What is the difference between Counselor & Life Coach?

Simanto Khandaker
8 min readMar 7, 2021

Life coaching and counseling, therapy, psychotherapy, psychiatry, etc. have a different meaning, and specialize in different ways, so let’s break down the confusion.

Venn diagram of Counselor and Coach

What is a Life Coach?

The term Life Coaches has been diluted to mean anything and everything under the sun. There is a lot of misunderstanding, even within life coaches. The definition is so broad that it’s difficult to actually understand it’s limitations. This has caused severe debates within the helping realm of life coaching, counseling, therapy, psychotherapy, social work, etc.

Here is my definition of Life Coaching: Life coaches employ goal building, strategy and accountability techniques to educate, advance, and promote their client’s interest. It’s future-focused and action and accomplishment-oriented. Most of the conversation revolves around what needs to be done, how to do it, and holding the client accountable.

Think about life coaches as gym coaches you had in school for physical education (PE), they helped you climb the rope faster, motivated you to stretch yourself, pushed you further and harder than you thought possible. It’s a short burst of engagement that is focused on accomplishing your particular goal, by helping you identify barriers and getting tools to help you overcome those obstacles.

Here is where things get messy, confusing, and starts debate within the helping community. Life coaches believe they can help with nearly anything and everything under the sun. But, that’s not true, they don’t have the proper education and training to heal wounds, like counselors, therapists, psychologists, etc.They aren’t qualified to prescribe medication for neurological imbalances, like psychiatrists.

Now — Imagine your school nurse, they were there when you weren’t feeling well. Your school nurses were there to help you heal and comfort your wounds. This is what counselors do, they help you heal wounds from an assortment of life’s struggles from Major Depression, Anxiety, Mood Disorder, Trauma, PTSD, etc. They are the ones that can help you heal, understand, accept your past so you can move forward and develop a healthy lifestyle that promotes your mental wellness.

Counselors employ years of formal education and training, legally licensed to practice healing of mental and emotional challenges, practice deep healing techniques, and guide you to learn more about yourself and how you can improve your mental wellness.

Again, that’s not the complete picture. There is an incredible amount of overlap and it can’t be simplified.

Balanced At Last’s Education and Qualification

My qualification: I went through the graduate program (2+ years of education/practice) in Marriage, Couples and Family Therapy with a focus in Mental Health and Career Counseling; plus several certifications to bolster how I help my clients. I am currently a life, leadership, and career coach, but one day I’ll get licensed as a counselor too. I love coaching because it’s forward thinking, action and achievement oriented. That’s not to say counseling isn’t those either.

Coaching illusion (my frustration points):

  1. There are countless coaching programs (ranging from $50 per program to $15,000)
  2. No regulation on coaching practices (No evidence of quality required)
  3. The term is too broad and nearly everyone can self claim as a coach and charge $$.

Due to this situation, you have 1000s of coaches starting their practice everyday, and many of whom aren’t fully aware of the process of helping someone. There are a couple of good coaching programs, but that doesn’t mean the coach will be strongly equipped to help. It’s often self-paced learning and self-reported experience. That isn’t to say there aren’t amazing coaches. There are amazing coaches that are doing great work in their niche; and there are amazing counselors that’s doing incredible work in their niche. You have to be aware and informed before you invest your time, money, and energy.

I have been coaching for 10+ years now, but once I finished my graduate program one of my first counseling clients reported, “I sought help, but they just told me to get over it and follow _____ program.” Upon getting clarification, I learned they had gone to a life coach (because counseling has a stigma) to get overcome their challenges of prolonged grief and depression; and the client hadn’t sought help since (20 years). They were still carrying their grief and living a life with untreated depression. We worked through their challenges and started living a better life. I share the story because I’ve seen come life coaches that provide poor advice because they’re ill-prepared to help a client.

What to look for in a life coach?

First of all, look for experience and training. This will be critical in how they help you solve your challenges. Look for someone that has continuously invested in their own development through training, how they’re within their community, and how you feel when speaking with them. Great coaches/counselors will tell you their limitations without hesitating. It’s because they’ve invested their time into becoming an expert on solving a few problems. If they say, we can help with all and everything under the sun, you may want to stay cautious.

Secondly, look for how they help you. What are their go to process/method of helping you? This will help you understand if they approach problems similar to you or do they have a different perspective. Both are good, but you want to educate yourself prior to signing on with a coach/counselor.

Balanced At Last coaching services are grounded in Positive Psychology, Leadership Development, Career Counseling, Mindfulness and Meditation, and supported by a data-driven and evidence-based approach. We help you recognize how to make the most of both worlds so you can build momentum and thrive in your life.

Third, and this is optional, how are coaches protecting your privacy? Personally, I like the ability to keep client’s information as protected as possible, and per HIPAA compliance. We try to do our best to utilize a safe, private environment for us to discuss your challenges and strengths. Many practitioners don’t have this added level of protection. If privacy is important to you, please be sure to ask how your privacy will be protected. There are legal limits to privacy, which surround the threat to harming self/others.

