What is the Difference Between Coaching and Counselling?

I’m often asked this question and, to be honest, my most typical answers are either “it depends” or “not much.” However, that’s not the whole answer.

In the Canadian Standards and Guidelines for Career Development Practitioners (S&Gs), we’ve conceptualized the work of career counsellors as situated at the intersection of that of counsellors and career development practitioners – in essence, career counselling is an area of specialization that requires all of the core competencies of BOTH counsellors and career development practitioners. Because I am certified as a counsellor and also as a career development practitioner, my scope of practice bridges both silos. I can do the specialized work of a career counsellor but I can also offer counselling services that go beyond career-related issues and career development services that don’t involve counselling.

Similarly, although some coaches and counsellors have very different levels of education (ranging from a few weeks for some coaching programs to a Masters degree for certified or licensed counsellors), the types of issues that they support clients with may, in some cases, be quite similar. Both counsellors and coaches tend to work with “non-clinical” populations as they deal with normal “problems in living.” For example, a business coach may help a client improve his/her relationships with subordinates; so might a counsellor. A life coach may help a client plan for an upcoming career/life transition; so might a counsellor.

The job titles of “coach” or “counsellor,” especially in regions where they aren’t protected titles under government regulation, can be messy and confusing. It’s very important, therefore, if you’re using these titles to also clearly explain your competencies and scope of practice. Identifying your training and certifications can be an important first step. Also helpful can be defining your areas of specialization in terms of client groups and types of issues that you are competent to support.

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