Counseling vs. Coaching vs. Consulting

What’s the difference between Mental Health Counseling, HSP Life Coaching and HSP Consulting?

Counseling (aka “Therapy”), Coaching and Consulting are all helping services. They differ in the kind of helping approach that they offer, as well as in the range of situations and issues they can help with.  They also vary in the amount of education and credentialing required to legally offer them as professional services.

At Self-Awareness Counseling, I offer Licensed Professional Counseling (LPC), Board Certified Coaching (BCC), and HSP Consulting services.  What follows is a brief introduction to the differences among these three services. If you are considering Counseling or Coaching services, we can explore, in more detail, which would best fit your needs during the initial consultation.

Licensure and Credentialing Differences


Of the three services, Professional Counseling requires the most specialized and regulated education.
A professional counselor’s education covers preparation for handling the widest range of human mental distress/illness and appropriate therapeutic interventions. A license to practice is required by law in each of the 50 states (as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), to assure that Licensed Professional Counselors have met the training requirements to safely provide these services.


Life Coaching is a relatively new profession and is not yet regulated by state licensure.
Therefore, anyone with or without coaching education can legally offer life coaching services. Over the last 20 years, however, certain national and international coaching organizations have worked diligently to establish educational requirements for the training of effective and safe professional coaches. Coaches that have gone through these training programs are certified as life coaches.  Because there are a number of different certifying organizations with differing educational philosophies and levels of training, credentialing is not uniform across all certified coaching services.

At Self-Awareness Counseling, I’ve found that many people, after having discovered they were highly sensitive, want help with adapting their worlds (inside and out) to increase ease and productivity and/or make optimal use of their sensitivity. Many of these people don’t need the depth of work that counseling would entail and are more focused on learning about being an HSP, improve their relationships with themselves and others. In general, they need support around moving forward toward a life that is a better fit for them. For these individuals, coaching may be a better fit than counseling.


Consulting can be offered by anyone with expertise in any area.
There are no laws, regulations or educational requirements governing who can offer consultation or what qualifies as expertise. You may hire a consultant for anything from Finances, to Interior Design, to Corporate Management Re-structuring and anything in-between. When you hire a consultant you are asking specifically for their expert advice about the issue of your concern. Generally, the long-term work and education in their area of specialization is the criteria by which you would pick a consultant.

The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) Consulting that I offer is based on my extensive research and work with this population. Not everyone who needs help understanding the trait of high sensitivity in themselves or others needs ongoing counseling or coaching services. Sometimes it is helpful for parents, teachers, friends, colleagues or community members to get some advice, pointers or guidance about how to approach and understand family members, friends & community members who are highly sensitive. In this case one or two consultation sessions may be the appropriate service. Follow this link for more information about HSP Consulting.

If have a Highly Sensitive Person in your life (e.g. parents, partners, family members, co-workers, friends, teachers, therapists or other helpers, etc.) and would like to interact more effectively with them, HSP consulting might be right for you.

Scope of Practice: Similarities & Differences

All three of these fields will help you make changes in your life. Counseling and Coaching are more alike than Consulting.

Consultations are advice-giving interactions.

Of the three, it is the least conversation-like in its form. There is not much back and forth dialogue, development of relationship, or co-operative development of solutions. Rather, as a client, you state your situation and goals. Once the consultant has gathered enough information to assess your (or your group’s) needs, the consultant delivers their expert recommendation.

Counseling and Coaching both involve developing a trusting relationship & cooperative process with your practitioner.

Both fields share a conversational form where both you and the helping professional are in an evolving dialogue about your current situation and goals, as your process of change unfolds. The relationship grows as the professional demonstrates that they truly understand your experiences and offer helpful questions, or tools for you to discover, what next steps would be best for you to take. The process in both counseling and coaching offers support for you to learn how to look within yourself to discover what you truly want for your life, what holds you back, and what propels you forward. Both counseling and coaching support your healing and growth by helping you discover your own authentic voice, rather than telling you what you “should” or shouldn’t do, or giving you advice. That being said, there are times when a counselor may make a very strong suggestion based on knowing you, and their experience in the mental health field. Also, a counselor or a coach may offer suggestions for you to consider based on their familiarity with a wide range of techniques for change. But for the most part, the goal of counseling and coaching is support and guidance for you to learn how to listen to, trust in, and depend on your own inner-knowing as your greatest resource.

Though similar, professional counseling and coaching differ in important ways.

As will become more clear by the end of this description, the scope of the counseling process can include all coaching techniques. On the other hand, the scope of the coaching process is much narrower, and does not include all of the delicate work with past wounds that mental health therapists or counselors are trained in.

Counseling generally works with what is currently going wrong & where past wounding originated.

Generally the counseling process seeks to first identify what it is that is causing emotional pain in your life. Often the work entails looking at both current and past patterns to discover the origins of your current challenges and distress. Some counseling techniques work more with changing the present thought patterns and behaviors (Cognitive Behavioral Techniques for example).  Other approaches work more deeply by addressing the underlying root of these painful patterns to heal long-standing, negative, sometimes unconscious, beliefs and habits. In these deeper approaches it is through understanding and working with the past, that appropriate healing and “corrective” experiences are devised to move you toward your goals for health and growth. More often than not modern counseling approaches blend work with the past, present and future. (Internal Family Systems is an example of a technique that focuses on what is currently happening in your life that is problematic and accesses the past, as needed or when it surfaces, during the healing process.)

Coaching focuses exclusively on current changes that will move you toward achieving your goals.

Coaches are not trained in the skill set needed to help people with cognitive and emotional problems like chronic Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, Personality Disorders or Addictions. Coaching focuses on identifying goals for life-change and then works co-creatively with you to help you develop a map to get you there. Coaching provides tools for identifying your particular motivations and road blocks, accountability for forward movement and support to help you re-route or get back on track if you get stuck or derailed. If your progress in the coaching process is stalling, a good coach will be able to identify when you are being hindered by an emotional block and will suggest either that you receive some counseling first, or in conjunction with coaching.

Often in the counseling process an overlap of counseling and coaching naturally occurs.

Counseling goals frequently include creating a plan for positive lifestyle change. As blocks to progress show up in the work, counseling tools are implemented to identify and work with any mental/emotional fears, beliefs, behaviors, etc. that are interfering with creating the life that you want. As more and more wounds are healed the counseling process can often very organically shift into utilization of what might now be considered coaching tools.

So to reiterate, counseling is inclusive of coaching, but coaching should never veer into the deeper work with the past that is the exclusive realm of professionally trained and licensed mental health practitioners.

For More Information:

Click on the images below  (or on the right), or see the pages under the “Specializations” and “About Counseling” menus or use the form on the “Contactpage to schedule an introductory consultation to meet and have a more in-depth conversation about how we might cater the work to fit your needs and goals.

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