How To Know If You Need Counseling Or Life Coaching

Both can help you change your life, but different phases require different types of support.

a life coach and therapist are in a room, the visual representations demonstrate a balance of difference with similarities Polina Zimmerman, bojanstory | Canva

Seeking professional help is a challenging decision for you to make. It takes courage to look deeply into yourself with compassion. It takes vulnerability to recognize your imperfections. It takes courage and vulnerability to say, "I need help".

Once you're ready to get some professional help, it can be a different challenge to decide if coaching or counseling is right for you. Of course, you want someone who will best meet your needs.


How to know if you need a counselor or a coach

Each practitioner brings something unique to their practice. Whether you choose a coach or counsellor, you must find someone you can trust and makes you feel safe, someone you can share with comfortably.

Coaching might be the way to go if you are doing okay and want to do better — while a counselor could be the best choice if you have more serious mental health challenges or emotional issues stemming from unresolved trauma.

RELATED: 7 Things Your Best Friend Won't Tell You — But A Life Coach Will

Key difference between coaching and counseling

Anyone can start a coaching business with or without training. Find out from any potential coach what their training and experience are. They may have training from a few days to a year or more. Often coaches come into this field as a second or third career, meaning they come into it with significant life experience.


Many people only think of coaching in sports. Professional coaching is growing rapidly for both personal and professional use.

A few facts about coaches

1. Accreditation and licensing is required for coaches.

If they are a member of the International Coaching Federation, you can have confidence they have met the standards set out by the ICF that, includes best practices and ethics.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as, “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential".

2. Coaches see the clients as having answers

Rather than giving advice, the coach asks questions from a curious stance that will invite powerful insight into the client. Coaches see their clients as having the answer inside them. As a coach, I see myself as a midwife helping birth the true self in each client.


3. Coaches will let you know if you need a therapist or a different coach

Excellent coaches know how to take responsibility for their issues to stay emotionally, mentally and physically healthy so they can prevent themselves from transferring their issues to their client.

A good coach listens more than they speak, is curious and always wants to understand their client better. This requires the ability to ask deep questions, and will be open to answering your questions.

Staying non-judgmental helps provide a safe place to learn, good coaches know how to put aside judgements that block them from understanding you.

They will help you to access the wisdom already within you and hold you accountable by compassionately challenging you to keep doing the hard work.


A reputable coach will inform you if they are not the right person for you and encourage you to see another coach, counselor, or psychiatrist.

4. Coaching takes a around ten sessions to show significant change

To benefit from coaching, you need to have some self-awareness. You will benefit from a coach if you are looking for someone to give you a safe place to explore what is getting in the way of your life so you can be freed up to do what you are meant to do.

In the coaching world, most practitioners agree that you need a minimum of ten hours to start to notice any difference.

Be honest with yourself. Are you ready to face your shadow side? If you are not ready to do this now, start with a counselor and later try a coach.


RELATED: 8 Common Life Struggles Hiring A Life Coach Can Help You Through

Facts about counselors

This group of people includes counselors trained usually as social workers or psychologists. In most places, you have to be registered through a licensing body. I Canada, it happens through provincial organizations.

1. Licensing requires specific degrees and training. 

You need a minimum of an undergraduate or graduate degree to be licensed as a social worker. Psychologists require a minimum of a graduate degree. Both these types of counselors are under the supervision of their governing body.

Counselors often have more training than coaches, but this is not always true.


2. Counseling is based upon specific methodology

Counseling/psychotherapy is the skilled and constructive use of a relationship to facilitate self-awareness, emotional acceptance and growth and strengthen personal skills.

The overall aim is to provide an opportunity for people to work towards living with hope and joy. While the relationship will vary according to need, it may be concerned with childhood issues, addressing and resolving specific problems, making decisions, coping with crises, developing personal insights and knowledge, working through feelings of inner turmoil or improving relationships with others.

A good counsellor will use some of the same tools as a coach. However, counselors have specific training to work with people dealing with mental illness.

3. What makes an excellent counselor:

Excellent counsellors need to have excellent communication skills through active listening—healthy self-awareness of themselves, excellent communication skills ability to ask relevant questions, the ability to observe non-verbal behavior, patience, empathy and respect for confidentiality.


You will notice that coaches and counselors need many of the same skills. However, you will notice that coaches are there to help you access the wisdom you already have, while counsellors are equipped to help people who have difficulty accessing their inner world and those who live with mental illness.

Counselors can only share information shared with them with the client’s consent.

RELATED: What’s The Difference Between Therapy & Coaching? How To Find The Best Support For You

4. There are some prerequisites for counseling

You need to want to get help. You are tired of how your life is going. You are concerned you have a mental illness. Life is getting unmanageable, and you are ready to address the problems. You also need to be determined and patient because change will happen gradually.


In the end, you need to do the work. Your counselor cannot fix you. There is nothing defective about you. Yet old habits and inner talk keep getting in your way.

If finances are a concern and you can access a counselor through your works benefits plan, this may be a good place to start. Most counselors can be paid through ADP programs offered where you work.

Trust your intuition.


Meet with different coaches or counsellors to find the right person. Ask them how they can support you. Find out how much they charge and ask if they are licensed or accredited. If you know someone you trust who has got help in the last few years, see if they have any recommendations for you.

Find a professional to begin this journey and stay with it long enough to start seeing a difference in your life.

When you do the work, your future self will thank you for choosing to make the critical changes to your life.

RELATED: What To Expect When You Go To Therapy Or Counseling (A Step-By-Step Guide)

Roland Leggeis an author, certified spiritual life coach, and teacher of the Enneagram. He helps people connect to their inner selves and find alignment with their highest purpose and values.