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What is Coaching?


Coaching (or life coaching as it is sometimes referred) is a general term for working with an individual (or company in some cases) to improve and enhance aspects of an area which, for the client, they may need or want to change (Grant & Greene, 2004).

Zeus and Skiffington (2000) have identified the coaching relationship to be one that focuses on change and transformation. The coaching relationship is:

  • Essentially a conversation
  • About learning
  • More about asking the right questions than providing answers
Another way to look at coaching is that it helps maximise an individual's performance (Gallway, as cited in Whitmore, 1996).

Grant and Greene (2004) have identified the origins of coaching to have started in the 1960's when the business world used techniques from the discipline of sports coaching. Such techniques, for example utilising pressure and stress and setting performance targets were used in staff training and development.

Coaching has also incorporated techniques from a number of other disciplines such as human resources, mentoring, counselling, training, and consulting which have helped make it the discipline it is today (Grant & Greene, 2004; Skiffington & Zeus, 2005).

Coaching focuses on the different areas of an individual's life (as with counselling). Grant and Greene (2004) have identified seven main themes in life coaching. The themes are:

Benefits to the employee:
  1. Clarify what the individual wants from life
  2. Set effective goals
  3. Monitor progress on the journey of change
  4. Stay focused and challenged
  5. Stick to commitments
  6. Continually reassess and re-examine ideas, plans and strategies
  7. Identify values
Counsellors (working as coaches) work with the following underlying notions (Grant & Greene, 2004):
  1. People are essentially able
  2. You know yourself best so accept your own definition of your situation
  3. Acknowledge and take the credit for your successes
  4. Focus on the solution, not the problem
  5. A problem is something that you have, not are

