How is coaching different?

There are countless occupations available nowadays offering services to customers in need. Many of them are very close to each other, just like cousins, but others are totally different by nature.

  • Teacher / Trainer
  • Advisor / Consultant
  • Therapy / Counselling
  • Psychologist / Psychiatrist
  • Motivator / Speaker
  • Mentor

But which one is which and how to see clearly between all of them?

Teacher / Trainer

A teacher will teach you about a certain subject you wish to learn. Teachers are usually qualified and specialised in certain areas. Training is set for a general audience and the content is the same for all. Participants receive materials specifically in that particular subject and do not allow for flexibility or link with other subjects. Training is the most used method and is introduced at very early ages worldwide. Training includes receiving materials, guidelines, knowledge and information you need in that subject. It is often used in group settings as that is the easiest and fastest way to educate as many people at once as possible. Training is formal, structured and learning focused, and also often ends with some sorts of tests. In addition, it is usually based on a one sided communication: the teacher teaches and the student listens.

While training is transferring knowledge, coaching is about enhancing the skills. Coaching does not teach you directly, a coach does not provide materials during the sessions. A coach might support your learning with certain documents however those are specialised and not designed to help everyone the same way. Coaching is less formal and less structured. It is also a two way communication between parties. Coaching is individualised, mostly used in one-on-one settings, however it can be used in certain group meetings too.

Research shows that humans forget the taught content within days while coaching is more permanent since it works directly with the inner thoughts of the participant. Therefore training is not enough for long term development. However coaching does not work without knowledge and strong foundations. Hence both methods are strongly recommended.

Advisor / Consultant

A consultant is someone who gives advice on the best solution, while an advisor gives a recommendation on what needs to be done. They both listen to your challenges and give you advice or recommendations on what you should do. You get the result you are looking for by them doing the work with you or for you: develop a plan, create strategies, find resources and guide you step-by-step. Consultants are required to have expertise that you are lacking in so by working together you develop your skills. Once the specific topic they were hired for is solved, they move on. They do not deal with behaviour changes or modifying mindsets. The process is fast and accurate. An advisor gives you recommendations on how to solve a particular challenge based on their experience on how they solved similar issues in the past. They are great resources for your information. However, if you face further challenges, you need to hire a consultant/advisor again as you do not normally gain the knowledge and the skills to deal with it by yourself.

A coach does not give advice or recommendation, bring in his/her expertise, share previous experience or solve the problem for you. A coach targets your root problems by asking direct questions others are afraid or unable to do. A coach highlights the unknown areas in your blind spots and brings forward the known but hidden facts. Coaching introduces new learning and promotes new ways of thinking, something you haven’t thought before. Coaching, however, is a longer and slower process as it requires a deep and thoughtful participation from the client where the result may not be visible immediately.

A consultant/advisor may bring you fantastic ideas, strategies and methods however coaching enables you to modify your thinking, mindset, behaviour and beliefs so you may implement the best advice or recommendation. The majority of our decisions are coming from our unconscious mind that is based on our beliefs, traditions, patterns, habits and perspectives. These must be discovered and shifted to reach certain goals in life.

Therapy / Counselling

A counselor/therapist has a very similar approach as a coach. All of them are focusing on a person on a one-one-one basis, listening to the problem and helping you to solve it. All are meaningful and confidential conversations. Therapists are usually referred to as psychotherapists however there are a wider range of specialisations out there, such as social workers, family and marriage therapists and so on. A counselor usually studies only counselling and has a license in this field. The practical difference between a therapist and a counselor is not much, only technicalities. Both have permission to work with clinical patients, such as mental illnesses and usually work on discovering and resolving past issues, often clinical. By doing so, the present can be more delightful, which gives hope for the future. They work with healing conversations, assess, diagnose and treat all ranges of mental and emotional disorders. They mainly focus on reducing the symptoms. Therapists/counselors must have a licence to work and often these licenses are limited to certain regions. Therapists/counselors are expected to be experts in the context.

Coaches do not have permission to deal with mental illnesses and when required, a coach must refer the client to a professional. Coaching also focuses on the present situation and works with the client to reach future goals or state. However coaches, when trained well, are able to help the participant to understand the past so it can be a tool moving forward. Coaches are not required to be experts in the specific field and not necessarily require qualifications or be a member of governing bodies. Since the profession is unregulated, many coaches are out there offering services without doing any training or having any understanding of the profession. Although qualification is not required, I still recommend selecting a coach who has a recognised qualification/certificate and a member of any association.

