The difference between Coaching vs. Mentoring vs. Therapy — and how all three can benefit you

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between coaching, therapy, and mentoring, and which may be the right option for you?

As someone who has worked with three coaches, two therapists and now being a coach myself, it’s my personal opinion that everyone can benefit from therapy, coaching and mentoring at certain times in their lives.

In this article, I break down what I see as the core differences between these three disciplines and how all three could benefit you.

Therapy vs. Coaching

Therapy focuses on healing the past while coaching helps a client to build a future.

I like this analogy: Imagine you’re getting ready to climb a huge mountain. You could either hire an expert guide (coach) for your expedition or a doctor (therapist). Which should you choose?

If you are in fragile health and would be in physical danger if you attempted the climb, a guide wouldn’t make the situation better. But a doctor would help you get back into shape before attempting the challenging feat. However, if you’re already healthy and just need someone to help you with climbing strategy, carrying the load of supplies and finding the best path, the guide would be the better choice for you.

A therapist supports someone to get into excellent mental and emotional health before they attempt to achieve ambitious goals, while a coach leads them over the mountain. It’s very common for people wanting to make changes in their lives to invest in therapy first to work through past trauma, and then hire a business or life coach.

A therapist is a licensed healthcare professional trained to diagnose and resolve destructive beliefs, behaviours, relationship issues and responses. They focus on helping their client:

  • Recover from past setbacks and become aware of behavioural patterns.
  • Explore why past relationships (business or personal) have been destructive
  • Work through depression or anxiety
  • Move forward after grief or loss
  • etc.

A coach, on the other hand, offers dynamic guidance for the client on:

  • Clarifying personal and professional desires and goals
  • Creating business plans or starting a business
  • Designing systems to support performance, productivity and wellbeing
  • Working to improve communication or marketing skills
  • Increasing financial stability
  • etc.

Depending on the depth of the trauma and pain to overcome, therapy is often conducted until the client feels they don’t need it anymore, which could be anything from a matter of months to many years.

Whether in groups or 1:1, coaching usually takes place over a shorter period (1 month to 1 year) and is a lot more goal-oriented, often with specific results in mind to reach during the coaching programme.

Coaching vs. Mentoring

Just like a coach, mentors are focused on your future. A mentor-mentee relationship is usually informal and they typically function in a reactive capacity, responding to issues or questions as they arise for the mentee.

That makes them quite different from coaches, who are by nature strategic and proactive: good coaches have a sixth sense for sniffing out someone’s potential or brilliance in ways they would never have seen for themselves. Coaches pre-empt their clients’ needs or challenges before they arise, and motivate and inspire them to achieve more than they ever believed was possible for themselves.

Mentors are successful people who share their hard-won wisdom with others, and they usually don’t charge for their services like coaches or therapists. A traditional mentor might be a more senior colleague in a corporate organisation or a leader in your industry — someone a few steps ahead of you who you can call on for generalised advice.

However, mentors are in great demand and are not as readily available as coaches. Without a specific service agreement, the mentor-mentee relationship is normally quite open-ended and led by the mentor’s availability. Plus your mentor may not be a subject expert in everything you need help with.

Your mentors don’t need to be people you know in real life! I have about ten and most of them don’t even know they’re my mentor, but I learn a lot from the wisdom they share generously online via blogs, videos and podcasts.

Of course, there is much overlap between coaching and mentoring. Some people prefer to hire coaches who have already achieved something they want to do (a lifestyle, business model or specific skill) while a great mentor will likely be fluent in coaching skills. My own coaching approach is definitely a hybrid of coaching and mentoring.

To summarise the difference between Coaching, Mentoring and Therapy:

A therapist is someone who supports you to heal your past. Mentoring is getting general guidance from someone who’s walked the walk. And coaching is a method for creating a new and ambitious future.

As a Strategy Coach, I help entrepreneurial people to be more purposeful, productive and present in their life and business.

Sign up for my Success Strategy newsletter to be the first to receive my writing on how to develop self-knowledge and self-belief, take aligned marketing action and build the confidence to finally run your business, your way.

Strategy Coach helping entrepreneurial people be more purposeful, productive and present in life and business | | @imogenroy

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store