Are Both Consultation and Counseling Skills Needed by the Independent Consultant?

A useful distinction can be made between consultation and counseling. Consultation can be defined as giving expert advice or information. Whereas, counseling can be defined as a support process intended to help someone to solve a personal or family problem. If you have established yourself as an expert in a given area, you will be asked to provide consultation or counseling as the need is established. Both the subject matter and the needs of the client will determine whether consultation or counseling is indicated. As one who has done both over several decades, the distinction I have made is what I will share with you.

Clients tend to need you for two reasons. Either they are too busy or too lazy to become self-sufficient or self-reliant. For example, I may encounter a client who wants to acquire funds for a project, but does not know how to write a proposal that might attract attention and perhaps funding from a foundation or individual donor. In this instance, this person would be a potential client for a consulting relationship. I can draft up a Consultant Agreement to guide the client through the steps required in preparing a proposal for submission, review the proposal after the client writes it, make recommendations for changes and additions, and review the final draft. If the client agrees to the procedure, we can have a meeting of the minds, sign the agreement and the process can begin. If the client asks that I write a full proposal, the fee would be substantially larger because of the additional commitment of time and work.

An example of counseling would be my being asked to provide group counseling for foster parents of children diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). It would be clear that these parents have a common interest in acquiring practical strategies for managing the often very difficult behavior of these youngsters. The goal of these foster parents would be to help these youngsters to develop into reasonably self-sufficient young adults who have learned to self-manage their problems and to thrive given their challenges. Often a request for individual counseling will emerge from the group counseling because of situation peculiar to an individual child that can’t be adequately addressed in the group.

In summary, the way I make the distinction between consulting and counseling is based on the need the client has for practical results-a desire for practical results within budgeted time and money. Consultation may then be the best choice. On the other hand counseling may be indicated when the client is looking for behavioral change, either for himself or herself, their family, or to improve a distressing life situation. Counseling usually implies a more extended relationship than consultation.

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