Consulting or Counseling?

Since the turn of the century, the profession of consulting has been going through a transition catalyzed by events such as the Enron debacle, the collapse, and 9/11 (Greiner & Poulfelt, 2009). Due to this transition, many people think of consulting in the context of management consulting, where the focus is on organizational success and leadership development (Greiner & Poulfelt, 2009). Much of the focus of consulting has turned toward the practices of organizations to improve performance by analyzing existing problems and developing plans for improvement (“Economics & Management Consulting,” 2016). For this reason, the role of the consultant is changing from one that relies on expert knowledge to one of collaborating with clients to implement action plans (Greiner & Poulfelt, 2010).

One distinction necessary to understand is the difference between consulting and counseling. Though the research reveals there are many similarities between the two (Schmidt & Osborne, 1981), there are some distinct differences that are important to understand. First, counseling tends to occur in an environment set and controlled by the counselor who sets the rules, parameters, and direction of the interaction (Sperry, 1993). In consultation, the interaction tends to occur in the organizational environment where the client negotiates the parameters of interaction (Sperry, 1993). In counseling, the counselor functions primarily in a process oriented and nondirective role where questions are asked to the client in order to gain insight into the clients life; whereas in consulting, the consultant may use a more expert–oriented and directive role in order to provide insight to the client in solving organizational difficulties (Sperry, 1993). A primary function of consultants is to offer expert information to present organizational strategies to leaders for innovative change (Greiner & Poulfelt, 2009).

As a professional consultant, how does one differentiate the role from counseling?


Economics & Management Consulting. (2016, January 12). Retrieved May 13, 2016, from

Greiner, L. E., & Poulfelt, F. (Eds.). (2010). Management consulting today and tomorrow: perspectives and advice from 27 leading world experts. New York: Routledge.

Schmidt, J. J., & Osborne, W. L. (1981). Counseling and consulting: separate processes or the same? Personnel & Guidance Journal, 60, 168–171.

Sperry, L. (1993). Working with executives: Consulting, counseling, and coaching. Individual Psychology: The Journal of Adlerian Theory, Research & Practice, 49(2), 257.



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