Coaching and therapy/counseling can work alongside each other however it is advisable to inform both professionals of the work of the other so then both can effectively support the personalised solution.

Psychologist / Psychiatrist

Both of these professions have doctoral degrees and work with mental health patients. A psychologist is trained in psychotherapy other than mental health assessments and doesn’t usually prescribe medications. They usually have a talk through session where they assess the patient, help them overcome past traumas, cope with issues that arise from the past and help solve them. A psychologist’s goal, similarly to coaching, is behaviour modification, enhancing decision making and better use of resources in life. However, it usually goes deeper and wider in psychotherapy than coaching. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, prescribe medications and the visit to them is more likely around 15 minutes. They ensure the patient is taking the right dose of medication and complete adjustments where necessary. Psychiatrists often refer patients to psychologists. Attending both services are eligible for medical reimbursement, while coaching is not.

Coaching is not a mental health service and coaches must refer clients to such professionals if necessary. It may be possible that clients feel more comfortable starting with coaching as they don’t think their issues are serious enough for psychology/psychiatry. However, as the time goes along during the coaching sessions the coach must make a decision on when the issues are best addressed by therapeutic professionals. Although the methodologies, techniques and the goals are overlapping in the professions, coaching focuses on future goals and state settings. Coaches are working with mentally stable individuals and after developing trust and intimacy, they use more provocative and powerful questioning techniques, often outside of the client’s comfort zone, that would push the individual forward.

Due to the amount of support needed in the community globally, coaches and other health professionals have a major role of primarily facilitating behaviour change. Worldwide, there is an overwhelming need for complex social problems and health challenges and collaboration between the professions is essential. Nevertheless, it is certainly advisable that professionals working with the same client know about each other so they can work out the best solution possible.

Motivator / Speaker

A speaker/motivator inspires forward movement, gives a mental and emotional push for you to achieve your goals. The speaker delivers a message by using encouraging and powerful words that are directly linked to the audience’s situation/circumstances/goals. The event is oftentimes from one to many and reflects one way communication: the motivator speaks, the audience listens. The length of these particular events vary but on average each speaker/motivator is on stage for about an hour or two. During the event/speech the energies are high and you feel the need to take immediate and massive action. However, after the event the energies and the urge for action usually fall back as there is no individual support or follow up. Once the speaker/motivator is done, has no responsibility whether impact is achieved or not. The speaker/motivator is expected to be an expert in that particular field, counter to the coach. No regulations and restrictions in both professions.

Coaching sessions, on the other hand, mostly offer services on a one on one basis and are very personalised. There are team coaching sessions also where the coach focuses on a goal that the team wants to achieve collectively. The coach leads a two way communication where the client speaks during the majority of the session. The responsibility to take action is on the client and although the coach can be encouraging and motivating, his/her primary role is to follow up on the actions, play as a brainstorming partner, enlighten new ways of thinking and hold the client accountable to ensure the job gets done. The coach has no particular message to deliver, therefore the client is in charge of the topic depending on where he/she is in life and what the short or long term goals are. Since coaching is a process, in most cases the length of the engagement between the parties can last from 3-12 months.


A mentor is someone who achieved great results during his/her lifetime and is willing to share it with you by holding your hands and telling you exactly how he/she achieved the results. Mentoring is a process where the knowledge is transferred from one person to another. By modeling the mentor and following the exact steps you will also be able to achieve the same outcome. In addition, a mentor shows you what not to do so your progress can be faster. This approach may feel great for those who are happy to follow other people’s footsteps. Mentors are expected to give insights, directions and guidance. However, you need to be very particular with whom you chose as a mentor as he/she will guide you exactly the way he/she achieved the results. No more, no less. Therefore at the end you may become exactly the same as your mentor. No more, no less. This can lead to limited creativity, restricted way of looking at options, outdated strategies and a certain structure over your personality and individual preferences.

Coaching and mentoring are very similar and follow alike skills and processes. Although there are overlaps in between the professions, coaches are not required to be experts on specific topics but to guide and support you in generating your own ideas and solutions. With this process you are able to think for yourself and use your creativity. It accommodates your learning style and is individualised in terms of achieving the outcome. Coaching is certainly a slower process than following a mentor, however the results last longer. A coach is more of a thinking partner and facilitator and does not give advice, directions or suggestions without your permission on what you should do. Therefore, coaching is more flexible and allows you to determine the goals you want to achieve.

The story of the fish!


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