counselors or therapists have “limits to confidentiality” that are governed by federal state law and are referred to as a mandated reporter. A mandated reporteris a person who, because of his or her profession, is legally required to report any suspicion of child or elderly abuse or neglect to the relevant authorities such as the police or the Department of Health & Human Services. Mandated reporting varies from state to state so check the listing in your state. Coaches are not considered mandated reporters at this time.

I hope this was helpful. Do your homework! Whether coach or therapist, interview them and decide who is the best fit for you and your needs before you sign a legal agreement with them. If at some point, you find that they are not best fitted for you, politely fire them and hire a new one. If you need a counselor make sure they’re licensed and in good standing with their states regulatory board as this is public knowledge. If you need a coach, although not mandated, make sure they have a respected coaching certification and are life-long learners continually mastering themselves. Remember, it’s all about the relationship.

Blessings, Richale

Richale Reed MA, LPC, LCCAS is a John Maxwell global certified speaker, trainer and coach and both a licensed mental health and addictions therapist in the state of NC. For more information on how to book Richale or coaching go to For therapy in the state of North Carolina only visit

Join The Power Within Podcast with Richale


1930 Club Pond Rd #1015 Raeford, NC 28376-8691