We tend to clump words, activities or events together as if they were the same or at least similar. Remember that old song? “Love and marriage … go together like a horse and carriage.” You might have heard “teaching and counseling” in the same sentence, too. But there are distinct differences between teaching and counseling.
You might say, “Marie! Don’t you think this distinction is a little too academic?” No, I don’t. Unless we are clear on which approach to use, we might end up using the wrong one.
Where you start, how the information is given, who is in charge, your role, and the setting are major differences between teaching and counseling.
What is the goal?
Teaching is about establishing a goal, then giving information and possibly advice about a course of action. Ideally, the teacher conducts a needs assessment and identifies a specific learning gap, or problem, and establishes a clear learning goal that bridges the learning gap.
Counseling is goal-oriented, but in a different way. Neither the counselor nor the client has an exact agenda or agreed-upon goal. In some or many cases, the “goal” of the conversation is not identified until after the client reaches it.
Differences between teaching and counseling are especially notable as related to the goal.
Where is the starting point?
The teacher begins at one mostly-obvious starting point. Together, client and teacher move to a pre-determined destination. Ideally, the starting point is at the place of the learning gap.
The counselor, however, often helps the client to go from a nebulous starting point to a more comfortable, more functional place. The client may come to the session confused, frustrated, or overwhelmed. The counselor may be unaware of the client’s unspoken need.
Often, the client is aware of a problem but is unable to articulate the crux of the issue or need. The goal of the counseling is to get a client to come to their own decision. (Here, I’ve given some do’s and don’ts for simple counseling techniques.)
Differences between teaching and counseling can be noted from the starting line to the finish line.
Differences between teaching and counseling affect format
Although teaching styles differ, teaching follows a relatively clear structure. Using the identified starting point, the teacher offers information to help the client get from Point A to Point B. The teacher develops content to support the learning goal, and uses content that is similar from one person or group to another person or group with the same learning need. The teacher tends to emphasize the “best” information. Supporting materials (visual aids, etc.) have been located ahead of time.
Counseling usually includes presenting fairly unstructured information to help the client see the benefits, the risks, and the alternatives through a more precise lens. Materials to support content may or may not be used, but these are usually not pre-planned. Content differs a little or a lot from one person or group to another.
Differences between teaching and counseling can be noted in the structure — or lack thereof — as well as the format and the presentation in general.
Role of the client
A teacher leads the interaction. As an expert, she gives information, or recommends a course of action. The teacher tries to help the client to achieve a skill (for example, how to change a diaper) or tries to persuade the client to do or avoid a particular action (for example, eat a healthy diet.)
The counselor encourages the client to do most of the talking while the counselor listens. The counselor does not make a decision for the client, and most certainly, the counselor does not give advice. Sometimes, the client changes her mind on the course of action, and a counselor’s responsibility is to support and assist through this process. There are also things to avoid when counseling.
The roles are very different between teaching and counseling. A teacher’s main job is to talk and instruct while a client listens. A counselor’s main job is to listen, guide and empower the client..
In short, differences between teaching and counseling focus on the words direction or facilitation. Teaching focuses on giving directing an action; counseling focuses on facilitating decisions or next actions.
Setting is frequently different
Teaching is done in a group or on a one-on-one basis. Counseling is done on a one-to-one basis, or perhaps between a counselor and a couple.
The activities and responsibilities of teaching and counseling are central parts of the healthcare professional’s role, but they are very different.
Differences between teaching and counseling
Here, I’ve tried to lay out the main differences. As soon as you start thinking about whether you’re trying to teach or counsel, I think you’ll find it easier to do the one you’re intending to do.
Meanwhile, tell me: do you find yourself doing one when you should be doing the other?