The Difference between Coaching and Counselling
There are many differences and yet many similarities between counselling and coaching. The following reading is designed to provide an understanding of the differences between these professions.
Differences between Counselling, Psychotherapy and Life Coaching
“Before suggesting some differences between counselling or psychotherapy and life coaching, I stress that there are many similarities. Both counselling and life coaching aim to help clients lead fulfilling lives. In addition, they leave the client with the right to choose what sort of life to lead. Some counselling approaches, in particular the cognitive and cognitive-behavioural approaches, contain a large coaching element within them. Though they do not emphasize the word skills, approaches like rational emotive behaviour therapy and cognitive therapy aim to teach and coach clients in key mind skills and, to a lesser extent, in communication skills so that they can deal better with the problems for which they came to counselling. Life coaches can gain much from being familiar with theories of counselling and therapy (Corsini and Wedding, 2005; Nelson-Jones, 2006a).
Now let's look at some ways that life coaching differs from conventional counselling and therapy. The goals of life coaching are both positive and stated in the positive. There is an assumption of seeking mental wellness rather than overcoming mental illness. Though an exaggeration, there is some truth in Peltier's comment: ‘High performance athletes are coached; sick, weak or crazy people get therapy' Peltier, 2001: xix). Life coaching is not geared towards those who problems are best described by the latest version of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Such people require psychotherapy. Coaching clients are not worked within psychiatric hospitals. Often very competent people seek life coaching; they want to be even more effective in leading their lives. Normal people also seek life coaching to maximize aspects of their potential and get more out of life. Life coaching does this by bringing psychological knowledge to address everyday issues and problems such as relationships, health, career, finances and spiritual concerns, among others.
Though there is some overlap, the clients for life coaching differ from those for counselling and therapy. Clients come for counselling very often because they are suffering and in psychological pain. They want to feel, think and act at a level that they regard as normal for the society of which they are a part. At the very least, they want to stop continually feeling very low. Approximately 10 per cent of the population will need counselling at some stage of their lives. However, even normal people can feel unfulfilled. Clients seek life coaching to gain ways of or skills for becoming even more successful and happier than they already are. Rather than being motivated by pain, they are motivated by gain. Their problems are often more to do with achieving their positive potential than dealing with negative issues. They may realize that, during their upbringing, they were not systematically trained in many of the skills for leading a successful life. In addition, they may want coaching to face new challenges in their lives. There is a vast potential market for life coaching in the 90 per cent or so of people who do not need counselling. In addition, many who have been counselled may not need counselling. In addition, many who have been counselled may later want life coaching to become even happier and more skilled at living.
There are many broader reasons why there is a need for disciplined life coaching. With the increase in economic affluence in the Western world, there does not appear to have been a corresponding increase in overall happiness. For example, the divorce rate in countries like Britain, Australia and the USA is about 50 per cent of first marriages, with many also failing at subsequent marriages. In addition, the increased mobility and time spent at work by both sexes has contributed to a breakdown in traditional support systems, such as the extended family and local church. People are bombarded every day by information that often causes them to questions how they are living. Arguably, this is a more challenging time in which to live. Not only are the former sources of support in decline, but there is a whole new range of problems with the rapid increase in changes brought about by technological invention. However, there is also a whole new range of opportunities with the increase in psychological knowledge and the possibility of using this knowledge to help not just therapy clients but also the rest of the population to lead happier lives.
Alongside the difference of life coaching goals to those of counselling and therapy, the ways of attaining them also differ. With its main emphasis on working with non-disturbed people, life coaching is less likely to be conducted with a psychodynamic approach. Mutual goals are established quite quickly in life coaching. If anything, life coaching directly encourages and trains clients in how to deal with and improve their present and their futures, rather than to understand their past.
The nature of coaches' relationships with clients also differs from that in counselling. Already I have mentioned that life coaching may be conducted over the phone as well as in person. With coaching clients in general being less disturbed than counselling clients, coaches need to spend less time in helping clients listen to themselves. Though good active listening skills are still vital for effective coaching, and though clients are regarded as the main sources of information regarding how to lead their lives, coaches can be more active in making suggestions about areas that require work and what skills clients need to attain in them. The assumption is that so long as the coach is not overbearing, clients are well enough to discuss issues with coaches rather than automatically agree. Though some clients may want to be coached in a person-centred way, many clients are prepared for the coach to take a more active coaching role than that in traditional counselling. Once client and coach settle on objectives, they agree on ways to attain them as quickly as possible. While many counsellors work within an educational approach, coaches can often be seen as emphasizing the training of clients in skills even more than in counselling. Thus the coaching relationship is both facilitative and didactic, the exact mixture between the two depending on the needs of the client at any given moment.
Another issue is that of the language of coaching. Some counselling approaches, such as the person-centred approach, have counsellors conceptualizing clients in a different language to that in which counselling is conducted. Counselling is conducted mainly using the clients' language, and clients do not use person-centered terms like ‘self-actualizing' and ‘conditions of worth'. Psychodynamic counsellors also do not fully share their language of their approach with clients. In life coaching, coaches use everyday language to describe and train clients in how to become more effective. This is a similar attitude to that taken in cognitive-behavioural therapy. However, cognitive-behavioural approaches like rational emotive behaviour therapy and cognitive therapy tend not to focus on a full range of mind skills, and also tend not to use the word skills. As mentioned previously, I think it advantageous to use skills language and to identify the mind skills and communication/action skills that the client requires.
One of the ways coaching can differ from counselling and therapy is that often clients do not mind other people knowing that they are being coached. Many life coaching clients see their coaching as something positive to share with others rather than as a sign of weakness.” Source: Nelson-Jones, R. (2007). Life coaching skills: How to develop skilled clients (pp. 6-9). London: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Benefits of Incorporating Coaching Aspects into your Counselling Practice

There are numerous benefits for incorporating coaching aspects into your counselling practice:

  • It opens your practice up to a new line of clients
  • It works from a strengths based, solution focused approach
  • It focuses on the future rather than reliving past experiences

The following chapters focus on two theories and their concepts widely used in coaching: Cognitive Behavioural and Solution Focused.