Self-Help, Coaching Or Counseling – Which Are Right For Me?


It used to be considered a rite-of-passage many years ago for boys to learn how to fix their own car and girls to become a wiz in the kitchen. Times change! Cars are now so complicated that very few people have the skill, or time, to fix their own car; many women are so busy at work that they have to struggle to keep up with family obligations, let alone the latest elaborate cooking gadgets.

But while these skills can be learned, today it takes a greater level of talent and focus. Today we rely much more on specialists for many of the services we require.

So it is with mental/emotional self-help. It is noble and uplifting to help yourself, or a friend, through a rough patch, or to have simple curiosity as to your own potential for growth.

Perhaps you know that “something isn’t quite right” with yourself, but you are not ready to accept professional counseling; you just want to browse and explore some self-help options and get some ideas. Or, you know something is definitely wrong and you need to seek some type of relief. You may look for some specific help, or ask friends or family for recommendations. Or, you may have had, or are in, some form of coaching or counseling and you want to augment what you learned in the sessions.

Perhaps you are fed-up with the way your life is going. Or, you may want some useful exercises to combat negative emotions or bad habits or patterns. You may want to feel lovable or less lonely, build life skills, make better choices, manage your moods better, find passion or purpose or motivation, be your ideal weight, master rejection or stress or self-empowerment, and so forth.

While self-help can bring excellent results, we also have to recognize when we are no longer able to make progress by ourselves, when we are not getting good help from our friends and family, or when we may have serious problems that need a trained professional to help.

In short: we need to know what types of assistance are appropriate for our particular circumstances: self-help, coaching and/or counseling.

What is Coaching?

The human potential movement and positive psychology brought coaching into the limelight in the 80s. Corporations used coaching to manage change stemming from downsizing, mergers and acquisitions. In the last decade we’ve seen coaching take off and provide people with tools to reach not only their professional but personal potential and goals.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as the relationship between the Coach and their clients which assists people in fulfilling (usually stated and specific) goals and improving their quality of living. A Coach is basically a (trained and experienced) personal cheerleader who encourages, endorses, acknowledges and supports you until you feel comfortable enough to maintain your goals fully on your own. Lifestyle or Wellness Coaches are like Sports Coaches or Personal Trainers, in some respects, but differ in many other ways. For example, they focus on helping you become a winner, not (usually) on your physical performance, but on lifestyle and work-related goals.

Coaching offers clients versatility. Coaches need to be excellent, active listeners in order to help their clients develop insight into their resistances and take the necessary steps toward positive change.

Most Coaches have some formal training but few carry the ICF Certification at this time. Coaching is a relativity young field and, as it grows, more Coaches will be asked to comply with ICF by-laws, re-certification standards and other  requirements. Coaching works best before and after psychological treatment (if such treatment is needed). It helps the client acknowledge their resistance to change and then, what they can do to reach their stated goals.

What is Psychological Counseling?

A Psychological Counselor, aka Psychologist, is a trained (at an accredited school) and licensed (by the State) mental health professional that may use one or more approaches to helping their clients achieve some level of self-understanding and, thus, behavior modification. There are many different “schools” of mental health counseling thought, and many different mental health professions that can offer effective therapy. Today, most Psychiatrists (a Medical Doctor specializing in mental health) focus on symptom relief through medication management and usually do not do much talk-based therapy beyond ongoing medical and symptom assessment. The combination of medication management plus Psychological Counseling has been shown to be very effective for many of the more difficult cases.

Counseling is a healing process, usually talk-based, that occurs in a confidential, safe and trusting environment. The Counselor assists the client in problem solving by listening, reflecting back, exploring deep feelings and asking provocative questions. Counseling offers clients a unique opportunity to reflect on, understand, and challenge their irrational thinking. The client learns to accept themselves are as they are through understanding and then to make fundamental behavioral changes for the better. The thrust of psychological treatment is to help the client find the strength to make these fundamental changes in order to cope with their unique challenges.


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