Choosing between a Counselor and a Coach and Finding the Best One for Your Needs

Choosing the right professional can make the difference between reconciling and having an amicable divorce

On the Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack podcast, Christian psychologist, author, and relationship coach, Dr. Jack Ito, will help you to build and restore your marriage. By learning just a few relationship skills, you can help your spouse enjoy your relationship more, while getting more love and affection from your spouse. Listen to Coach Jack as he helps you with one more step toward a marriage both you and your spouse will love

In today’s podcast, Coach Jack will help you to determine whether you should work with a coach or a counselor and whether to do individual or couple’s work. He will also give you some criteria for find a qualified coach or counselor to get you the very best help with your marriage.

After listening to today’s podcast, you may want to:

  1. Take an interactive quiz to help you decide whether you need a coach or a counselor and whether you should work with or without your spouse.
  2. Find out what individual coaching packages cost and what they have to offer.
  3. Find out what a couple’s coaching package costs and has to offer.

Choosing between a Counselor and a Coach and Finding the Best One for Your Needs

(Podcast Transcript)


[Introduction to the podcast]

Announcer: On the Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack podcast, Christian psychologist, author, and relationship coach, Dr. Jack Ito, will help you to build and restore your marriage. By learning just a few relationship skills, you can help your spouse enjoy your relationship more, while getting more love and affection from your spouse. Listen to Coach Jack as he helps you with one more step toward a marriage both you and your spouse will love.


If you are seeking help with relationship problems, you may be confused as to whether you should get relationship counseling or relationship coaching. Adding to the confusion is the fact that coaching is not a regulated profession. That means that while some coaches provide actual coaching, many coaches are actually providing counseling, while bypassing the requirements to be an actual psychotherapist. The solution might seem to be to always hire a psychotherapist because they have to meet professional standards, however there is a lot of value in hiring a coach who actually does coaching. In today’s podcast, I will help you to understand the differences between coaching and counseling so that you can choose the appropriate one, and so you can determine whether someone who calls themselves a coach is actually practicing counseling.


If you are like me, the more time you spend trying to figure out who to hire, the less you feel like hiring anyone. In the end, you might just hire someone based on price or availability, but those are not good ways to choose who is the best person to entrust your relationship to. Unlike hiring a roofer, any mistakes or poor guidance the coach or counselor makes can make the difference between keeping your marriage and losing it.


Perhaps the most important thing to know about getting help for your relationship is that there is no one type of help that is best. You have to match the skill and values of the person you hire to your values and the kind of help you need. If, for example, your spouse is not motivated to work on your relationship and you hire someone who primarily works with couples, the couples’ counseling or couples’ coaching will fail rather quickly. It will be like trying to ride a seesaw with only one person and there won’t be any movement in your relationship. When that happens, it’s easy for the professional and the couple to come to the conclusion that the relationship will not work. That is a false conclusion, however. The only thing you can conclude when couple’s work does not produce results is that couple’s work is not the best method for improving your relationship. It does NOT mean that your relationship can’t be improved in some other way.


For example, either the husband or wife could do individual work—making changes that may motivate the reluctant spouse to have more interest in couples’ work. It is also quite possible, as often happens with my clients, that once one person is able to make some good improvements, the relationship is rebuilt so much that couples’ work is no longer needed.


Whether you choose a counselor or a coach, it will be important that you choose someone who is educated in psychology and has years of experience. That will eliminate the risk of seeing a totally unqualified professionals who call themselves coaches because that’s the only thing they can do without getting actual training. If the coach has been trained in psychology, especially at the PhD level, you can be sure that he or she is not coaching because of lack of qualifications. It is still possible they are doing counseling rather than coaching, but they would have less motivation to falsely claim to be a coach. Your first determination then, of who to hire for coaching or counseling, should be someone with an advanced degree in psychology. The coaching institute that I attended, MentorCoach, will not train professionals who do not have an advanced degree. For this reason, so-called “coaches” without advanced degrees do not have any formal training in coaching.


There is another important reason to only work with a counselor or coach who has an advanced, doctoral level, psychological education. That is because personalities and psychological issues play a part in almost every relationship. Improving a relationship with a depressed spouse is going to be different from improving a relationship with an anxious spouse, which is different from improving a relationship with a narcissistic spouse, which is different from a narcissistic, depressed spouse, and so on. There are an incredibly large number of possibilities.


There are other considerations besides a PhD that you should look for when hiring a professional, whether for coaching or counseling. For me, regardless of what kind of person I hire for my needs, I try to get someone with a lot of experience. For example, I have had several surgeries. While all equally trained surgeons may be able to perform the surgery under routine conditions, that is not true when something goes wrong or when something doesn’t quite fit their training. In that situation, either the surgeon has to make a best guess, or get consultation during the surgery. Either one is very risky. But, with an experienced surgeon, it is going to be very rare that the surgeon is going to be surprised by anything. The nearly retirement age surgeon who gave me a kidney transplant did such a good job I got out of the hospital earlier than expected, was driving within two weeks and don’t even have a scar for the experience. Seek qualified and experienced medical doctors.


The same is true for counselors and coaches. I have been a PHD licensed psychologist for 28 years as of this podcast. I did marriage and family therapy for years, taught psychology as a professor, was a specialist for the US Navy, and have coached more than 9000 individuals and couples. Nothing surprises me anymore. I coach Monday through Friday and get no situations that I have not worked with before. My work suits me, I like it and am good at it, but it’s not a challenge. That was certainly not the case when I was starting out when everything was new and I had to figure out after one session what I needed to do for the next session. I needed to get frequent consultation for my cases. That is true for all new psychologists, medical doctors, and other professionals as well. As experience accumulates, less and less consultation is needed and fewer mistakes are made. Personally, if I were seeking individual or couple’s counseling or coaching, I would hire someone with a doctorate in clinical, counseling, or family psychology and at least 10 years of experience. If my problems were minor and the risks small, then the experience would be less of a factor, but I would still want that person to have a PhD.


