The Shared History of Coaching and Counseling

The Shared History of Coaching and Counseling



Katherine Brazelton, Ph.D.

Mental health professionals and professionally certified life coaches ask questions, listen, provide accountability, problem-solve, encourage emotional wellness, and offer resources that move hurting people forward (Holmes, 2016). Not surprisingly, both counselors and coaches share historical roots in the helping profession, albeit many of our forerunners did not, nor modern-day peers do not, sing out of the same Christian hymnal as we do unabashedly:

Abbreviated Timeline: Shared History of Counseling and Coaching

A Variety of People-Helper Pioneers:

  • 776BC: Olympics’ Trainers coached athletes.
  • 450-300BC: The “Big Three” GreekPhilosophers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle discussed ideas, often in the marketplace, with those seeking wisdom.
  • 400BC: Humor Guides were highly sought-after advisors, based on Hippocrates’ four personality types: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic.
  • AD 26-30: Jesus served as a spiritual guide to many.
  • AD 42: Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, mentored Paul, helping him understand that God was intimately involved in his life. Paul then mentored Timothy and Titus.
  • 1524: Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, longed for God’s guidance about his life purpose. He composed the Spiritual Exercises, and guided his “companions” to answer such questions: Who am I? What are God’s actions in my life? What is the nature of my deepest desire? How do I respond to God’s love for me?
  • 1534: Spiritual Directors were holy men and women faith-guides, who withdrew to the Middle East deserts to seek God’s wisdom and connect with the real Director, the Holy Spirit. People followed. Today, people flock to Spiritual Directors, but not so much in the desert!
  • 1886: Business consultants became popular and still are to this day, including executive and career coaches.
  • Late-1880’s through Mid-1900’s: Mental health professionals, who were experts in diagnosable mental illness, set the framework for working from either a pathological viewpoint or a “whole and healthy person” belief system. A select number of contributors are noted:
  • 1883: G. Stanley Hall opened the first American experimental psychology research laboratory at Johns Hopkins University and is generally known as founder of organized psychology, as a science and profession.
  • 1886: Sigmund Freud began private practice in Vienna and was best known for developing the theories and techniques of psychoanalysis, including the sexual origins of a patient’s neuroses.
  • 1911: Alfred Adler left Freud’s Psychoanalytic Group to form his own school of thought, believing that his clients were artists in their lives; thus, he involved them in life planning.
  • 1913: Carl Jung also left Freud and developed his own theories of Analytical Psychology. Jung studied personality types (extroverts and introverts) and often coached adults through a “life review,” encouraging them to live life on purpose.
  • 1938: B. F. Skinner published his first major work, The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis, introducing behavior analysis.
  • 1942: Carl Rogers published Counseling and Psychotherapy, and in 1951, his more refined theories appeared in Client Centered Therapy, which directed a shift toward the client’s ability to change and grow.
  • 1943: Abraham Maslow published a paper entitled, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” describing his Hierarchy of Needs. This work focused on patients’ physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization needs.
  • 1950: Rollo May published The Meaning of Anxiety.
  • 1950: Erik Erikson published Childhood and Society, introducing his stages of psycho-social development and concept of identity crisis.
  • 1959: Viktor Frankl released his 1st English edition ofMan’s Search for Meaning (an overview of existential analysis and our craving for life purpose). In fact, Frankl gives an example of architects who want to strengthen a decrepit arch; therefore, they increase the load upon it to join the parts more firmly together. He writes, “So, if therapists wish to foster their patients’ mental health, they should not be afraid to increase that load through a reorientation toward the meaning of one’s life” (2006 Ed, p. 105). Frankl taught that our primary drive in life is not pleasure (Freud), but the discovery and pursuit of what we find meaningful.
  • 1968: Personal Development Guru-Trainers, many of the name brands being humanists, grew in popularity, e.g., Mind Dynamics (1968), Erhard Seminar Training (EST, 1971), Erhard’s Lifespring (1974), Tony Robbins (1978), and Erhard’s Landmark Forum (1991). The programs focus(ed) on taking personal responsibility for one’s life choices.
  • 1980’s: The Titus 2 Discipleship Mentoring Model was predominant in churches. Older men and women were/are instructed to train those younger to live balanced and effective lives for Christ (see 2:4–8, 15).
  • 1992: Secular coaches began creating success for clients through Coach U. Its Founder sold the training company in ’96, after having spun off in ’95 to establish the International Coach Federation (ICF) as a nonprofit association of professional coaches. The two early owners of these companies had been trained by, worked for, and were greatly influenced by the New Ageism of Werner Erhard.
  • 1992: Christian Life Coaches began changing lives for Christ. Some of their training organizations later became double- and triple-accredited (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2016) by worldwide, educational agencies like the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) and the International Association of Continuing Education (IACET). These types of accreditations for Coach Training Providers allowed them to offer continuing education units and clock–contact hours. Likewise, the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) created its Board of Christian Life Coaching (BCLC) with four levels of coach certification.

Today, countless Christian people-helpers (including pastors, clinical social workers, school psychologists, psychiatric nurses, counselors, and coaches) have been trained professionally to listen—through the power of God’s Spirit—to what is being said and not being said by their patients–clients. What a career: listening to life stories; ascertaining healthy and unhealthy behaviors; and walking alongside souls seeking our help. Such dedicated servants stretch their counselees–coachees to discover who they are in Christ and to unleash their God-granted ministry and broader mission-longings. Together, they discuss strongholds and incremental steps to answer God’s call. Truly a privilege.

Katherine Brazelton, Ph.D., M.Div., M.A., P.C.L.C.,
has authored eight “life purpose” coaching books translated in as many as 12 languages. Some titles include the Pathway to Purpose 4-book series, The Way I’m Wired 2-book series and DVD for youth pastors/students/parents, and the One-Year Recovery Prayer Devotional: 365 Daily Meditations toward Discovering Your True Purpose. Dr. Brazelton is founder of the Board-Certified Coach Training Provider, Life Purpose Coaching Centers International®. The school trains Christians internationally to become Professional Certified Life Coaches (PCLC). She is a Board Member for both Rockbridge Seminary and the International Christian Coaching Association (ICCA) and on the teaching team of AACC’s DVD-training series: Life Coaching 101+201. For more information, visit .

Dr. B. would love to meet you at her 2017 AACC World Conference Workshop #408: The Standout Coach: Creative, Bold, Persistent, and Eager to Learn What Works!


Abbreviated Timeline. (Public domain information.) Data retrieval May, 2017.

Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. (I. Lasch, Trans.) Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Heffner, C. L. (n.d.). History of psychology (387 bc to present). Retrieved from

History of psychology. (2001). Retrieved from

History of psychology. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 3, 2017, from

History of the counseling profession [website]. (2003). Retrieved from Indiana University Web site:

Holmes, L. (2016, January 3). Should you see a therapist or a life coach?, 2. (L. Holmes, Deputy Healthy Living Editor) Retrieved March 29, 2017, from Huffington Post:

Mulhauser, G, (2014). History of counseling and psychotherapy. Retrieved from

Plous, S. (1996-2017). Links on the history of psychology. Retrieved from

PricewaterhouseCoopers. 2016 ICF global coaching study executive summary.  Retrieved April 5, 2017. Seven coach-training organizations participated worldwide (p. 4). Nearly 99% of coaches took some training; a large majority (89%) took accredited or approved training (p. 12).

Timeline: The history of counseling [SlideShare]. (2015). Retrieved from Northwestern University Website: