What is the difference between Coaching, Therapy, Counseling & Mentoring? – A Brief

Mahesh Sharma
Difference in coaching therapy

Similar but distinctive modalities

Words like therapy, counseling, consulting, and coaching are some of the words we must have heard sometimes in our lives, especially in today’s time when these modalities are taking the main stage and don’t confine to a restricted group or specific category of people.

And when we talk about Life Coaching which is the newest entrant in the universe of helping services, it is making its entry into our lives with a strong promise of not only providing a helping hand but also serves as a catalyst to achieve our goals in personal and professional lives.

But still, many of us, especially those who have not experienced any of these modalities or don’t have a clear idea of what purpose they serve, do confuse with these similar terms of coaching, counseling, consulting, mentoring, or therapy. And truly speaking I was also on the same platform until I myself researched deeply about them and became a professional life coach. I found out that many times these modalities are being used in combination to get the desired results but still individually serve different purposes.

For example, when I come across someone during our coaching sessions that he needs a particular kind of consulting, counseling or therapy which is beyond the limits of life coaching or which does not fall under the premise of life coaching, I always recommend and suggest my clients seek proper help from other experts.

So, though All these paradigms are distinctive in nature yet similar in many aspects. Practitioners of these modalities often employ techniques from either of the paradigms or a mix of them when dealing with clients.  It is also important to know that these fields can coexist or I can say they do co-exist and benefit from each other when used in tandem.  But understanding the similarities and differences of these modalities will really help us to use the right kind of help and support when we need it the most.

Here let me share with you the brief definition and summary of each modality so as you get a fair idea of what purpose each modality serves. Let’s start with coaching.

Disclaimer 1: 

I would like to specifically mention here that the definitions used in this article are in no way exact or final. I highly suggest that if you want to go deeper into the aspect of these modalities, you do your own homework and research in detail.

Disclaimer 2 : Gender-Specific Term

Throughout the post, gender-specific terms may be used in order to ease the text flow. Whenever a gender-specific term is used, it should be understood as referring to both genders, unless explicitly stated.


Coaching is a fine art of facilitating commitment, meaningful engagement, learning, and development. In coaching, the coach engages with the coachee (the person who is taking coaching from the coach)  on deeper levels by asking appropriate questions that encourage, inspire, and push coachee to think and search for answers by himself. Coaching helps the coachee build his own awareness, understanding, and decision making. A good coach co-creates collective and cooperative partnerships to unlock the coachee’s potential by invigorating his inner power, values, and creativity. Unlike therapy, which is focused on ‘what has happened’ and ‘the problem’, coaching focuses on what is possible. It is future-focused, action-oriented, and supportive in helping the coachee to move towards his goals. Coaching helps coachee make fantastic achievements over a range of topics from relationship management, personality development, personal performance enhancement, productivity, career transitions, etc. 
“Life coaching is usually referred to as an umbrella term under and many types of coaching fall under Life Coaching.”
In brief, if we want to understand what coaching is, and what it is not, we can consider this snippet.

What Coaching is :

It is 
  • Working with a qualified and experienced coach who helps you to gain clarity
  • To challenge you by asking important, relevant and deep questions
  • To speak your mind in front of a person who is not only interested in your success but is highly committed too
  • To share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences without being judged
  • To have a sounding board and a genuine listener to share your inner feelings, which may seem shallow and non-relevant but you want to share them somehow with someone
  • To work with a coach and find ways, solutions, and clarity together
  • To establish joint responsibility and commitment
  • To appoint the coach and give her/him the permission to ask difficult, uncomfortable questions and hold your accountability towards the mutually established goals

What Coaching is not :

It is not
  • Going to an expert to find a solution
  • To only seeking answers
  • To rant
  • To only have a sounding board
  • To approve your way of thinking and doing
  • To expect that coach will advise or suggest which you have to follow
  • To expect that coach will have all the answers


Counseling is giving advice and suggestions to the client (the person who is using the counseling services) on issues that involve identifying the issue, provide suggestions, and help the client to deal with it effectively. Counselors generally offer counsel to those who are facing adjustment or developmental issues. Counseling is closely allied with Therapy. Counseling is done in many specialized areas like family, career, couple, relationship, grief, de-addiction counseling, etc. Counselors come from a variety of backgrounds namely nursing, psychology, and social work. Counseling is not hand-holding like coaching and is generally focuses on a specific challenge.


Consulting in its simplest definition is “engaging in the business of giving expert advice to other professionals in specific or specialized areas”. A consultant, in a nutshell, provide expert opinions, analysis, and recommendations to organizations or individuals, based on their own expertise. They’re essentially fixers, serving as troubleshooters, and providing strategies to prevent problems and improve performance. A consultant is usually an expert or a professional in a specific field and has a wide knowledge of the subject matter. We usually see consultants operates in specific fields as business consultants, sales and marketing consultants, subject matter consultants, etc. 


Mentoring in its simplest form is sharing knowledge, skills, and life experience to guide mentee (the person who is being mentored) towards helping him reach his goals effectively. Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. A mentor tends to be offering his own experience as guidance, and may or may not use a coaching style. So mentors are usually not trained in listening or questioning skills, or in techniques to aid confidence, self-belief, etc.  Mentoring is usually limited to areas of the mentor’s own experience.


In simple terms, most forms of therapy, including a focus on ‘what has happened’. They are concerned with ‘the problem’ and with regaining mental balance and perspective. Therapy is the process of meeting with a psychotherapist for the purpose of resolving problematic behaviors, beliefs, feelings, and related physical symptoms. A therapist is a qualified professional who uses psychological interventions with the client (the person who is using the services of the therapist). A therapeutic alliance between the client and the therapist is formed with the purpose of helping the client overcome certain psychological dysfunctions that disrupt his personal, social, occupational, cognitive, and emotional functioning. The therapist-client relationship is terminated once the psychological contract is over.


So as you have seen these modalities are distinct in nature but generally used in combination to get the desired results. As a Life Coach, I tend to use the mix of coaching, counseling, therapy, and mentoring in my coaching sessions, at appropriate times and situations.  
Many of the successful coaches described the biggest difference between coaching & other modalities is – coaching unlike any other modality is non-dictatorial, nonjudgmental, non-therapeutic, and it assists not direct or instructs the coachee in moving ahead in his chosen direction with a mutually designed path.


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