What is the difference between coaching, mentoring and therapy?

This is one of the most common questions I get asked as a coach, by potential clients.

Along with what is coaching - which I delve into here.

Coaching, mentoring and therapy can often get confused as they all focus on developing a person through dialogue. The differences between these fields are in the details of the process and the focus.

As a coach, it’s important to know what these differences are, not only to help you land the right clients - but to make sure you can actually help them and they leave satisfied.

So given that, below are the key distinctions between coaching, mentoring and therapy. 



Mentoring is an approach that involves providing advice, guidance, and sharing one’s own personal story. The focus here is on a particular skill, knowledge or experience that a senior mentor, passes on to a younger less experienced mentee. One person (the mentor) is sharing their genius with another (the mentee).




Therapy also called psychotherapy or counselling is a treatment process about healing hurts, re-parenting, and bringing resolution to personal pain. It focuses on problems, their sources, the symptoms that result from those problems, dysfunctions, trauma and diagnosis of disorders.

It is a doctor/patient relationship where one person (the therapist/psychologist) diagnoses and prescribes remedial ‘solutions’ to another (the patient).



Coaching is a process of using questions and feedback to facilitate the client’s capabilities and resources into self-generated change and action. Action that is designed to achieve goals and take a client from where they are in life now, to where they want to be.

This process involves providing support to the client, in a way that:

  • Allows them to discover, clarify and align what they want to achieve

  • Inspires self-discovery

  • Elicits self-generated solutions and strategies

  • Encourages responsibility and accountability

The key value with coaching that sets it apart from mentoring and therapy is that the coach acts as an equal partner with the client.

A coach assumes the client is the expert in their own life, and that the coach is simply there to help the client elicit their own answers.

This unique distinction enables the client to develop their own capability, creativity and resourcefulness from the coaching process.

Below is a snapshot to further illustrate the differences:



Which professional your client needs, depends on their current situation and where they want to go.

The best way to find out which professional your potential client needs is to ask questions. Specifically find out what they are looking for, what they want to achieve, and how their current state of mind is.

Some example questions you could ask yourself or the potential client:


  • Are you looking for someone who has been there and done that and can guide you through the same thing?

  • Are you looking for a professional to tell you what to do?


  • Are you on any medication or under the care of a psychologist?

  • Do I feel that this person has the ego-strength to face facts?

  • Do they seem basically okay?

  • Are they stuck in the past and unable to stay in the here and now?


  • Are you looking for someone to help you develop your own capability and resourcefulness?

  • Are you wanting to learn more about yourself and grow from this process as well as achieve your goals?

While asking these questions, use the Overview - Coaching, Mentoring and Therapy table above to see where their needs fit. If you’re still unsure, I recommend proposing an intake session, so you can get to know them better and get real clear on where they are now, and where they want to be.


Coaching, Mentoring and Therapy although may often get confused, are actually distinct professional fields. The differences lie in the details of the process, the focus and the desired outcome of the client.
Here’s a great quote to summarise it all, “A Coach has some great questions for your answers, a Mentor or Therapist has some great answers for your questions.”

What do you think of these distinctions? Let us know in the comments below.



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