Fourth, fit. Do you feel comfortable and confident about your coach/counselor? One of the biggest hurdles in coaching/counseling is building rapport. You may not connect with a coach/counselor on your first meeting, that’s okay. It’s part of the process. It’s important to advocate for your needs and find a way to figure out if this person is the right “fit”. This decision goes both ways, you to your coach and your coach to you. The decision to work together is an important step. Don’t simply follow their direction; ask questions, stay informed. Challenge assumptions, yours and theirs. ALL of this is a part of selecting your coach, and therapist. Don’t skip, shop around. I encourage you to speak with 3–5 life coaches, leadership coaches, and career coaches.

Everyone doesn’t have the same background, focus area, training, style of communication, lifestyle, etc. YOU are investing in yourself, the best investment you’ll make. YOU need to research. If it takes you 2 months, okay. If it takes you 2 days, fine. However long it takes, have patience with yourself and remember, you are doing this for yourself and your goals.

So, you’ve found the person, Congratulations!! What can you expect next?

Well, it depends. But at Balanced At Last, the first session starts with the boring paperwork, intake, scheduling and payment process. This isn’t fun for you or me, but it’s critical. The reason we go over the paperwork is so you understand the limitations of our practice, what you’re expected, what I’m expected and we can finally start a professional relationship to help you reach your next level.

Intake — I’m surprised at how many coaches don’t take an intake. It’s an important part of understanding, quickly, who you are, your background, your relationships, your identity (race, gender, occupation, etc.), because you aren’t just your challenge, you bring your entire self to a coaching experience — this helps me create a inclusive strategy with you that plays to all your strengths. Some coaches spend 1–2 sessions learning about you, and that’s money out of your pocket. I like to build this within the first session, and a formal intake process really helps in learning more about you. It formalizes the meeting, so we can start working on the challenges that brought you to me, your coach.

Scheduling — I love to get the scheduling out of the way. I schedule a month (2–4 sessions) in advance with my clients. This allows us to focus on what’s important in the subsequent sessions; why spend 10 minutes of your time coordinating time for the next session, when we can accomplish that within the first session and block off that time. It’s your time, I want to respect it. Time is the only resource we don’t get back.

Payment process — This is an important part of the process, because I’d hate to keep asking you about payment, when we need to spend time discussing your strengths, your challenges, your barriers, your progress towards your next level. Living a balanced life, means to have parts in motion so the heavy lifting isn’t disrupted. I prefer to take payment at the beginning of the session, if you pay before the beginning of our session starting, even better. More time for us to strategize. If you pay the full (all sessions) on our first session, you get a 10% discount. You save money and time!

All these steps can take up to 30 minutes. So, I like to schedule 30 + 1st session, so the first session’s fee is slightly higher, but all of this helps you get the most out of coaching with Balanced At Last.

I can’t speak too much about other practices, but I can share that my clients have had unpleasant experiences from poor organization, overselling the coach’s abilities, and seeing minimal results. They feel disappointed and turned off from talking to others and asking for help afterwards. This is painful for me, because I’m here to help you and bad experiences really give this profession a terrible reputation.

Ok, fine. So what’s the cost?

Loaded question. It depends. The average cost of coaching sessions is approximately $200 — $300/session. The celebrity coaches will charge $1000-$5000/session. There’s nothing wrong with these prices. The coach is targeting a certain population for their practice.

My goal is to build my community and help people climb and create their next level. Due to my community building goals, my sessions start at $75/session. Plus, I donate 20% of the profit to community development.

Why am I nearly 50+% cheaper than my competitors?

I get this question a lot. The truth is I love coaching, and Balanced At Last was created to help people and my community. It was not designed to charge clients industry rates.

I am privileged to have a corporate job, which pays my bills. At Balanced At Last, I get to do another activity that I love: coaching. I only accept 5 clients per week, once I have my 5 clients, I refer clients to other coaches/counselors, or place them on a waitlist. I need a balanced life too! :-)

If you’re interested in working with me, please feel free to email me or schedule a Free Consultation.


Counseling and Life coaching is very different: Life coaches don’t have a regulating body, so there are a lot of people that can call themselves life coaches, and this has hurt the industry and the reputation of life coaches. When you’re seeking a coach, please check on their reputation, training, education, etc. the more informed you are about the life coach the better you’ll find your fit and accomplish your goals. This is an investment you’re making on yourself. Talk to a few coaches before signing on. If I’m not the right person, I will tell you.

Originally published at https://www.balancedatlast.com on March 7, 2021.



Simanto Khandaker

Life coach with 10+ years of experience working with nearly 2,500+ individuals in career, leadership and life development. Recently, recognized Best In Atlanta.