I was playing about with the Google Trends tool recently. Google Trends allows you to compare search terms and is helpful when trying to work out which keys words are likely to deliver traffic and which ones are not.
I have to confess to being stunned by the results when comparing counseling versus Life Coaching. I realized that the term ‘counseling’ would be more heavily searched, but I wasn’t prepared for the actual figures.
For every one person searching for a Life Coach, 20 people were searching for a counselor.
Are there really 20 times more people in need of a counselor than a Life Coach?
Quite frankly, I don’t just doubt that I think it’s flat out nonsense. Let’s presume I’m right and the stats are massively out of kilter, what does that tell us?
Firstly, that awareness of life coaching and what it can offer it still very much in its infancy. I have posted before; the question I get asked most frequently is,
“What does a Life Coach do?”
I’m not just talking about at social events or networking either, these are people that call me after visiting my website!
So I often spend a good proportion of the initial phone call explaining what coaching has to offer so that the caller is clear as to whether it meets their specific needs.
Anybody that has spent time working in sales will tell you that its difficult enough selling a known product. That difficulty is magnified exponentially when you have to almost create the need for the product through education at the same time.
Counselors don’t have that problem. Pretty much everybody knows what a counselor and/or psychiatrist does. Or probably more accurately, pretty much everybody thinks they know what a counselor or psychiatrist does.
Let’s face it we’ve seen enough of them in movies and on TV to get a handle on the services they offer. Even if the reality is somewhat different, it doesn’t really matter because the barriers are already down.
Another advantage that counselors have is the fact that no insurance companies (that I know of anyway) will foot the bill for somebody visiting a life coach. Whereas a referral to a mental health practitioner is a different matter altogether and many people are covered to a greater or lesser extent for such an eventuality
The financial element is obviously very important to people, but in an ideal world it shouldn’t be the overriding factor. Unfortunately though, we don’t live in an ideal world and some people simply don’t have the cash to spend on Life Coaching even if it were the most desirable option.
I have had numerous clients over the years that had previously spent months and sometimes even years undergoing counseling (my record to date is a woman that had been in therapy for over 20 years. I’m not sure at what point she thought it wasn’t working).
Some benefited substantially, others less so, and some not at all. I’ve had clients referred to me by counselors and similarly, I have referred clients on if I thought counseling or psychiatric help was more appropriate to their needs.
So what are the main differences between counseling and Life Coaching?
I don’t believe there is a definitive answer because it will depend heavily on the working models adopted by the counselor or coach as well as their levels of competency. However, we can generalize to give a better understanding.
Counselors deal with a lot of clients that have been advised (usually by their family doctor) they need counseling services.
Life Coaching clients usually choose to hire a coach of their own volition.
Counseling will often look to the past to deal with issues. This can be time consuming, occasionally stressful for the client and by no means always necessary.
Life Coaching is solution and goal driven with the desire to help move the client as quickly as possible to where they want to be.
Counseling is not a quick fix and can last many months, even years.
Life Coaching can be a quick fix especially when working with fears and phobias, although they normally require the coach to have a working understanding of NLP and/or Hypnotherapy.
Note: My average client spends about 6 sessions with me and unless it’s long-term goal setting and accountability I seldom work with a client for more than 10 or 12 sessions although that is not necessarily the same for all coaches.
Counseling usually requires the belief that there is something ‘wrong’ with the patient.
Life Coaching helps people from the starting point that they’re not broken in the first place.
Counseling tends to zone in on specific target areas or problems.
Life Coaching takes a more holistic approach and looks at the person as a whole and without any preconceptions of what is wrong.
Counselors are equipped to deal with people suffering from mental illness.
Life Coaches should never be dealing with clients that have a diagnosed mental illness. Unless that is, it’s with the full knowledge and approval of the medical person dealing with the case.
Note: I have worked with clients referred by medical health practitioners many times using NLP intervention techniques.
As well as the above, there is a different dynamic in the working relationship between a counselor or psychiatrist/psychotherapist and their patient than between a Life Coach and their client. The latter is much more a shared partnership with the coach being seen as a friend, partner, mentor, confidante etc.
As a coach I like to challenge and push my clients and in return I like to do the same to them. This aspect is somewhat muted between a patient and counselor with the relationship being more like that between a doctor and patient with the doctor being seen as an expert and not to be challenged.
I believe that anybody and everybody can benefit from coaching. It’s a cliché I know, but some of the greatest people on earth employ coaches and I’m not jus talking about in the field of sports either. Anybody can benefit from even a 1% improvement in his or her life and coaching can supply that, Counseling on the other hand is really only relevant to a minority of people with certain issues.
Hiring a coach or going to a counselor is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. It means you understand you’re not an island and that there are people who can you help you in whatever it is you want to achieve. You only get one shot at life and I’d encourage you to make sure you make the most of it.
I’d love to hear from anybody here that has an opinion on this. I know I am somewhat biased (which is why I’m a Life Coach and not a counselor), so tell me if you disagree.