Counselling vs Coaching Making The Choice that Works for You
You have made the decision to tackle some issues and learn to approach things differently, but as you start to do the research, you come up with a question: “do I need counselling or coaching?” Let’s take a look at the differences between these two supports to help demystify the titles, skills and approaches.
What is coaching?
Coaching is an approach that is designed to help you see clearly where you are today, and then find ways to move forward toward your goals. A good coach will not tell you what to do, but instead will ask thought-provoking questions that will require you to reflect, and ultimately gain clarity on the choices you need to make first to set, then achieve your goals. A coach is a sounding board to help you discover what it is you want to do and how you are going to get there.
What is counselling?
The term counselling is often used interchangeably with the terms therapy and psychotherapy. A qualified counsellor is someone with a Master’s Degree or higher in the field of therapy. A counsellor is trained to assess functioning and development as they apply various therapeutic techniques to create a safe and supportive space for you to explore who you are and what you want in life. A good therapist will help you identify problems, aid in developing skills to manage a mental health concern or diagnosis, provide you support and guidance, identify strengths and ultimately help you improve coping and move forward, rather than allowing past issues to keep you stuck.
Coaches and counsellors are similar because both:
● want to help you find create a life you feel good about
● encourage self-discovery
● can help you identify and work toward life goals
● create an environment of trust, non judgement, and support to help you
identify what is holding you back
● focus around using good listening skills and asking you effective questions
● help you with identifying core beliefs that may limit you, and then focus on challenging this perspective
● help foster resiliency
● want you to find your own answers that will work for you
● help you move forward in your career, relationships, and home life
● have the goal of helping you reach your potential
But here is how they differ:
|Coping Oriented||Action Oriented|
|Helps you recognize what you feel||Helps you recognize what you think|
|Helps you identify and solve problems||Helps you set and achieve goals|
|Will support you with empathy and understanding||Will challenge you frequently|
|May focus on the past||Focuses on the present and future|
|Focuses on acceptance||Focuses on your potential|
|Trained in human development, mental health conditions, family dynamics, sexuality, personality||Trained to identify strengths and barriersand to motivate|
|Can recognize whether a mental health diagnosis or condition is impacting wellbeing||Can recognize whether core beliefs are hindering development|
|Requires a master’s level education with practical placement to develop skills and experience practical experience requirements||Can take training of various lengths and intensity to develop skills, generally with|
|Practices under the guidelines of a Regulating body (a College)||Can register with a non-regulated membership association|
|Receives clinical supervision as part of their work||Does not have supervision requirements|
|Is required to continually take courses to enhance knowledge and skills||May have requirements to complete additional continuing education|
I am going to be honest here. Due to the lack of strict guidelines and regulations governing the field of coaching, individuals should do their due diligence to learn about their potential coach’s education, experience, ongoing training and specialties. It is also important to know whether the coach has the wisdom and professionalism to pass on working with a client because they are not mentally or emotionally well, and as such, are in need of counselling before coaching can begin. A similar warning can apply to therapists too. Just because one has the education, it does not mean that they are qualified to treat all issues, nor do they have the experience you need to feel supported. Asking questions of your provider and assessing fit is key.
What about a counsellor who is ALSO a coach?
Some counsellors integrate coaching approaches into their work. This ‘therapeutic coaching’ includes helping you identify obstacles, set goals, change perspectives, and identify and modify core beliefs. As a therapist who is educated, experienced and who practices both counselling and coaching, I aim to assess my client’s needs and use the approach that best fits with what they want to achieve and how they want to get there. I am up front with my clients in identifying my opinion on which approach will work best for them. I have worked with people who have come to me for coaching, but ultimately realized that some counselling is required before the coaching can begin, or conversely, counselling clients who have achieved therapeutic goals and who are ready for coaching to help them move to the next level.
Whether you choose counselling or coaching depends on your personal preference, but a qualified professional will be able to guide you in the right direction. In general, if you want to focus on what you are dealing with right now, don’t want to probe too deeply into emotional issues, you need help taking actionable steps, and you are in need of guidance as you travel through life stages and changes, coaching may be for you.
If you are ready to think about identifying and breaking patterns of thinking and acting that have been impacting your life for some time, you want to feel heard and understood, you would like to improve your self-esteem and understand yourself, and want to figure out what you want in life and move towards it, counselling might be a good choice.
