Despite coaching being a practiced discipline since the early 1830’s, as a profession, it remains relatively misunderstood with preconceived assumptions. Although you have probably heard of professional coaching in the realm of acting (1940’s), sports (1960’s), and business/executive (1990’s), many are confused when they hear the term life coaching. Because many psychological theories and models are used across coaching and counseling, many people believe both provide the same services. They mistakenly assume life coaching must be something like counseling and conclude they don’t need counseling, therefore, they don’t need a coach. It’s true, not everyone needs a counselor, but everyone can benefit from a coach. Throw in mentoring among the terminology mix and the differentiation gets muddier. The truth? Although coaching, counseling, and mentoring do share a common purpose of helping people with life plans, goals, or relationships with self, God, others, work, and community, each serves a different function, uses different processes, and has a different defined relationship. Let’s debunk the myths.
How does coaching differ from counseling and mentoring?
Professional coaching, mentoring, and counseling share a similar purpose in helping people through life seasons and transitions. How to achieve a better work-life balance? Struggling in a marriage? About to get married? Trying to figure out which career path to take? How to land the next promotion? The situational factors will determine what professional and which approach will best serve the client. In general, coaches use relational influence to develop and empower people, mentors impart their wisdom upon less experienced individuals, and counselors diagnose their clients’ problems and offer solutions.
Coaching differs from mentoring and counseling on many levels, including the role of each participant. Although coaches are change experts, they approach the relationship with the mindset that clients are the experts of their lives and that the coach’s role is to help them take responsibility to act in ways to maximize their potential. Coaches and clients are equal partners, who co-construct the coaching relationship through vulnerable and empowering conversation. Coaches can administer assessments, sometimes suggest, and lead with challenging and powerful questions so clients can then decide on specific plans to achieve their defined goals. On the other hand, mentors and counselors are the experts in the relationship, who offer advice and make suggestions. Stoltzfus (2005) found that when people solve their own problems versus being told what to do, they learn more and are more motivated to address problems and implement their identified solutions.
Coaching also differs from counseling in that it is future-oriented as opposed to counseling, which is focused on revisiting the past, and mentoring which may alternate between both realms (Stoltzfus, 2005). Collins (2009) defines coaching as enabling people to move from where they stand to a position of where they want to be. Coaching and mentoring are grounded in the present with the desire to help others grow personally, develop skills, or acquire knowledge, as opposed to counseling, which typically involves exploring past hurts to achieve healing, so clients can be brought into a well-functioning present life. Coaching and mentoring differ in their approach, although over the years the practical application of mentoring has expanded, so it appears more like coaching. Mentors are typically subject-matter experts in their fields who provide information, support, correction, and accountability to develop their mentorees.
Christian Life Coaching
Those who may understand the value of life coaching may not necessarily understand the difference when the label of Christian is applied next to it. Christian life coaching is distinctive from secular life coaching. A Christian coach has a Christ-based worldview and encourages clients to find God’s vision and purpose for their lives and helps to guide them from where they are to where God wants them to be. On the other hand, secular life coaching supports clients in pursuing their own human-based goals (Collin, 2009). Many Christian life coaches successfully coach secularly-based clients who do not hold the same worldview, because one of the many ethical standards held by coaches is not to impose their own beliefs onto their clients. Coaching is not about the coach but about the clients and what they want for their lives.
Coaching sessions have an agenda, defined goals, and accountability, which is not inherently part of the counseling or mentoring process. Coaching provides a supportive relationship and structure that allows the client to take responsibility and be held accountable to make life changes. Through assessments and skilled questions, a coach unlocks the confidence and commitment in their clients to reached defined goals and achieve results. A coach will partner with you, encourage you, help you see what motivates you, believe in you to make change, and challenge your thinking. Coaches typically provide written documentation and action plans and follow-up with their clients between sessions. Coaching can be done over the phone, via Skype, and face-to-face. Coaching is for anyone who strives to be a better version of themselves in any area of life, and successful coaching is measured solely by the client achieving results.
Collins, G. R. (2009). Christian Coaching: Helping Others Turn Ppotential into Reality. (2nd ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
Stoltzfus, T. (2005). Leadership Coaching: The Disciplines, Skills and Heart of a Christian Coach. Virginia Beach, VA: Booksurge Publishing.
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement. She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose/plans, business, leadership, finances, and premarital/marriage.