The lines between coaching, mentoring, and therapy are blurry and very unclear at times. Their purpose and focus are different. It’s important to understand them before working with a professional so you can make the right choice and discuss the right subject with the right person.

Coaching vs. therapy

  • Coaching focuses on the now and the future, where the person is and where they want to go. Therapy mainly explores what happened in the past, what led to where the person is now.
  • Therapy allows people to heal and let go of little or big things from the past, as well as deal with depression and mental disorders. Coaching, on the other hand, is a positive experience that enables the coachee’s potential.

Coaching vs. mentoring

  • Coaching is a practice that pulls out of people by letting them lead the conversation and do most of the talking. Mentoring pulls out and in as the mentor will add input from their own experience to the mentoree’s thoughts.
  • Because mentoring is a relationship between a senior person and someone who wants to learn, it is important that the mentor has relevant experience and career path in the same field as the mentoree. In coaching, knowledge of the environment where the coachee lives or works has little impact on the practice as the coach will only ask questions.

Therapy vs. mentoring

These two are on the opposite side of the spectrum as they cover different needs. Therapy is assisting people in dealing with their past while mentoring is about actively guiding in their future growth. Make sure you do talk to a therapist if you want to talk about past events, and not a mentor.

Before choosing, ask yourself: “what do I need?”

The questions below will give you a beginning of answer on what support might be the most appropriate for you.

  • What do you want to achieve?
    • Talk about the past: therapy will be the best option to help you deal with past experiences that were difficult.
    • Know yourself better: coaching is great for self-exploration.
    • Advance your career: choose career coaching or mentoring with someone who is in the role you target.
    • Have a role model to follow: pick mentoring.
  •  To move forward, what do you need?
    • Find your own answers: do some coaching.
    • Get tips from others: find a mentor that will show you the way.
    • Solve some issues in the past: therapy will be good.
  • What is holding you back?
    • What happened in the past: discuss this with a therapist.
    • Some issues in the present: if these issues are related to mental health, it is best to consult a therapist. If these issues are about work or relationships, you could try coaching.
    • The uncertainty of the future: coaching would be a good option.

It’s up you

Now, every person, situation, and issues are different. These are really some tips to guide you towards the right support, but only you can tell how you are doing and which help you might need. For having been to therapy myself when I actually needed coaching (I didn’t know at that time), I didn’t feel like it was useful and stopped after a few sessions. The therapist brought everything back to my family and my childhood, but there wasn’t anything there that helped me with the issues I had. All I needed? Mindfulness and self-exploration, which a coach would have helped with.

Coaches who are correctly trained and belong to a professional organisation know what topics they are qualified to help you with, and when they should refer you to a therapist. It is to keep you safe at all times.