I’m often asked how coaching is different than mentoring, consulting, and counseling. So in honor of International Coaching Week, I wanted to answer that question and shed light on how to make sure you are choosing the right person for your needs and goals.

Since the coaching profession is an unregulated field, many people call themselves coaches when in fact they are mentors, counselors, consultants or even teachers. Those are admirable roles and serve a distinct purpose. But I’ve seen way too many untrained people call themselves a “coach” end up with frustrated clients. And people who had bad experiences, now don’t trust trained coaches.

Full disclosure: Because of stories I’ve heard, I’ve become a bit of a coach snob … and I have to use a lot of self control to keep my mouth shut when someone says they are going to start charging people for coaching because they think they can help them (but don’t have any training). It would be like saying you’re a counselor because you like to help people solve their problems. We’d raise an eyebrow at that, right? My goal is to help you know the difference between these roles and define what a coach does in comparison to them. So you can hire the right person for your needs.

Before you choose who you work with … decide what you really want and need. For example,

  • Do you need help processing something hard from your past?
  • Do you need someone to show you how to build your business?
  • Do you need someone to teach you how to do a new skill?
  • Do you need someone to help you prepare for marriage?

If you said yes to any of those three questions, you don’t need a coach. You need a counselor, a consultant, mentor or teacher.

What is a Coach?

Coaching is set apart by the way a coach approaches a conversation with a client. Coaches do not teach but help you through a process of discovery by using active listening skills, asking powerful questions, expanding thought processes, identifying limited beliefs, designing action steps and following up.

Keith Webb, a leading expert in the field of coaching says it this way:

To most leaders, professional coaching practices are counter-intuitive. Take a look at these characteristics:

  • Coaches don’t talk, they listen.
  • Coaches don’t give information, they ask questions.
  • Coaches don’t offer ideas, they generate ideas from clients.
  • Coaches don’t share their story, they tap into the client’s experience.
  • Coaches don’t present solutions, they expand the client’s thinking.
  • Coaches don’t give recommendations, they empower clients to choose.

You can read more about coaching from Keith here.

Why it Matters to Find a Certified Coach

The leading credential authority in the coaching profession is the International Coach Federation or ICF. They have set standards for training in the core competencies and ethics. I went through a training program that required many hours of training, practice and mentoring. My coaching calls were reviewed and I was mentored on how to improve. Once I completed that and received my certification, I had to take a 3 hour test and have over 100 hours of coaching clients before they would give me the credential of an ICF coach. It’s a major time and financial investment as well.

Sadly, there are programs out there that promise to certify people as a “coach” but don’t actually follow the ICF standards. I’ve had friends pay a lot of money to become a coach, only to find out they took classes from an organization that didn’t have their curriculum approved by the ICF. They had to start all over again. So if you want to find a coach, look for someone that has certification from a program with ACSTH (Approved Coach Specific Training Hours) and who has an ICF credential. In other words, be careful of the folks who say they are credentialed from an organization that doesn’t have any coaching affiliation at all. These organizations just decided to join the trend, without putting in the work, and then train others to do the same. Do your research.

Other Professions Compared to Coaches:

These definitions are quoted or adapted from my training through Creative Results Management.

Counselor – seeks to discover issues in the clients past that are blocking them from success. Special techniques and tools are used to understand these issues and bring healing and closure to them so that the client may move ahead. While coaches and counselors may use many of the same dialog techniques, coaching begins in the present and is future oriented.

Mentor – someone who has expertise in a particular area and shares that learning with mentee. Mentors provide knowledge, advise, guide, correct and encourage in their field of expertise. A mentor works within their profession, whereas a coach with good discovery, change and communication skills can coach anyone.

Consultants – specialists who are paid for solutions. They diagnose the problem and propose a solution. Many times they implement it as well. Coaches also focus on solutions but draw solutions out of the client. Coaches support the client in creating a plan of action and implementing it. Ultimately, clients gain long-term problem-solving capacity. (Check out The Monaco Group.)

I’ve heard some consultants, counselors or mentors also mix in coaching tools. Why? Because asking questions is one of the most powerful ways someone discovers what is inside of them. And studies show when you decide for yourself, you will stick to it better than if someone told you what to do.

Freedom Coaching®

I coach people with traditional coaching (“pure coaching”) in business, relationships, and personal development goals. I love seeing people find the greatness that is already inside of them and reach their goals!

But I’ve also created a coaching program that blends coaching and ministry tools called the Freedom Coach Model®. It’s similar to bonus tools coaches use like Strength Finders, DISC or other self-discovery and goal-setting modalities. I have certain questions I ask, and I lead people through specific prayers. In this model, I lead the session, not the client. I created the Freedom Coach Model because some clients were stuck, and they didn’t know why. As they shared their experience of meeting with counselors, they said it was helpful to have someone listen, but they wanted more tools to move forward. They didn’t want to look back anymore, but they knew the past was contributing to their untapped potential. I join them in asking God what questions He wants to answer for them. Based on Biblical truth, we search the heart of God together. Sometimes it means walking through forgiveness, hearing what He has to say about lies they’ve believed, or just sitting in His presence and receiving His love. Then we come up with goals to maintain their freedom. I have seen clients thrive as they meet their goals, enter into healthy relationships, move into promotion, and become all God created them to be.

Many of my clients wanted to go through the process again on their own, so I wrote the Amazon #1 best-selling book, Freedom Coach Model. It has 20 different topics for you to talk to God about. I suggest questions to ask in prayer and offer a place to journal as you discover God’s heart. It can’t replace one on one coaching but it has helped people worldwide encounter the love of God.

I know I’m biased, but I believe everyone needs a coach. I know how it’s changed my life and my clients’ lives. If you want to discuss coaching, feel free to schedule a discovery call with me. 

P.S. After all that … I have to say that there are exceptions to the rule. Tony Robbins, John Maxwell, and Tony Stoltzfus aren’t ICF-certified coaches. But I wouldn’t turn a session down with any of them!

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