What is the difference between a Coach, Counsellor and Mentor?

Coaching, mentoring, and counselling all sit under the umbrella of talking therapies. They work because the client is free to speak about topics they may otherwise not get a chance to discuss. The coach, mentor or counsellor listens attentively, and clients often describe this as cathartic in our fast pace of life where we are bombarded with noise and messages 24/7.  Having someone listen may feel pretty novel.

Taking time to think, speak and reflect is becoming more valued than ever, and rightly so. Our digital world is much more efficient and productive at throwing information at us. The personal cost of receiving vast quantities of information is not yet fully known.  So, if you’re planning on engaging either a coach, mentor, or counsellor, and unless you have mental health issues that require medical help, irrespective of your choice, you will probably benefit.

Let’s work through the list and define each of them, in turn, to help you make your choice.

Our coach is trained to help you see where you are today and help find ways to move towards your self-defined goals.

In his book, Concepts of Coaching: a guide for managers, Peter Hill describes coaching as “the art of facilitating the development of learning to enhance the performance of another”. Coaches don’t generally tell you what to do but offer a sounding board from which you may discover what your options are. Most use challenging questions to illuminate a situation and, as a rule, don’t move into your personal past.

In a similar vein to coaching, counsellors aim to create a safe space to explore who you are and what you want out of life. The main difference between coaching and counselling is that counsellors are trained to explore past psychological experiences, whereas coach training does not equip the practitioner in this way. However, coaches may have counselling training, so this is not a hard and fast rule.

I’ve read a great many articles, blogs and papers that try to describe the differences between coaching and counselling, and almost all of them fail miserably. It is a testimony to the closeness and overlapping breadth of the two disciplines. It also shows the eclectic and individualistic mix each practitioner brings to their work. I know of coaches who are highly trained in psychotherapy, adeptly marrying the two disciplines together.

Differences between counselling and coaching can only be described in generalist terms. Simply put, the coach works in areas such as professional development, supporting your forward momentum to your desired goals. The counsellor helps on a personal level to heal past hurts to the psyche, allowing you to develop greater personal freedom.

Lastly, and by no means least, we come to the mentor. The mentor comes with experience and brings specific valuable skills and knowledge to your situation.

Peter Hill again describes the mentor as” used by clients to capitalise on future opportunities or overcome past problems”. The mentor might well be senior to you and from the same organisation.

A mentor is instructive and transfers their knowledge and experience. They may also adopt a person-centred coaching approach leading to self-reflection and understanding. It depends on how skilled the mentor is.

With all three disciplines, the following is true:

They want you to become a more effective person

They create an atmosphere of trust and support

They are good at listening and asking good questions that make you think

They will help you towards your goals

They will help you with challenging relationships

They want you to reach your full potential

They will encourage self-discovery

Fundamentally, irrespective of the differences in discipline, you will be choosing someone you trust with your personal development. Once you get down to this level, the decision over discipline becomes secondary to the relationship you both develop.

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