What Coaching IS and IS NOT in the context of the support professions


In the course of one’s pursuit of professional Coaching and in advocating the value of Coaching, one is often asked how Coaching differs from mentoring, consulting, counselling, therapy, and other professional services.

The Ghana Survey

In the first-ever coaching survey in Ghana, spearheaded by Zoweh Global Consult and Evolution Consult [https://thebftonline.com/2020/12/19/coaching-services-and-experiences-in-ghana-survey-2020-2/], one of the critical points of the survey was to know what Coaching meant to the respondents. As a result, the survey garnered the main responses shown in this chart:

The ICF Study

The present article is prompted by the 2022 ICF Global Consumer Awareness Study [https://coachingfederation.org/research/consumer-awareness-study], which is the third of its kind sanctioned by the International Coaching Federation in partnership with PriceWater Coopers (PwC).

The awareness study covered 30 countries in two categories: the Established markets and the Emerging markets. The general distribution of the answers to the survey did not differ significantly between the two categories, as shown in the following chart from the ICF study:

Confusion between Support Professions

The Ghana survey and the ICF study mentioned above show a common confusion among survey subjects between Coaching and the related professions of mentoring, consulting, counselling, and therapy. This could be attributed to the fact that Coaching is still a growing industry, and many have been cashing in on the word “coach” as a fashionable term.

For at least a decade, “coaching” has been used as a buzzword for many of what had traditionally been called the “helping” or support professions. For the flourishing “new age” therapies and treatments, all testifying to Coaching’s coming of age as a mainstream profession.

In Malaysia, the costs of coaching and mentoring programmes are now claimable by contributors to the Human Resource Development Fund established by law [https://hrdcorp.gov.my/wp content/uploads/2021/04/2_FAQ_SBL_Khas_Scheme.pdf], which puts it on par with traditional training in human resource development.

The support professions, all of which are intended to offer solutions for the client, include:

  • Mentoring: Offering guidance from one’s own experience or in a specific area of career development
  • Consulting: Assessing an organization’s or individual’s practices and recommending solutions for improvement based on expertise in a specific area
  • Counselling/Therapy: Healing pain, dysfunction, or conflict, in service of improved emotional or clinical state
  • Coaching, for which the ICF, in its introduction to the ICF Core Competencies [https://coachingfederation.org/core-competencies], offers the following definition:

The ICF defines Coaching as partnering with clients
in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them
to maximize their personal and professional potential.

Coaching is Distinct

So important is the distinction between this definition and everything else that goes by the buzzword that the ICF requires, as part of the ethical practice that a coach must demonstrate, as a core competency, and ability to not only make the distinction but also being able to determine if the client should be referred to someone in one of the other support professions:

“6. Maintains the distinctions between Coaching, consulting, psychotherapy, and other support professions

“7. Refers clients to other support professionals, as appropriate”

Focus and Modality

Coaching and other support professions are also distinguished in two dimensions, which are useful to examine. These are in the following:

  1. The “FOCUS” of the professional—whether the professional looks to the PAST or the FUTURE in search of a cause, source, or solution for the challenge facing the client and the
  2. The “MODALITY” employed—whether the solution is to be given (TELL) to the client or derived by the client with the support of the professional (ASK)

These two dimensions can be represented in a quadrant with PAST-FUTURE on the X-axis and ASK-TELL on the Y-axis as follows:

The quadrant then gives us the following combinations:

  1. Focus on Future + Asking Modality = Coaching
  2. Focus on Future + Telling Modality = Mentoring
  3. Focus on Past + Telling Modality = Consulting
  4. Focus on Past + Asking Modality = Counselling/Therapy

While Counselling/Therapy and Coaching have the Asking Modality in common, they are distinct in that:

  1. Counselling/Therapy is focused on seeking a solution to the challenges facing the client, and
  2. Coaching is focused on the awareness and growth of the client.

In other words, Coaching is more about having the client grow more significant than their challenges than about addressing those challenges directly.


The counsellor/therapist plays a specific role in helping the client find a way out or through their predicament or challenge in the particular context or area of skill offered by the professional, such as career or family counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, hypnotherapy, etc.

Coaching, however, is a partnership between coach and client in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires the latter to maximize their personal and professional potential.

In Coaching, therefore, the client retains agency and takes the lead in the process, while in the other support professions, it is the professional who takes the lead.

Effect of the ICF Core Competencies

The ICF has so defined the ICF Core Competencies that the following characteristics of the coaching process have become distinctive:

  1. The coach is anchored in the present or the “now“, while partnering with the client in exploring possibilities in the future.
  2. A coach holds the space for responsibility and accountability but does not lead the client or tell the client what, why, how, etc., to go about any situation. For example, a coach can suggest a needed resource to support the client’s commitment, but the coach needs to ask permission from the client before making any suggestions or observations.
  3. One of the four domains of the ICF Core Competencies is Cultivating Learning and Growth. Coaching is often expressed as life-related, hence the commonly used term, life coaching.
  4. A further distinction may be made between performance coaching, such as coaching in sports and business where the Focus is on achieving specific results, and developmental Coaching, where the Focus is more on the person of the client and their growth and development as a way to achieving the desired results.
  5. Coaching and coaches have emerged with many specializations and niches, such as career coach, health or well-being coach, executive or leadership coach, performance or sports coach, business coach, financial coach, relationship coach, spiritual coach, mindfulness coach, personal development, etc. Some coaches have a blend of more than one area of niche, especially with other areas of professional expertise.