Assuming that you have found experienced doctoral level coaches and counselors, you can take a look at the next criteria. Unlike any other field, match between client and counselor is very important for success. If you take your car to a mechanic it will not matter much what values your mechanic has. The only thing that will matter is his ability to fix your car and what it is going to cost you. However, it will make a big difference for your relationship whether you are seeing someone who prioritizes maintaining relationships vs. someone who prioritizes individual well being. In general, counselors prioritize the happiness of the individual client or clients they are seeing. Most of their couples work is focused on communicating about needs, problems, and desires. Their work with individuals is for helping people to be happier, whether that means staying together or divorcing. Counselors prioritize mental health and happiness over relationship restoration. Counselors are a good choice for emotional support.


Relationship coaches, on the other hand, prioritize relationship restoration. This means that coaches are NOT good choices for people with mental health issues and are not a good choice if you are looking for emotional support. If you have significant mental health issues, you will need to either work with a counselor before getting coaching or in addition to getting coaching, depending on the severity of your problems. Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety can make it more difficult to work on coaching skills such as attracting your spouse, connecting with your spouse, and being secure.


Relationship coaches, like other kinds of coaches, focus on teaching you skills. Coaches assume you know what you want and are healthy enough to learn and practice skills. If you are not sure what you want, you will need to figure that out before getting coaching or you will not put enough effort into learning and apply skills. If you are sure you want to reconcile, then you can work with a coach to learn what you need to do to repair and improve your relationship. Your success will depend on your coach’s knowledge and selection of the correct skills for you to use, as well as your ability to learn them and apply them. If you need a box of tissues to talk about your relationship, you are not ready to work with a coach; you need the support of a counselor. If you can manage your emotions but don’t have the skills for relationship improvement, then a coach is for you.


This same advice applies to other kinds of coaching as well. Don’t get a business coach unless you are ready and able to apply business skills. Don’t get an athletic coach if you don’t have the discipline to do exercises week after week until you achieve your physical conditioning goals.


Although there are blurred lines between coaching and counseling, a good way to think about the difference is in terms of what happens in the session. In counseling, you will do most of the talking and the therapist’s job will be to help you to clarify or modify your thinking. In coaching, the coach will do most of the talking and the focus will be on training you in skills you do not already have, that you will then apply during the week with your spouse.


The difference between working with a coach and learning skills from a book, recording, or video is that the coach will choose specific skills for your situation and help you to make specific adjustments for your marriage. You will also be able to ask specific questions about your relationship—something that is not possible with books and recordings.


My personal approach to learning skills is this. I learn and do what I can on my own. Then, if I get stuck or am making a bigger mess of things, I hire a professional. I may try to pressure wash my house, for example. But, if I do a lousy job, I then go ahead and hire a professional to do it. I do NOT use this approach for high risk situations. I do not work on my electrical panel by myself, because one mistake could be deadly. I also don’t use the self-help approach if something is time critical. If you want to apply my way of doing things, you will work to learn and apply relationship skills on your own if you have time and your relationship is not badly damaged. Then, even if things get somewhat worse, you can still get coaching. If, on the other hand, your relationship is at a critical level it’s better to get help right away because you will not have much, if any, allowance in your relationship for things to get worse. Obviously, the longer you have let problems go on or the worse your efforts have made things, the greater your need for professional help.


In summary, if you need clarification or to work through emotional issues and decisions, seek out a counselor. If you know what you want, but just don’t know the steps to take, get a coach. If you and your spouse want to work together and your main issue is a lack of understanding of each other get marriage counseling. Get couple’s coaching if you both need to learn relationship skills, such as how to resolve differences without arguing or how to rebuild connection in your relationship. If it could go either way, then get a counselor if you want to let out a lot of your thoughts and feelings and get emotional support. Get coaching if you need skills more than support and are ready to get to work and make changes to the way you interact with your spouse.


I have one warning for you, which applies to both counseling and coaching. Do NOT try to work with your spouse if you are not both motivated to improve your relationship. There is a difference between willingness and desire. If your spouse does not desire to do couple’s work with you, get individual counseling or individual coaching without your spouse.

Never get couple’s coaching if your spouse wants to divorce or is having an affair.

Working with an unmotivated spouse in counseling creates more division and an even higher chance of divorcing. Working with an unmotivated spouse in coaching will prevent you from learning what you need to do to motivate your unmotivated spouse, since you will only learn that in individual coaching.


Most of my relationship coaching packages are for individuals rather than couples. For example, I have a package for reconnecting with a spouse who wants to separate or divorce rather than build the relationship. I have another package for people who have a spouse who is doing damage to the relationship, and yet another package for rebuilding a relationship with a spouse who is having an affair. In these situations, working as a couple would lead to greater division and frustration and the marriage would be more likely to end.


If you could use either a coach or a counselor and don’t know where to start, I have an interactive quiz on my website that will help you to figure out whether coaching or counseling is best for you and whether you should work by yourself or with your spouse.


[Podcast wrap-up]

Announcer: Thank you for listening to Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack. Visit to learn more skills for reconnecting with your spouse and restoring your marriage.