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Coaching vs Mentoring vs Therapy

Coaching vs Mentoring vs Therapy

Stephen Clements

When you think of coaching - what's the first thing that pops into your head?  Chances are it might be sports related.  Perhaps a football coach - that person who helps a team claim the top prize and achieve great things by telling them how to train, how to implement a specific strategy to capitalise on their strengths and opponents weaknesses - real experts in their sporting field!

But the type of professional coaching I do is very different.  Rather than me being the expert who will tell you want to do, I recognise that you are the expert in yourself.  You already know what to do - you  just might not realise it yet.  My role is to listen, reflect back what I'm seeing, hearing and feeling, and help you create awareness by asking questions.  Armed with that awareness you can then judge, interpret and action what you feel will work best for you and propel you towards your desired outcome.   In this type of coaching partnership, you could think of my role as that of a co-pilot - but you're definately in charge and determining where we're heading.

Mentoring is where you're working with an expert in a given field, or someone who has already achieved what you're trying to achieve.  You want advice and guidance from them, based on their own experiences, so that you can achieve something similar.  Their expertise is valuable.  Good mentors may also use some of the skills and techniques of coaching to help you figure things out for yourself, but unlike coaching, they'll also give advice and share what worked for them.  

So coaching is about asking powerful questions, really listening, and reflecting back to the client to help them create awareness.  So how's that different from therapy?  Whilst there are similarities, there are some funamental differences.   Coaching is predominately future looking.  It's about making a postive change so that you can achieve an outcome that is important and valuable to you.  That's not to say a coach will never expore your past with you, but the majorty of coaching will be about working towards that future outcome.   On the other hand, therapy is very much about exploring your past, and trying to find what from your past is preventing you from moving forward.   In these circumstances coaching isn't appropriate and unless your coach is also a trained therapist, they should be honest with you and help discuss referral options to a trained therapist who can provide the correct support and help.

Finally, coaching is not an ongoing, open-ended engagement.  It's about getting coaching to empower you to work towards your desired outcome for a defined period of time.  In the initial session with a coach you'd agree how much coaching you'll need and agree the duration and frequency of the sessions.  Once the coaching finishes, you'll either have achieved your outcome or you'll be sufficent prepared and armed to move forward by yourself.  That's not to say that you can't re-engage a coach in the future but you should never become dependent upon a coach.