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Opinion: Should Counselling be Part of the Coaching Curriculum?


Olivia StefaninoLeadership consultant and executive coach Olivia Stefanino tests conventional wisdom on whether current practice is in fact best practice.

Coaching is about helping the client achieve his or her goals and objectives – and as such is future paced. What’s happened in the past is of no importance, right?

Wrong! Now, I’m aware that there are thousands of coaches out there who have already started frothing at the mouth. That’s their prerogative. I’m just speaking from personal experience – built up from working with hundreds of clients for nearly a decade.

"Most clients aren’t aware of the boundaries between coaching, counselling and consultancy. They simply know that they either need – or want – help."

Olivia Stefanino, leadership consultant and executive coach


As I’ve said many times before, most clients aren’t aware of the boundaries between coaching, counselling and consultancy. They simply know that they either need – or want – help. In what form that help arises is of little importance or interest to the client, providing of course they can see that they’re getting to where they want to be. For some it’s about achieving a particular goal while for others it’s about letting go of something in order to be free to reach their full potential.

It’s been said that roughly half the population is motivated by the carrot, while the other half require liberal use of the stick. In the same way, while some people are indeed future-oriented, there are a good many whose focus in life is on where they’ve come from, rather than on where they’re going.

Imagine for a moment, a timeline of your client’s life. For the sake of ease, we’ll assume that the past is on the left and the future on the right, with the present moment being in the middle.

CounsellingThe Point of PowerCoaching

When it comes to dealing with issues from the past, a counselling approach has to be more effective. Helping the client find out why they do what they do and then offering them the opportunity (through their own choices) to change their behaviour is the only way to help them stop sabotaging their best efforts. It’s like getting the benefits of an emotional detox.

And of course, when it comes to setting and achieving goals, coaching provides focus, encouragement and support.

Beliefs, attitudes and choice

But the real point of power is in the present, as anyone who’s read Eckhart Tolle’s 'The Power of Now' already knows. We take action in the present and it’s the actions we take today that dictate our success or failure in the future.

People choose to work with a coach because they know that when they’ve tried to achieve a particular goal in the past, they’ve failed. They’ve come to recognise that with the support of a coach, they’re more likely to succeed. What’s been sabotaging their previous attempts? Often, it’s the ingrained thoughts and beliefs that they’ve picked up as children – usually subconsciously.

"When clients’ past emotional issues are preventing them from succeeding in their future ...then there must be a case for helping them deal with their emotional baggage."

Until these are dealt with, the client remains at a disadvantage. It’s similar to a patient with a broken leg. Common sense tells us that the bone must be reset before any physiotherapy programme begins!

And while we may not be dealing with broken bones - as coaches we’re in the business of beliefs, attitudes and choices – it’s up to us to ensure that our clients have a secure emotional structure in place before we begin helping them move towards their goals. Just because emotions aren’t visible doesn’t mean that their impact isn’t just as intense.

The element of counselling

Of course, if we’re going to widen the umbrella of coaching to include an element of counselling, then the appropriate training must be in place. I am absolutely not advocating that untrained, unqualified and uninsured coaches are let loose on an unsuspecting public. And I’m also not suggesting that clients who want to achieve greatness should find themselves bogged down in years of therapy for past issues.

But what I do feel strongly about is that when clients’ past emotional issues are preventing them from succeeding in their future aims and objectives, then there must be a case for helping them deal – swiftly and effectively – with their emotional baggage.

Suggesting that they go and seek help elsewhere is an abdication of duty. Of course, it pays to be discerning and if you’re out of your depth, you must refer your client on - but this should be an exception and not the rule. Let’s face it, most people who find themselves in a life threatening predicament don’t opt for coaching in the first place, so in reality it’s less of an issue than you might expect!

Finally, it’s not about making our clients reliant on us but instead we must ensure that when we’re offering coaching, we do so with a fully stocked toolkit.

Olivia Stefanino is the author of 'Be Your Own Guru' and has instigated leadership and coaching programmes within both blue chip organisations and SME’s over the last ten years. To download her free tips booklet '127 ways to harness your personal power' visit


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