Differences and Similarities Between Coaching, Mentoring and Counselling

Today we are going to explore the differences between coaching, mentoring and counselling (with a focus on coaching). We will also look at the overlap between the three distinct techniques because there are many behavioural traits that good practitioners share and hold in great esteem. So let’s dive straight in! We’ll begin by looking at the main attributes of coaching and my personal experience working in the field of person centred coaching.

With coaching, as with counselling and mentoring, there is no one size fits all. There are many styles of coaching for different areas eg, Life Coaching, Performance Coaching, Transformational Coaching, Business Coaching, Intuitive Coaching - the list goes on. I write this article from the perspective of a person centred performance and life coach.

What is coaching?

This seems to be a grey area and up for a lot of debate as many new ‘coaches’ pop up in various disciplines reporting to change people’s lives and propel them to that illusive 6 figure salary status in the blink of an eye! But for me something just doesn’t sit right with self proclaimed coaches who are not being held accountable to any measure of standard/safeguarding for their services. Currently there is no law that say a coach has to be certified. But many great coaches have taken the path to become accredited. Reality check - reading a coaching book, does not a coach make.

Although different practitioners understandably learn from each other, sharing tools and behaviors and coaching concepts, It’s important to be clear about the differences and similarities in order that you find the right support mechanism for your own specific needs.

Coaching is a process that transforms wishes, dreams and good intentions into reality. With personal change techniques such as NLP, coaching enables a person to modify/enhance their internal processes to enable their goals to be met
— Louise Trevatt - Simply Changing

I understand coaching to be a structured yet nurturing technique based on a set of learnt behaviours, change techniques and psychological theories. A coach walks alongside their client helping them reach their goals or desired outcomes.

Coaching is largely an ‘Ask not Tell’ process in which a Coach leads with a curious mind to help move a client towards the goals they have set using a set of distinctive yet super flexible tools and techniques. These are offered up to the client depending on their current state of resourcefulness and what the goal at hand might be! As a person centred coach my toolkit is filled with a variety of powerful and subtle exercises and techniques which I will offer up to use with a client at different varying points to suit their needs at that moment in time. Flexibility is key!

In coaching there is a goal or specific outcome to work towards but the aim is to get there in the most effective and positive way possible. Unlike counselling which can be a long more drawn out relationship built around an issue, in coaching we aim to help our clients create the change they want to see in 3-5 coaching sessions. Coaching is about leveraging the client’s strengths and building upon successful breakthroughs to harness energy and momentum to step up to the next goal and so on.

In coaching we talk about the client’s ‘resourcefulness’ and flexibility of behaviour drawing on the client’s own ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties. The coach remains in the background as much as possible providing the container for the coachee to thrive. Person centred coaching is built around the belief that the client already has all the answers but perhaps need some help reaching a positive state/frame of mind in order that they are able to access them. I talked about rapport in a previous article and just how important that connection between coach and client really is in achieving fantastic results with coaching!

As coaching is such a broad profession, it encompasses a huge variety of techniques and styles. Coaching 'techniques' are the practices used by coaches during sessions - these include NLP, linguistic models, writing exercises and interview techniques but to name a few.

A coaching session can be structured by the Coach but lead by the client. The coaching process involves tools and techniques as well as behavioural and language patterns that allow coachee to improve how they ‘experience’ things (think, behave and feel,).

Coaching allows people to define well-formed outcomes and identify a realistic route to achieving these
— Louise Trevatt

Coaching isn’t prescriptive - there is no ‘one size fits all’ technique to coaching. and in this way as we have discussed above each session, goal and client-coach relationship will vary greatly. There are many different behaviour and language patterns used in coaching compared to Mentoring.

Benefits for the individual include (but are not limited to):

  • increased confidence

  • better relationships

  • greater understanding of self

  • better work/life balance

  • recognition of own skills and strength

  • reaching your goals

  • breaks down barriers to success

  • non directive outcome and change come from the clients perspective

  • recognition of success


Mentoring is distinctly different to coaching but still shares overlapping behaviour with coaching such as an often nurturing environment, guidance and support, a great rapport and accountability.

Mentoring is an intentional activity lead by a ‘role model’ figure who places themselves in the position of expert to help their mentee achieve the development or success they are looking for. The mentee learns and develops by doing as their mentor does drawing on outside expertise and validation. This has great application in the world of employed work where staff might need to learn new sales techniques, how to use social media or POS systems for example!

Mentoring is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger than the person being mentored, but he or she must have a certain area of expertise
— wikipedia

The benefits of mentoring include

  • A structured learning environment with (often) one to one support

  • Access to an expert in that particular field

  • Overlap with coaching behaviours such as a nurturing environment, accountability, reflective journalling

  • Feedback on work given and actions set

Drawbacks of Mentoring

  • Directive

  • Limited by the knowledge base and understanding of Mentor role modal

  • Learning all comes from the Mentor’s perspective

  • Mentee focus on ‘shadowing’ and learning from example not exploring a way that suits their experience/way of doing things best

Counselling & Therapy

Counselling falls under the umbrella term ‘talking therapies’ and allows people to discuss their problems and any difficult feelings they encounter in a safe, confidential environment. The term can mean different things to different people, but in general, it is a process people seek when they want to change something in their lives, or simply explore their thoughts and feelings in more depth. Counselling works around the idea of creating a safe space in which the client can tell their story to work towards a positive resolution.

Counselling comes in several different forms including:

  • Face to face

  • individual or group

  • online counselling

  • telephone counselling

Counselling works on the theory that if the individual realises consciously what has happened in their life to cause their issue, they can with a conscious awareness and rational mind make changes.

Therapy (psychotherapy)

As with coaching there are many different approaches to Therapy. Each comes with its own set of values, behaviours and techniques. As with mentoring and coaching, finding the right fit for you is the best way to reach a truly successful outcome.

Therapy [psychotherapy] is the process of working with a licensed therapist to develop positive thinking and coping skills and treat mental health issues such as mental illness and trauma
— Talkspace Therapist Alaina Brubaker

Examples of therapy include

  • Psychotherapy - exploring the root cause of an issue with different psychological theories ie CBT

  • Art therapy - using art and image making to explore deep rooted issues, language barriers and grief

  • Hypnotherapy - working with the subconscious mind to eliminate habits, phobias, anxiety and more

Finding the right fit

It’s of the utmost importance to find the right support system for your specific need. In coaching we work with mentally well people and are not trained to support those who need more emotional support than that. So as a coach its our responsibility to recognise the state of the client and signpost them to the right practitioner or services to meet their needs if it turns out that coaching is not the right route for them at that point. By growing connections with many other complimentary practitioners we are able to help our clients recieve the best support available for their specific needs at that time in their life.

If you go into a relationship with any practitioner that feels ‘off’ or unsupportive in any way I would always recommend reflecting on whether they are the right fit for you. And where possible voicing your concerns to them! However it’s also important to bear in mind that going into any of these relationships can bring up challenges and in fact making significant changes to our lies and behaviour isn’t meant to always be a walk in the park. Often when we go into a helping or coaching relationship and things come up that jars us, or that we have a distinct emotional reaction towards, that is because it is too close to home and highlighting something we recognise (but perhaps don’t like) about ourselves or the situation we are in. Acknowledging this and taking ownership by reflecting and digging deeper is a fantastic way to work though the blockage and create a more positive outcome for our future!