Remember that the professional you choose needs to appeal to you and be someone you can see yourself connecting with. Aside from training, approaches and skills, both counselling and coaching are far more effective if the communication between you and the professional works for you. It is essential that the environment is open and non-judgemental, and that you feel heard and understood during your work together. Each coach and counsellor will bring with them their own personality and unique way of working with clients. It is essential that the professional you choose is skilled and knowledgeable of the issues facing you and is able to identify when they may not be the right person for the job.
Be a savvy consumer of services. This is your life! Do your research, ask questions, and arrange a meet and greet with your counsellor or coach so you can ensure that you have found a professional who is “your person”, who will guide you as you do the heavy lifting required to fulfill your potential.Learn More
“Am I Depressed?”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me”
Through the last two years, we as therapists have noticed an increase in folks who have sought out therapy for the first time in their lives, because “they don’t know what’s wrong”. This has been a refrain for all of us at various times during the pandemic. It is upsetting, frustrating, overwhelming…(all the feels) to not feel like ourselves, and to have no idea how to pull out of it because everything that usually helps does not seem to be working.
When we are feeling unwell and our coping skills are depleted, our minds can spin out of control with “what ifs” around possible chronic mental health issues, diagnoses, dependence on medications and the need for professional intervention. It is a scary reality to think we are stuck and unsure if these feelings will ever relent.
As I sat down to write this blog, I decided to google “Am I depressed or…?” to see what popped up. Here is a small sampling: Am I depressed or sad, lazy, tired, bored, burned out, bipolar? WOW! What a laundry list of inquiries, ranging from questioning and attempting to label emotions to querying mental health and diagnosis. We as therapists are pleased that people are becoming more aware of their emotions and mental health, and how they both impact their day to day habits and quality of life. We also worry that the feelings of hopelessness and the overwhelming volume of information on mental health that is all over the internet can actually exacerbate symptoms, rather than providing comfort or relief.
There are literally thousands of tools, therapy interventions and medical treatments used to assess, diagnose and treat depression that need to be utilized by a trained professional. There are also many valid informational and educational pieces on depression out there that you can use to first sort through the symptoms you are experiencing, gain an understanding of the severity of them, learn how to assess and incorporate day to day habits that may help ease symptoms, and finally help you to make informed decisions about seeking professional support.
Here is one, from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), that provide useful information on depression, diagnosis, coping and treatment. Remember that this is not to be used as a substitute for professional advice and support, but it is from an accredited, professional organization that aims to educate so that you can self-assess before making decisions about reaching out for support.
I think I am depressed…now what?
One of the most studied and supported treatments for depression comes from psychiatrist Aaron Beck, called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). To put it very simply, one of the pillars of CBT is the Cognitive Triangle. This triangle helps us examine the intertwined relationship between our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. When you are doing CBT with a trained professional, you are learning how to identify negative and intrusive thoughts that impact how you feel about yourself, your situation and your relationships, which in turn impact the choices you make about how you behave or respond. Again, professional support to help with this triangle is just one of the keys to managing depression, but doing a self-assessment check-in on your own can be a powerful way to understand whether or not to seek professional support to confirm a diagnosis, or treatment to help manage these thoughts and make some changes for the better.
Check Your Thoughts
Many of us resort to googling information on any issue we are faced with, whether it be a leaky faucet or our mental health. We do this because it feels safer to “DIY” our problem, so that we don’t have to say it out loud (because that makes it more real), and so we can hopefully find a solution that we hope will be an easy fix. The other reason we often start with Google is because we are feeling some shame around the issue and the act of even asking for help. Many of us hold longstanding and firmly planted beliefs around the concept of admitting to a problem (think perfectionism) and asking for help (think “weakness”, “incompetence”, and feeling “less than”).
Challenge yourself to really identify your thoughts around what you are experiencing, and how these thoughts may be roadblocking your ability to manage your moods, relationships and overall functioning. It is so easy to believe everything that pops into our heads. The truth is, a lot of what we think about ourselves is hyper-critical, and is driven by fear and shame. Newsflash: we don’t have to listen to these messages!
Check Your Feelings
As therapists, we hear clients using “negative self-talk”, whether it be out loud, or in their heads to put themselves down, name call, and shame themselves for experiencing what are actually normal and healthy feelings. Throughout the pandemic, many of us have resorted to “numbing behaviours” such as scrolling through our phones or Netflix bingeing because we have just not had the will or the energy to identify feelings, much less actually feel them! If this sounds like you, try to get into the habit of asking yourself “what am I actually feeling right now?” Identifying the feeling and actually naming it will help you manage it, rather than pushing it further within by seeking quick fix and feeling-numbing behaviours that actually take us into a perpetual shame spiral of negative self-talk.
