What’s the Difference between a Life Coach and a Counselor?


It’s impossible to be objective when it comes to evaluating yourself.

Abigail Cole Hardin, CLC, PNLP

By Abigail Cole Hardin, CLC, PNLP

I’m the life coach and NLP practitioner in my family of counselors. My dad, Phil, my mom, Karla, and my sister, Audrey, are all Licensed Professional Counselors. It’s funny because growing up, both Audrey and I would be asked, “What’s it like to have therapists as parents? Do they over-analyze you all the time?”

I’ve always chuckled because what could have been a mental-emotional, ruminating disaster was actually quite the opposite.

Instead of being stuck in my own thoughts or dilemmas with no sound advice, I had the privilege (and still do) to have the ease of conversation to tease out my feelings, to share my conflicts, to ask for wisdom in situations that seem like there was no solution, and discover that a conversation can actually lead to resolution.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Resolve and thou art free.”

Isn’t that what we’re all looking for? Freedom.

Freedom from the negative thoughts.

Freedom from the “should’s” and “ought’s.”

Freedom from past wounds.

Freedom from what we feel like we have to be in order to be accepted.

Freedom from our own shame.

Any time we feel stuck, or experience a lack of freedom, it’s probably because we have not been able to resolve.

The challenge is that often it is very difficult to resolve on your own.

You need an outsider’s perspective because you’re too “up close and personal” to your problems; and if we’re honest, it’s impossible to be objective when it comes to evaluating yourself. Hence, the reason we seek advice from others.

While we can go to our friends, partners, or families for advice, we realize these close relationships can have a bias and also find it difficult to be objective. So, calling on a third party, or a professional who has been trained in techniques in the field of mental and emotional health is an effective option when it’s the right approach or right fit for the obstacles you’re facing.

Life Coaches and NLP Practitioners vs. Counselors

Life coaches and counselors have the same goal in mindto help their clients resolve the parts that are holding them back from living a fulfilled life. However, their approaches are quite different in terms of direction.

In short, life coaches are about moving from present to future and counselors are about moving forward by looking first at the past.  

My dad –who is both a counselor and a life coach explains,

“It is like choosing between a row boat or a canoe to get to your destination. In a row boat, the rower faces the opposite direction from where he is headed (the past) in order to access the power needed to propel the boat forward. Whereas the person paddling the canoe is centered in the canoe looking directly at where he wants to go.”

Both have a clear destination in mind –just different strategies for reaching it.

A life coach starts by asking the client what is their present obstacle or goal that they want to move through or achieve.  If the coaching approach does not deliver the intended goal then a person may need to look at the past to understand possible deeper underlying roadblocks. This is when a counselor is most helpful because counselors look for past experiences to understand the origin of debilitating patterns.

Another “here and now” training I have received is as a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Practitioner.  As a NLP Practitioner, I utilize visualization techniques to help my clients move from where they presently are to get where they want to go. NLP helps me address my clients’ internal world. Each time we have a thought, there is usually an image, sound, and or feeling attached to it.

For instance, if a client says:

“I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders” that description indicates how they are experiencing a problem.

I start to change their experience with visualization techniques by releasing “that weight” and in turn, they are able to respond better to their external circumstances. This method is very effective for clients who need greater self-awareness and increased understanding on how to access their inner resources to achieve their goals.

Ultimately, when you are evaluating who would be the best guide to help you in moving forward, consider the different approaches: one faces forward, assessing the immediate obstacles, while the other looks backwards to resolve past issues that are holding you back. Each approach is a way to shift you out of “stuck-mode” and get you to where you want to go. 

All of us at Hardin Life Resources, operate by the Four Circles model of growth as derived from Luke 2:52. We recognize each circle —the physical, emotional, social and spiritual —are important and affect one another. This model guides each of our practices to provide you the most holistic approach to resolving issues and find the freedom to live a fulfilling life as God designed.

Consider your options, and we are here to help you along the way!