Coaching vs counselling

Following a loss or significant life change, you can find yourself in a very vulnerable place. Cognitive, physical and emotional functioning are hugely impacted. This can manifest in poor memory, reduced concentration, and flawed judgement.


Erratic sleeping contributes to pure exhaustion, self-confidence can diminish and having the capacity to access appropriate support becomes difficult. These crippling reactions can impair your decision making just when you need it most.


I’ve been there. After three devastating losses in the space of seven months, I knew I needed support outside of my family and friends to make sense of my situation. I didn’t need advice but a neutral party who wasn’t emotionally invested in my loss.


Coaching vs counselling

So, at a time of huge vulnerability what support do you choose? Do you opt for a coach or counsellor? What is the difference between them and which is better suited to your needs?


I wanted to provide some pointers, based on my experience. They each have their merits but having a clear understanding might help others to make informed choices about the support they need.


Counselling is a talking therapy that assesses the individual in the here and now, with a focus on the past too. Counsellors work with clients to unpick how past events have contributed to a person’s current challenges or patterns they find themselves in. A counsellor helps clients work through their emotions and develop coping mechanisms to move forward in life.


I sought bereavement counselling to explore the enormity of my losses and I found it really useful to understand my grief reaction and my patterns of loss previously.

Coaching, on the other hand, is present and future-focused, usually in a one-to-one relationship. Coaching allows the client to focus on what is important to them, their strengths, challenges and where they would like to be. Together, coaches and clients explore options and develop realistic goals, priorities, and plans. A coach asks the right questions to draw solutions from the client themselves.


I have been an accredited coach for 6 years. In my NHS development role, I coach senior healthcare leaders through work challenges, life changes and the ongoing impact of the pandemic.


But I also engaged in a coaching relationship myself 8 months after I lost my son to suicide. I knew I was changed forever, there was no going back to the old me. I was restless and knew I had to make life changes but I struggled to make them independently. Coaching provided an external sounding board, a safe space for me to focus totally on me. My coach validated my feelings, asked thought-provoking questions, and totally had my back.


It was also important for me to factor my son Samuel into my new life. How can I continue our relationship and bring him forward with me? I was able to integrate his continued presence into my new life and that gave me such comfort.


How do I know if is the right time for me to have coaching?

From my experience, I would say coaching is not appropriate in the first six months after grief. This is a time of emotional processing and shock where counselling may be a better fit.


After this, there are certain signs that might be present that would point towards coaching:

· A desire to make changes in your life and take back control

· A yearning to find meaning and purpose

· The motivation to think about a future

· The energy and commitment to create plans and take action to move forward

· An openness to have honest conversations and try new approaches


To help you assess whether it’s the right time to seek out coaching support, I have created a free coaching readiness assessment tool. Download it here.


How long does the coaching relationship last?

From my experience, having fortnightly coaching sessions, within a package of support, for at least 3 months provides an ideal platform for making progress. Being able to share your story, explore options and put them into practice is not a quick fix. It might take more sessions or alternatively just a few might be enough to help you take your next steps.


Being kind to yourself, making incremental changes and knowing that your coach is there to encourage and support you makes all the difference.


Coaching and counselling can run alongside each other as their focus is quite different. There are no hard and fast rules and you are free to make that choice.


If it sounds like you might be ready for coaching or if you have any questions about your specific situation, get in touch and let’s a virtual coffee and chat.