Check Your Behaviours
Here comes your mother’s, fitness instructor’s, therapist’s, doctor’s voice: get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, eat your vegetables, go for a walk, and practice mindfulness. “YUP, got it,” you are saying (me too). The issue for most of us is not that we need this knowledge, it is ensuring that we actually practice these behaviours.
Let’s go back to the thoughts part of this cognitive triangle. When we are feeling depressed, our minds generally block out these simple, yet challenging habits which we know in our heads will help us feel better. Depression can almost act like a magnet that keeps us attached to our bed, sofa, phone or computer screen, thereby blocking out the will to incorporate habits that will naturally increase the happiness chemicals in our brains and will contribute to us feeling even a little better. Again, the shame-spiral of knowing that you already know what to do to feel better but not being able to push yourself to actually do it is activated, thus leaving you feeling further down and depressed.
Just having a basic understanding of this cognitive triangle can be helpful to become more self-aware of our feelings, moods and behaviours. The smallest bit of self-awareness and the tiniest of changes is progress. Drinking one glass of water instead of none, reaching out to a friend to walk and talk, or getting into bed 15 minutes earlier than usual is all part of living the change.
So if you are reading this and still asking yourself whether or not you need help to cope with this post-pandemic reality, the answer is YES! We all do. The past two years have been a harrowing and traumatic experience for every single one of us. For some, emotional and mental health issues that existed before the pandemic have increased in intensity and severity. For others, the current set of circumstances has led to new and uncomfortable emotions that have taken a toll on quality of life.
Seeking the support of a qualified, experienced therapist will help you sort through your own cognitive triangle and make choices around the next steps to take to alleviate the symptoms on one end of the spectrum, to seeking out more intensive and long-term interventions on the other. Regardless, reaching out for professional help will ensure you are getting outside of your head and that you are not walking the path to feeling better all alone.Learn More
Co-regulation: What you (and your child) need right now
Our ability to regulate ourselves as adults comes down to two basic, yet challenging, abilities: attention and emotion regulation. These abilities are less developed in children; so why is co-regulation so difficult for us parents?
When we talk about self-regulation, it speaks to our ability to manage our own emotions and thoughts. This regulation is not just about our own intentions. It is also influenced by many things around us including our families, friends, jobs or other environments we may have both negative and positive interactions.
Co-regulation means we are able to regulate our own emotions as parents. This allows us to model and reflect appropriate emotions to our children, encouraging them to explore their own feelings. Becoming a parent, however, can bring up a lot of new and old feelings that make it difficult to get on our child’s level. This is really normal. And when we notice these red flags, it can allow us to address those emotions and experiences, further showing our kids we can show up for ourselves and make changes too.
Coregulation can be age-specific, but the foundations are applicable for parents raising children at any age:
- Unconditional positive regard – regardless of your child’s age, warmth and responsiveness is key to providing and modelling a trusting relationship. This allows your child to recognize that in a time of need, their caregiver will commit to respectful communication and investment into the child’s interests and challenges. Essentially, unconditional love fosters long-standing commitment and understanding.
- Pave the path – our environment can be stressful, and so can our children’s. With a degree of structure and predictability, coregulation allows overwhelming stressors to take less of a toll on our children’s well-being. Feelings of authentic security provide our children with an understanding of the expectations of the parent-child relationship and its associated consequences. We as parents model what our children can expect from future relationships and how to connect with others.
- Modelling is key – this step is integral to how we approach coregulation. It goes without saying that leading the way gives children the opportunity for growth.
It is important to remember that children will make mistakes throughout the learning process, as will parents. If you are a parent that struggles with co-regulation, you’re not alone. This is a challenging experience in which we feel unprepared. Help is available if you aim to gain new skills to help you with self-regulation or co-regulation.
Our therapists are available to support you through this journey and are skilled in assisting individuals at their level of growth.
Murray, D. W., & Rosanbalm, K. (2017). Promoting Self-Regulation in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Practice Brief. OPRE Report 2015-82. Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation from https://fpg.unc.edu/sites/fpg.unc.edu/files/resources/reports-and-policy-briefs/Co-RegulationFromBirthThroughYoungAdulthood.pdfLearn More