When Engaging a Coach

When looking to hire a coach or a coaching arrangement appropriate for one’s needs, here are some considerations to take into account:

  1. You must be clear on what you need to choose a coach who will support you with a strategy that would work for you.
  2. Do the necessary research on your coach, interview them, and observe the rapport you have, because Coaching involves a vulnerability that needs a high level of safe space and a high level of confidentiality.
  3. Ascertain the coach’s credentials, training, experience, professional membership, and philosophy or school of thought.
  4. Inquire about the type of clients the coach supports in their professional experience. Note: Even freshly credentialed ICF coaches would have had some coaching experience and hours.
  5. Ask if the coach is ICF certified, either ACC, PCC, or MCC. Note: Coaches at each level can serve and support you towards results.

Nine Benefits of Coaching

Here are the nine benefits of hiring a coach extracted from a 2021article on the Benefits of Goal-setting with a Professional Coach [https://thebftonline.com/2021/03/10/benefits-of-goal-setting-with-a-professional-coach/]:

  1. Defined intention: “To give” will mean to come from a depth of nothingness into creating what comes to mind and heart. This disrupts mental constructs that retards and impede innovation and creativity to allow imagination and ideation possible.
  2. Provides inspiration: “To give something life” means coordination and direction of purpose to sail through towards the desired outcomes barren all the challenges that may show up in achieving the set goals. The set goals become a living cause that stimulates your intrinsic reward to see the dream come to fruition.
  3. Time management: Shaping any idea or plan comes within a specific target time frame. It allows you to generate indices and metrics that work within the context in which the goal is set to measure input and output such that procrastination is pinned to the wall. A coach in the goal-setting loop supports you to identify and call it by name activities and attitudes waste your time.
  4. Structured accountability: To have an extraordinary ambition bear fruits means you must be accountable for the actions, inactions, conscious and unconscious inputs, and outputs. A coach holds the space for the client to become aware of what is showing up, what world view is playing out, for the result or outcome.
  5. Setting Priorities: A client is supported to build a sequence of priorities so that there is order, flow, fluidity, balance harmony in other important spheres of the client’s life, e.g., career, relationship, business, education, etc. Some aspects of the clients’ lives are used as motivation to drive a 360 life transformation. A prioritized life produces disciplined and coordinated success and achievement.
  6. Tracking and troubleshooting: When breakdowns show up in a client’s scheme of things goals, there is a trace to track and troubleshoot. The coach thoughtfully provokes what is showing up such that the client gets aware of results other than the outcomes expected from the set goals. Breakdowns are part of the journey of achieving success in every endeavor. Although, in silicon valley, they say, “fail fast, fail forward,” what makes the difference is the Awareness, Clarity, and Shift that occurs so that the client can recommit and get back to the tracks of goals set.
  7. Rethink, unlearn and learn: To achieve one’s goals comes with the ambidexterity to rethink what is not working and come through with what is possible. Similarly, the client can unlearn aspects of their mental construct or worldview to achieve the goals set and its needed outcomes. New knowledge and insight show up by rethinking and unlearning old ways of doing things, creating or replacing certain portions of the mental construct.
  8. Celebration and upscaling: One of the most potent motivation tools for reaching one’s goals is the ability to appreciate and celebrate the gains, no matter how small they are. With a coach in setting up goals, you must be aware of your incursions and growth towards the desired outcomes. The gains become a ladder or stepping stone to upscale to do more.
  9. Meaningful purpose in life and fulfillment: A coach supports a client to set goals that encapsulate the clients’ purpose. Like Rick Warren will put it, “a purpose-driven life.” This brings the fulfillment a client desires intrinsically and grants them meaning to life.

In summary, Coaching is distinguishable from other support professions in several ways, which refine how it can be harnessed for best results:

  1. Coaching is a thought-provoking and creative process that is designed to inspire the client to maximize their personal and professional potential.
  2. Coaching is focused more on the awareness and growth of the client than on the specific challenges they are faced with.
  3. Coaching is a relationship established in partnership with the client who retains agency and is given the lead in the process.
  4. The ICF Core Competencies are an established standard that has distilled the fundamentals of the coach’s role and the dynamics between client and coach. As a result, Coaching is now distinguished from other support professions in context, Focus, modality, and process.
  5. Clarity on the coach’s role and the coaching process today enhances the value of hiring a coach. Clients are able to identify the values and characteristics of the professional and the process that will meet their needs.
  6. There is a philosophy to coaching that clients can now appreciate and in which they can find a space for working out their own growth and development.

Scofray Nana Yaw Yeboah, PCC

Transformational Coach | Certified Professional Corporate Trainer | Lead Consult for Zoweh Global Consult

Contact: +233243-085932 Email: [email protected]

KOH Kek Hoe

Citations: LLM (London), DHyp, MSCH, BSCH | Programme Coordinator, Ideal Coaching Global Malaysia

Email: [email protected] |  https://www.linkedin.com/in/khkoh/


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