Coach or counselor?

Coach or counselor?

Now that I am a full-time life coach, I have a new pet peeve. 

So many times now, I have heard people describe coaching incorrectly. Even on Psychology Today's website, I found that therapists, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners and social workers all claim they do life coaching. It's quite possible that they were trained in coaching methods, but these professionals are NOT coaches! 

Even Google's dictionary describes a life coach as (noun): a person who counsels and encourages clients on matters having to do with careers or personal challenges.

No. Counseling and therapy are NOT coaching. And coaching should NEVER be called therapy or counseling.

Maybe it's a matter of semantics. After all, many professionals call themselves counselors or consultants, and they all mean something different by it.

And yet...

I was talking with a friend this week who has actually experienced coaching and she asked me why I don't advertise myself as a therapist, since what I do is therapy. I had to correct her and make it clear that ethically, I can not call myself a therapist, because I'm not a licensed therapist. I am not part of the healthcare industry. It would be false advertising and misleading to call myself a therapist. Similar to a medical doctor, he can't just call himself a dentist, simply because he knows medicine. He has to be a licensed dentist for practicing dentistry.

Coaching, counseling and therapy do sit very close together.

Coaching can feel like therapy, because the end goal is to ease a person's mind, by moving them beyond their challenges and into a place where they are in control of their life. Coaching makes your life better by helping you to achieve your goals and dreams. It creates mental clarity by questioning your often faulty thinking that is holding you back. Your coach works as a partner to get you what you need, so that you can get to where you want to be in your life. 

So yes, coaching can make you a happier person. It absolutely falls into the category of self-help and personal growth or development. 

Another coach whose podcast I listened to said that she is in the mental health service. "After all, I provide mental health," she said. In a sense, she is right. 

Coaching improves the health of a person's thinking, which improves emotions and overall health. When you work with a coach, you will feel inspired, you will think positive thoughts rather than negative ones, you will feel motivated and gain confidence. Negative emotions, including anxiety, self-judgment, anger, guilt, and shame are reduced. Harmful activities will also be diminished, such as blaming others, voicing criticism, self-sabotaging, and avoiding challenges.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and coaching.

Be aware of the slight difference. Some of the stuff coaches do can sound very much like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). However, only a certified therapist or certified group facilitator can provide CBT.

Over the years mental health practitioners have caught onto treatments like CBT, which coaches also base their methods on. They began to realize the value of positive psychology and treating the person, rather than the behavior. They also realized they could use the same mental construct for behavior that coaches use. Namely, circumstances in a person's life will trigger thoughts, that lead to feelings/emotions, that lead to their behavior. If you can pin point the circumstance or the thought behind the feeling and behavior, then you can "reprogram" the mind to change its faulty thinking.

For example, when a person is told over and over that he's not a good person, he will begin to believe it with the thought: "They're right. I'm not a good person." That thought will bring him pain or anger or shame. He will then act out in a way that supports or attempts to cover up the false belief that he is bad. He might be aggressive towards others or he might act especially submissive in order to get people to think he really isn't bad.

A coach helps someone like this by inviting him to question that belief of not being a good person. Questioning beliefs is the key component of coaching.


A coach, is not supposed to provide healing, advice, counseling or offer solutions. A coach is a partner on the client's road to success; a cheerleader; a listener for false beliefs (such as the one above); and an inquisitive help-mate who dares to question those beliefs and assumptions.

A coach helps you to create clarity, but the work is all on the you, not the coach. This is done so that you grow, learn new cognitive skills, and are able to maintain momentum outside of the coaching sessions.

According to the International Coaching Federation there are distinctions between the different services.


Therapy deals with healing pain, dysfunction and conflict within an individual or in relationships. The focus is often on resolving difficulties arising from the past that hamper an individual's emotional functioning in the present, improving overall psychological functioning, and dealing with the present in more emotionally healthy ways. Coaching, on the other hand, supports personal and professional growth based on self-initiated change in pursuit of specific actionable outcomes. These outcomes are linked to personal or professional success. Coaching is future focused. While positive feelings/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.


Individuals or organizations retain consultants for their expertise. While consulting approaches vary widely, the assumption is the consultant will diagnose problems and prescribe and, sometimes, implement solutions. With coaching, the assumption is that individuals or teams are capable of generating their own solutions, with the coach supplying supportive, discovery-based approaches and frameworks.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me at 781.583.8242.

Comfort zone

Comfort zone

Is your life running like a well-oiled machine?

Is your life running like a well-oiled machine?