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Home » Blog » The Difference Between Coaching and Other Modalities

No human is an island and we could all do with a helping hand, a shoulder to lean on, or someone to light up the path ahead. Fortunately for us, there are many empathetic people present in the world currently who have taken it upon themselves to fulfil these roles. All heroes do not, however, wear the same cape. There are different professions that these people help out in and they go by various names such as coaching, mentoring, counselling/therapy, and consulting. As outsiders, it can be often very confusing for us to differentiate between all of them and we may not know who to approach for help during a specific situation. Industry guidebooks, on the other hand, lay out very clear differences. The practitioners of these professions can ill-afford to be confused about what they do and the services they offer. These guidelines also help us to clear the air regarding some very prejudiced misconceptions- Coaches aren’t just for sports or white-collared office meetings, mentors don’t just hold a person’s hand and show them their own book of rules and experiences, and counsellors or therapists don’t just work with the mentally ill.

In this blog, coaching is of primary importance to us, so we will separate it on one side and look at the others through a lens that will enable us to differentiate between them and coaching.

Let us take a dive-

Coaching- The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Coaches work with clients in a collaborative process, making coaching all about co-creating. The agenda for each conversation is developed by both parties. Typically, a coach will have expertise in the coachee’s desired area of growth. However, as a coach is not expected to have all the answers, their expertise could be diverse. Rather than giving advice, coaches gather information in the co-created process of change. A coach’s job is to ask questions from a curious stance that will provoke thought in a growth-oriented direction. Coaches see their clients as a whole and having the answers inside of them. Together, pathways to new ways of being in the world are developed. Coaching is short-term (usually), formal & structured, specific & measurable (outputs), and performance-driven.

Mentoring, meanwhile, is long-term, informal, development-driven, and based on loose parameters for growth. Mentoring is when someone with seniority offers informal advice to someone with less experience (Kram, 1985). Unlike both coaching and therapy, you do not need to book a session with your mentor in his/her office. Meetings can take place in various settings, typically over a lunch or coffee. Mentors typically work with developing coworkers. Companies often assign mentor relationships, but they can also develop spontaneously. Even colleges assign mentors to freshers these days. Mentoring is helpful if you are looking to better your craft or skillset from someone who has trodden a similar path. It helps to deepen a specialism, usually in a professional development space. Mentors give advice and share experiences and insights that can support another person’s journey.

Counselling, or therapy, deals with the arena of mental health and processing emotions. Coaching can bring up strong emotions within people as they try to look within themselves to find answers. While working with emotions is integral to coaching and is a supportive safe space to work with clients, ethical coaches know when their client would be better placed in therapy. This is when the client needs to work through deep trauma, rather than process feelings that won’t cause possible harm. The ICF, via its credentialing programs, strictly outlines guidelines that prevent a coach from performing counselling. No coach should ever provide unlicensed counselling, and good training will allow the coach to know the difference. While coaching can be therapeutic, it is not therapy. Every client should be made aware of this. Counsellors inherently hold confidentiality and other parts of a coaching agreement as a part of their practice. Coaches have to include their personal values and business expectations in their coaching agreements to protect themselves and their clients. Another essential distinction between counselling and coaching is the expectation of privacy. Although, ethically, coaches are expected to maintain confidentiality for their clients, under the law, conversations could be compelled by a governing body. The law cannot compel a counsellor’s conversations with a patient. Counsellors also suffer from higher burnout rates as compared to coaches due to the higher levels of stress and emotional exhaustion they face from their clients. Their resilience is regularly tested, often by life-threatening situations as well.

Then comes consulting. To be fair, consulting is in a world of its own and very distinctly stands apart from the other three practices mentioned above. Coaches, mentors, and therapists are not de facto problem solvers. Yes, they do help a person become the better version of themselves, but consulting solves problems exterior to the self. Whilst some may offer advice, they don’t always tell you what to do. Consultants are strategists, problem solvers, opportunity seekers and experts in their field. Consultants are useful if you need to fix something or design something innovative.

Post a bird’s eye view of the different options available to people who might be looking for help in various situations, it becomes clear that coaching is the one that treats the relationship between the two people as a collaboration and more of a game of equals instead of somebody taking the higher ground. Yet, there are situations where only a specific and highly trained professional will be able to help you and that might not be a coach. As we move forward, we will undoubtedly witness more chatter between these practices as they all move along their common goal of uplifting humanity. For the purpose of this blog, though, we hope you are now more aware of the distinctions between them and will be able to make an informed and well thought out decision if the need arises.

Blog you later!