• Claudia Abalo, LMHC

Counseling or Coaching, What's the Difference?

Counseling or Coaching, what’s the difference?

As a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, I’m going to try to remain as unbiased as I can in writing this blog. I want to remain unbiased, first because it is the professional thing to do. Second, so that the reader is not persuaded to form an opinion based on mine, that would be manipulation. Third, because the information of each profession should be stated in a clear and precise manner so that no doubt is left within the reader as to how each profession is attained and performs.

When an individual feels they need to talk to someone about their problems, they usually go to a friend, family member, or maybe even a co-worker. But sometimes there are some problems that mere advice from these sources just will not work. So that is when we need to turn to a professional. But which professional should we go to, a Counselor or a Coach?

Counselors, otherwise known as Therapists/Psychotherapists/Clinicians:

· offer counseling to individuals (children, adolescents, adults), couples, groups, and families

· use assessments, diagnosis, treatment plans, teach coping skills, and use an extensive array of evidence-based therapeutic modalities to treat their clients

· address in-depth issues like anxiety, depression, addiction, grief, trauma, among many others

· help clients increase insight into who they are, why they do the things they do, and work with clients to change problematic thinking and/or patterns of behavior.

· provide guidance and support but do not suggest nor tell clients what to do

· are trained to treat clients with severe mental health disorders/illness, assess for suicidal or homicidal ideation/plans/intent


· must earn a master’s degree in counseling

· must take and pass the NCMHCE -National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam. In some states, a master’s degree and passing the NCMHCE is all that is required in order to become licensed.

· must have 1500 additional hours of field work (post-grad) under the supervision of a Qualified Supervisor (which one has to pay out of pocket). Some states require more than 1500 hours of field work.

· must have 100 hours of supervision with a Qualified Supervisor during field work. The post-graduate and QS discuss cases, treatment options, and professional development, among other topics.

· must keep their license current with continued education courses (amount of continued required education hours vary per state)

· can only practice in their state of licensure

· can provide therapy sessions in an office, sometimes in client’s home through work with an agency, or online, 45-50 minutes each session

· can accept insurance or private pay as payment for services

· have set prices per sessions that vary per state, some counselors provide “sliding scale” priced sessions (lower price) or discounts

· must diagnose the client when accepting insurance due to insurance company regulations

· MUST adhere to strict HIPAA Privacy policies (confidentiality regulations), unless self-harm or harm to others is disclosed

· can be found liable/culpable for malpractice

· do not prescribe medications

The practice of counseling (or psychotherapy) has existed since the 18th century

Coaches, otherwise known as Life Coaches:

· offer coaching to clients as they focus on present issues and the future, helping clients identify their goals and the obstacles that are stopping them from attaining those goals

· do not use assessments, do not diagnose, do not use treatment plans, and do not use evidence-based therapeutic modalities for treatment, do not "treat" mental health disorders/illness

· address specific areas: personal projects, business successes, general conditions (including health), transitions in the person’s life, and relationships

· help clients gain insight into their mindset, self-limiting beliefs, and negative self-talk to bring forth self-discovery

· provide guidance and support, use a more directive approach where they can suggest or give clients advice

· work with clients who are high functioning and basically mentally healthy

· formulate an action plan for the client’s goals


· are not required to be certified in any state

· can use the term “coach” because the profession is unregulated at this time

· (who wish to call themselves a “Certified Life Coach”) must have training and certification which can be completed in anywhere from 10 hours to 6 months depending on the program used for certification.

· (who are certified) are monitored by The International Coach Federation for coaching ethics, training, and practices.

· must keep their certification current with continued education courses, amount of courses/hours is regulated by each program

· can practice outside of the state of residency

· can provide coaching sessions over the phone, via text, email, in office, or online, 20-45 minutes each approximately

· services are not covered by insurance, private pay only

· have prices for sessions that vary per state, also provide packages of services and/or programs which the client must pay for up front

· cannot and are not permitted to diagnose a mental health disorder/illness

· are not regulated under HIPAA privacy laws, therefore coaching sessions are not confidential

· are not held liable nor culpable for malpractice

· do not prescribe medications

The practice of coaching has existed for 20 years

So when do you go see a Counselor and when do you go see a Coach? Well that is entirely up to you and what your needs are. What is a priority for you, confidentiality, price, insurance coverage, training, license vs certification, or in-depth care vs goal-oriented care? The best part is, there is no right or wrong answer. No profession is better than the other, they are just attained differently and perform differently. Are not the end goals the same but to care for individuals and help them achieve betterment? One questions you may want to ask yourself is, ‘in whose hands am I the most protected, in whose hands am I the most safe?’ There is your answer.





Sending you peace and blessings,

Claudia Abalo, LMHC