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Professional Counsellor or Life Coach: How to Decide Which Career Best Suits My Personality and Temperament?

online life skills counsellor program

Individuals who have a passion for working with others may be drawn to a career in a helping profession, such as professional counselling or life coaching. Both of these professions require great listening skills, such as the ability to take cues from nonverbal communication. In addition, many successful professionals will also have a knack for intuitively knowing what may be affecting their clients. Counsellors and coaches alike often also demonstrate curiosity, patience, sincerity, compassion, and the ability to encourage others.

However, while they do share some similarities, these careers also differ. If you are trying to decide which one would best fit your personality and strengths, keep reading to learn more.

The Key Differences Between the Professions

Coaches and counsellors work with clients in different phases of their quest for success. According to Patrick Williams, who helped found the International Coach Federation (ICF), “coaches work with healthy clients who are striving to improve their circumstances…and counselors work with persons needing help and hoping to identify dysfunction or trauma to heal and resolve old pain” (Paterson, 2008).

A counsellor is more likely to take a nurturing approach as they work with clients struggling with problems such as addiction or with the repercussions of sexual abuse. On the other hand, while coaches do often supplement their training with life skills counselling training, the primary focus of their work involves “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential” (Paterson, 2008). As a result, coaching is more action-oriented while counselling tends to be more coping-oriented (Harley Therapy 2017).

Those in the Future-Oriented Coaching Profession Benefit From Visionary Enthusiasm

Coaches help their clients “discover what is truly important to them, bring out their best, make changes they cannot make on their own, and achieve the outcomes they most desire” (Mitten, n.d.). Taking this into account, coaches should be visionaries (Nawalkha, 2016). They can be seen as partners to their clients, fulfilling the role of challenger and energetic motivator. Many life coaches can also benefit from the qualities found in the coaches of successful athletes, who often have dominant personalities and a participatory approach to leadership (Tanja and Barić, 2009). Furthermore, life coaches should be able to express themselves positively and enthusiastically, somewhat like a salesperson, which happens to also be an important quality for those who choose to create their own life coaching business (Bundrant, 2017).

Life coaches energetically help their clients set and achieve future success-oriented goals

Life coaches energetically help their clients set and achieve future success-oriented goals

Professional Counsellors Delve Into Difficult Psychological Issues and Benefit From a More Nurturing Approach

As opposed to future-oriented coaching, counselling tends to delve into factors from the past and present that may be negatively affecting a client’s current feelings and behaviours (Nemko, 2015). To this end, “a counsellor needs to have a nurturing and caring personality” (Bean-Mellinger, n.d.). Ten expert counsellors surveyed in a 1999 study stated that the most important personality characteristics for a counsellor to have are those of empathy, acceptance, and warmth (Pope and Kline, 1999). Of these qualities, empathy is especially important because it provides counsellors with the ability to visualize themselves in their clients’ situation enough to understand it and help them find solutions (Bean-Mellinger, n.d.). As a result, students who naturally possess these qualities often thrive as counsellors.

Counsellors warmly guide their clients through difficult psychological issues

Counsellors warmly guide their clients through difficult psychological issues

Overlap Between Both Professions

Predominantly, life coaches benefit from being energetic motivators while professional counsellors benefit from being nurturing and empathetic inquisitors. Even so, the professions may intermingle. According to Paterson (2008) and Harley Therapy (2017), it is common for professional counsellors to integrate coaching-related approaches in their work. For this reason, top counselling diploma programs, such as the one offered by Rhodes Wellness College, will include coaching courses in the curriculum. Conversely, having a basic understanding of counselling can be beneficial to those in life coaching professions. In fact, many life coaches will supplement their training by completing a life skills counsellor certificate. There is good reason for this. According to recent studies, life coaches will help as much as 76 per cent of their clients with personal issues (Coutu, D. and Kauffman, C. 2009). Therefore, students who have qualities found in both professions do not need to neglect one aspect of their personality in favour of their other strengths. By drawing on their understanding of other helping professions, they can help their future clients in many different ways.

Are you looking build a career in a helping profession?

Contact Rhodes Wellness College to learn more about our many programs, including our online life skills counsellor program.


Bean-Mellinger, B. (n.d.). What Kinds of Personalities are Suitable to Be a Counselor? Retrieved March 7, 2018, from http://work.chron.com/kinds-personalities-suitable-counselor-8709.html.

Bundrant, H. (2017). Do You Have the Right Temperament to be a Life Coach?. Retrieved March 7, 2018 from https://inlpcenter.org/be-a-life-coach/.

Coutu, D. and Kauffman, C. (January 2009) What Can Coaches Do for You? Retrieved March 8, 2018, from https://hbr.org/2009/01/what-can-coaches-do-for-you.

Harley Therapy (2017). What is the Difference between Coaching and Counselling?. Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/coaching-and-counselling.htm.

Mitten, S.B. (n.d.). How To Become A Happy And Successful Life, Business, or Executive Coach. Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://acoach4u.com/for-coaches/how-to-become-a-life-coach/.

Nawalkha, A. (2016). 20 Born-to-Coach Personality Traits All Great Coaches Share. Retrieved March 7, 2018, from http://www.evercoach.com/blog/20-born-to-coach-personality-traits-all-great-coaches-share.

Nemko, M. (2015). Should You Become a Counselor or a Coach? Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-do-life/201504/should-you-become-counselor-or-coach.

Paterson, J. (2008). Counseling vs. life coaching. Retrieved March 7, 2018, from http://ct.counseling.org/2008/12/counseling-vs-life-coaching-2/.

Pope, V.T. and Kline, W.B. (1999). The personal characteristics of effective counselors: what 10 experts think. Psychological Reports, Vol. 83 (3 Pt 2), pp. 1339-44. Retrieved March 7, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10477949.

Tanja, K. and Barić, R. (2009). Psychological characteristics of coaches of successful and less successful athletes in team and individual sports. Review of Psychology, Vol. 16 (1), pp. 47-56. Retrieved March 7, 2018, from https://hrcak.srce.hr/70634.

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