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Session Information

The difference between a therapist, a coach and a counsellor

11 Jan 2022
5 min read

Choosing who to speak to about your mental wellbeing can be confusing. So, what’s the difference between a counsellor, a therapist, a psychologist and a coach?

It is important to note that the term ‘counselling’ is often used as a general description for talking therapies, but counselling itself is a specific talking therapy.

Below is an essential guide about each profession in broad terms.


Work with clients who experience a range of emotional and psychological difficulties. Commonly the clients have depression, anxiety, have been impacted by loss/bereavement or relationship problems. Counsellors are trained to allow their clients to find their own solutions to manage their lives. They do not give advice or their opinions.


Help people develop better cognitive and emotional skills, reduce the symptoms of mental illness, and cope better with the challenges of day to day life. There are many different kinds of psychological therapists.


Study the mind and behaviour. Psychologists work using a combination of science and practice and treat a wide range of people with mental and physical illnesses. They can also work in settings other than health, e.g. business organisations and education.


Help people make changes, identify their goals, and acknowledge their potential and how to move towards it. Coaching is future focussed, and often coaches will specialise, e.g. career, executive, or life.

The above are comprehensive definitions of these professions and may only go some way (if at all!) in helping you decide which practitioner is best for you.

Each practitioner will have undertaken accredited training in their respective profession and may have gone on to do further training or specialisation in a specific area as well. There are many therapeutic approaches and levels of activity in talking therapies/interventions and it is this in itself, which makes choosing the professional more difficult. Also, counselling skills are often incorporated into other training, e.g. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy et al, Coaching, Mental Health Nurse Training, Human Resources, Management Courses, Social Work etc.

Many practitioners will integrate different models and adapt their skills and knowledge to suit their clients’ needs. Maybe you will know instantly which profession or intervention will suit you best. On the other hand, it might depend on the nature of what you want to achieve, change or explore. Maybe any of the above professions could offer a beneficial intervention.

Regardless of the profession, in order to get the best out of your sessions, having a good rapport with your practitioner is essential.

All of the above professionals are trained to put you at ease and are keen to hear about what you want to change, improve or manage. Regardless of professional background, the first session will usually focus on what has motivated you to book and discuss options to move forward. All of the professionals are there to work in your best interests collaboratively.

Who do I speak to then?

First, consider the nature of what you want to be different.

If explicitly related to mental wellbeing, e.g. stress, anxiety, depression then you would benefit from a therapist or psychologist.

If related to setting goals (personal or work-related) and future-focused then you would benefit from a coach.

There is an ever-growing plethora of research on the effectiveness and success of psychological models in treating people’s wellbeing. Additionally, research shows it is more than just the model attributable to a good outcome from your sessions, e.g. the alliance you have with your practitioner, your motivation levels, your support network and your resilience.

If you are interested in the research, a good starting point will be with the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence.  

10,282 results for treatments for stress

15,290 results for treatments for depression

12,961 results for treatments for anxiety

So, who do I choose?

It is not surprising if you feel confused about which professional to book a session with.

The fact that you are reading this probably means that you are contemplating your situation and thinking about ways you would like it to be different.

Recognise that you are now motivated. The next step is to take some action:

  • Consider the practitioners’ profiles, noting their training, professional body and areas of expertise.
  • Notice things that may resonate with you – there may be several whom you feel would be suitable. Perhaps go with your instinct/intuition.
  • Choose someone and book an introductory session. This initial session allows both you and the practitioner to work out the way forward, and by meeting the practitioner, you will know how comfortable you are with that person.

It may be that one session is all that you need just now. It may be that several sessions will work for you, and you are happy to remain with the same practitioner for these sessions. It may be that you want further sessions but would prefer to try another practitioner.

You have choices……………………… one size does not fit all.