Who’s who in the world of coaching, mentoring, counselling, and consulting

I often get asked about the difference between coaching, mentoring, counselling and consulting, so thought I’d put together this basic guide for those who are interested. The support you choose will then be based on your specific scenario, and the type of guidance you’re looking for.

So here’s the low-down (well my version at least!). Say you’re running a marathon for the first time. For starters, a counsellor would help determine whether you have any emotional barriers holding you back from running long distance. He/she would delve into your past to see what prior experience you may have had with running, and how you feel about it. A mentor would then share his or her experiences of running marathons, and the wisdom of what they may have learned over time. A coach would take you to the marathon site, place himself or herself next to you, and encourage, endorse, acknowledge and support you until you feel comfortable enough to go it alone. A consultant may look at what systems need to be improved to get you running more effectively. So while there are vast differences between these areas of support, they can all assist in some form when moving towards a common goal.

Counselling: a past and present reflection

Counselling covers past and present timeframes, and generally focuses on a problem you may be experiencing. It deals with emotions and feelings, and helps to understand and resolve difficulties arising from the past that may hamper your emotional functioning in the present. It is not about giving advice but is about getting you to see things from a differing viewpoint and encouraging you to take action to work through challenges. It can improve overall psychological functioning, to help you deal with the present in more emotionally healthy ways. The processes involved are more about understanding, challenging and enabling than providing feedback. Counselling shares many similarities with coaching, but has a closer therapeutic relationship between you and the therapist.

Coaching: new thinking brings new results

Coaching is about expanding your capacity to create your desired future/s. It is not about telling you what to do, but partnering with you to discover, clarify and align what you’re doing so it is consistent with your goals. It is about providing support to achieve an end result. You may choose how to get there, but the coach assesses and monitors the progress, and prompts reflection for effectiveness and efficiency. Coaching encourages self-discovery and the duration of the coaching relationship can vary depending on needs and preferences. A coach identifies priorities for action and establishes specific outcomes. Additional resources may be provided in the form of relevant articles, checklists, assessments or models to support your thinking and actions. As a coaching client, you are held responsible and accountable for your own actions. The overall process can improve your outlook on work and life, and improve leadership skills by unlocking potential.

Mentoring: voluntary wisdom in shaping an outlook

Mentoring involves a more experienced or knowledgeable person (mentor) helping a less experienced/knowledgeable person (mentee) in an area where the mentee needs additional growth. Mentoring works on the interface between your identity and the bigger picture. It looks at the past, present and future. It is voluntary, informal and is mentee-initiated. A mentor helps to shape the outlook or attitude of your thinking. Mentors are like a sounding board and offer a sympathetic ear when needed. They can provide advice, counselling and coaching, but as the mentee you are free to pick and choose what you choose to do. The context does not have specific performance objectives. The mentor generally has a personal interest and cares about your long-term development. The wisdom, guidance and insight they provide give you the benefit of understanding the world before you have actually lived through it.

Consulting: solutions in expert areas

Consulting deals with providing expert advice in certain areas. A consultant is usually an experienced professional in a specific field and has a wide knowledge of the subject matter. They may be engaged in the short to medium term to fulfill a brief of helping to find solutions to specific issues. However the ways in which that is to be done generally falls to the consultant to decide, within constraints such as budget and resources agreed beforehand. Consulting is a broad area of interest from businesses to personal services, and there’s a consulting opportunity for practically every industry.

So that’s a short but sweet summary of who’s who when it comes to the world of coaching, mentoring, counselling and consulting. Knowing which area to choose will depend on what kind of assistance you’re seeking.

And one for the visual fans! This diagram is helpful when looking at the relationship between asking versus telling, and problem versus solution – and where each of the professional services sit within these areas:



Here’s to successful talk therapy!

Aleisha xo

Comments: I’d love to hear about your experience with any of these professional services. What’s worked best for you in different circumstances?