What’s the difference between coaching, consulting, mentoring & Therapy?

This question has come up a lot in my coaching sessions and I’m not surprised. There is a movement towards self-awareness, fulfillment, and purpose, both in professional lives as well as personal ones. Organizations and individuals alike are striving for alignment and balance with what’s most important and what rings true with their core values and beliefs.

We’re transitioning from a world of ‘we do what we’re supposed to do because that’s what our parents did‘ to one of ‘what do I really want and what is my passion?‘ When we tap into the latter of the two, what we create is radical and unstoppable!

I love that this is happening and I see this movement as a shift from managing to leading and that, in my humble opinion, is what this world needs a little more of. Imagine a world where people are being and doing what they’re most passionate about! AND… through their enthusiasm and brightness they inspire others to do the same!

I often hear, “I’ve hired a consultant” or “I’ve been through years of therapy” and those folks have an impression that through one or both of those avenues they should or will find their purpose, passion, and fulfillment. They’re often disappointed that the outcome isn’t what they were expecting, or the change wasn’t sustainable. Why? Because sustainable change starts with YOU. What are your deepest desires? What are your core values? What gets you so fired up that you’re unstoppable? If you’re like most people, you’re so busy doing what everyone else wants you to do that you really don’t know that part of yourself.


That’s where coaching comes in. How is it different than hiring a consultant, working with a mentor, or seeing a therapist? Let’s start with a simple definition of each.

I hope you’ll allow me to be playful. In this example I’m going to use the simple task of riding a bike and apply the context of consultant, therapist, mentor and coach to that goal. For the sake of discussion, let’s say that you used to ride a bike as a child, but as an adult it’s been difficult to pick it up again. You’d like to work with someone to help you fast track your goal, but which type of professional would be best?


If you work with…

A consultant:

A consultant is an expert in bike riding. They’ve already mastered the bike riding process and figured out the most efficient way to do it. They will typically assess what you’ve been doing so far and provide you with a detailed plan on how to do it correctly, complete with a step by step process. They get paid to provide you with “how to ride a bike” answers. They focus on the problem.

A therapist:

A therapist is most interested in why you are unable to ride a bike. What’s in your past, or childhood, that presents a barrier to your learning? They dig in there and work with you to fix it. They focus on why the problem is there.

A mentor:

A mentor has been riding a bike for quite some time and is there to share what they know about the process. They want to see you be successful and are willing to spend time with you. It could be compared to learning by seeing. They most likely have had the problem too.

A coach:

A coach offers a different type of relationship altogether. There’s a lot of asking and not much telling. They are your champion. Helping you achieve your goal of riding a bike by asking thought provoking questions and shining a light on your strengths. They work with you to tap into what you already know, and help you break through your limiting beliefs. A coach will run alongside of you holding the bike steady while you’re learning. They’re cheering you on every step of the way, and they let go of the bike when you’re ready to ride solo. A coach is focused on you.

Even though each role is different, there can be, and often is, overlap. I know some fantastic consultants who have incorporated coaching methodology into their business practices. I’ve also attended professional coaching classes with many therapists who were adding the coaching methodology to their list of available tools to use with patients.

I often use a combination of consulting and coaching with my clients, and my personal coaches bring their areas of expertise into our coaching sessions in a consultative way. (That’s right. I invest in my well being and future by hiring professional coaches too!) All of us not only drill down to the passions, desires, and roadblocks of our clients, but we also incorporate how-to’s and roadmaps for success based on our professional experience and expertise.

Whether it be consulting, therapy, mentoring, or coaching; there is a time and place for all four. They often work together to help their clients achieve rich and radical results. I hope this helps to clear up some of the confusion.

If you’re interested in learning more about coaching and how, through working together, we can fast track your goals please contact me.

YOU are worthy of all that you desire to be and do!

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*This post was originally published August 2014 on mindyaltermatt.com

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