What are the differences between coaching, mentoring, training, consulting and therapy

In the space of professional services, there is a fairly common confusion between coaching, mentoring, training, consulting and even therapy. Quite often in my profession as a coach, I have discussed with potential clients who were either engaged or looking for a professional from one of the above-mentioned specialties, but they thought it was coaching.

As an ICF trained coach and member, part of my work ethic and also bound by The ICF Code of Ethics, I always make sure to clarify any confusion or misunderstanding regarding my role as a coach. This is specifically more important at the beginning of a coaching relationship when the client and I co-create the coaching agreement and also when exploring a coaching relationship with a potential client.

Before I go deeper into the details, I’ll mention that the main differences between coaching in its’ purest form and all the other professions are that:

  1. the coach doesn’t transfer knowledge or structured information to the client and doesn’t tell the client what to do/how to do it or which direction to go.
  2. coaching is future-oriented, looking for new perspectives
  3. considers that the client is a fully functional, responsible adult/team of adults looking to achieve better results

Training is usually deployed to transfer a structured set of knowledge, information, know-how in a specific niche or expertise. The trainee or client of training is learning something new by receiving it in the form of classroom setup/workshop or online and uses it to become more skillful in that specific domain. More often than not, when you hear someone who is a Sales Coach, it’s actually a Sales Trainer who either doesn’t know what coaching is and/or uses the coach title to imply that there is a more customized approach to train people about sales. Of course, one can be both a trainer and a coach, but not at the same time. I was trained as a coach by a Master Certified Coach, but he was wearing the trainer hat when he transferred us the knowledge.

Consulting is when one is “engaged in the business of giving expert advice to people working in a specific field.” In other words, a consultant from Boston Consulting Group, who is an expert in, say, supply chain management goes to a client, gather data and then presents a proposal of how that specific client in a specific industry can improve their warehouse operations. A sales consultant is working with a sales manager and/or the sales team to specifically improve the sales processes and operations.

Mentoring also involves a specific niche and expertise. The mentor is usually someone much more experienced, a senior manager or a seasoned entrepreneur who has more years in the field than the mentee, is working with the mentee by observing what the mentee does and then suggests ways for improvement in that specific expertise. The mentee can also observe/study/read about how the mentor is doing things, inquires about what he needs clarification or more information and applies to his own work what he learned. The sales manager can also be a mentor for one or more people in the sales team.

The main difference between therapy or psychotherapy and coaching is that therapy ”is a way to help people with a broad variety of mental illnesses and emotional difficulties. Psychotherapy can be provided by a number of different types of professionals including psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed social workers, licensed professional counsellors, licensed marriage and family therapists, psychiatric nurses, and others with specialized training in psychotherapy.” (American Psychiatric Association) Also, usually, therapy focuses on exploring the past, identifying and analyzing potential causes that generated an emotional difficulty and/or a mental imbalance.

ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

In time, I developed my own version of expressing what coaching is: Coaching is accompanying the client to facilitate self-reflection, think about their thinking, challenge and explore systemic patterns and frames of reference.

To learn more, let’s talk!

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