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There was a top notch Twitter debate on the difference between coaching and counselling last week courtesy of @LnDConnect You can find the Storify here  coaching-v-counselling

What jumps out at me – and you? – is the impossibility of having this debate via a succession of 140 character messages. We had a good go but inevitably I found it a tricky to get my point(s) across and we were possibly all defining different types of interventions in different ways.

It took me back to my studies when I was formalising my prior coaching experience and working to qualify as an executive coach circa ten years ago.

Under the heading Boundaries – for me a crucial feature of adept coaching and one that any coach should be able to discuss in some depth – we explored coaching versus counselling from a variety of angles. When I was debating last week I had the following 4-box model (!) in mind but was not necessarily doing it justice on Twitter.



Ladies and Gentleman – look how bad a person’s handwriting can be! But I wanted you to see the raw data not a dressed up version. We also had some handy definitions and I am quote sure the School won’t mind me sharing them here with this sentence as an acknowledgement.



Where does this take us?

  1. When I was talking about ‘Healthy Coping Adult’ I knew what I meant. That doesn’t mean that we don’t all potentially have periods when we move more towards having disturbance of some kind and nor am I, or course, looking to stigmatise anyone who does. It’s a question of “which intervention” and executive coaching is firmly one for those wanting to work on their personal development. None of the labels or notes in the picture above indicates any kind of judgement. This is not good vs. bad. It’s just my attempt to shed some light
  2. Coaching may stray up and down the horizontal axis above. At its most “non-directive” it overlaps with certain types of counselling – however when it moves to being more directive (challenging or even confronting) it is firmly for someone who is open to and can cope with such challenge. If someone is in a less well-functioning state then the deep training and skills of a psychiatrist or psychotherapist is needed in order to ensure reactions are managed and contained.
  3. Counselling may well be all about listening and supporting. Or offering guidance. But is probably less about challenging, questioning or confronting. In extremis – say following a bereavement – it would be completely inappropriate to use some of the interventions available to an executive coach.
  4. As for life coaching – well I managed to upset a life coach at a conference last year when I expressed a view that too few life coaches really understand and respect boundaries. (It would no doubt have been a good idea to establish that he was/is a life coach first!) The risk with life coaching is that the coach has not trained to the level of capability whereby they are a psychotherapist and understand the concept of containment. Neither have I – and that is why boundaries are an important part of my coaching practice. I am not saying all life coaches fail to respect boundaries. That would be unfair and a bit silly. But I stand by the observation about some in that industry.
  5. This all takes us very much in the direction of the “self-aware” coach. What is happening with you as coach can be indicative of what is happening for the player. So do you spot the signals? Do you know when to recognise that you are out of your depth? Do you have the network that will allow you to cross-refer?
  6. Finally it takes me to the simple difference – one for debate please – between coaching and counselling…….

Coaching – the goal is key and we find ways of navigating over, under, around or through barriers and interference. It can be challenging or confrontational if that serves the player’s objectives so discomfort may be part of the process.

Counselling – the journey is key and the goal is healing. The environment will almost always be designed to create a sense of comfort.

There. You can clarify what you mean in a blog. I hope.

(You can find out more about me and what I do at chelsham.co or on Twitter at @ChelshamConsult or @jacksont0ny)