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Mentoring vs Coaching vs Therapy vs Counselling. What are the differences?

business clarity counselling executive coaching founders high performance coaching leadership coaching leadership skills personal development planning professional development therapy Oct 20, 2022

As a leader, it's common to worry about whether you're really cut-out for the increasing responsibility you're juggling, let alone whether you're leaving the kind of impact you'll feel proud of down the track. Yet, it's uncommon to actually get the support needed to grow and deliver in the new conditions that come with promotion, challenge, and change.

Typically, we forge on with what we know and hope that with more time, we'll get more balanced, influential, and confident about the decisions we're making and the legacy we’re leaving. I know, because I've done the same and stuffed up my health (which took more than 10 years to regain). I hear similar struggles from the c-suite executives, senior leaders, and business-builders I work with. Yet, as we "crack on", the cracks can really start to show, and the sleep, healthy habits, and relationships that we stole time from are taking their toll.

At this point, the Googling begins! But, what's "wrong"? Is this "personal" or "professional"? Therapy or counselling? Is it time to get a proper mentor or two, or try some executive coaching you've heard about?

This article compares mentorship, coaching, therapy, and counselling - providing a high-level overview in one place - together with some advantages and disadvantages for your consideration.

This article is not intended to be a thorough deep-dive into each profession, otherwise we’d be here all month, given the nuances and developments within each field. The goal of this article is to save you time by helping you decide which type of professional will give you the edge you need right now, or at least give you a better starting point for your research, so that you can experience greater impact, meaning, and excitement in your work and life.



The intention: of having a mentor is to gain insights, experiences, and guidance from another professional who typically who has more experience than you. Mentors can be great sounding boards and are able to give career and personal development advice.

The experience: is what you make it. The mentor-mentee relationship is informal, so there is no specific structure for meeting up or for what you'll talk about, unless you both agree to regular meeting times and an agenda. Generally, the onus is on the mentee to be prepared with their goals and questions, and to book time with their mentor in advance.

The results: vary greatly and really depend on your goals, the energy and effort that you both put in, and how you choose to use your mentors' insights.

The advantages:

  • They're low cost. Typically, you only pay in time and buying the lunch or beverages of choice.
  • If you and your mentor have a great vibe, they will usually be happy to connect you to people in their network who also might be able to help you, which is highly valuable… what you know is a given - who you know opens doors.
  • You can gain greater understanding of your industry, what to expect, and how to handle challenging situations from someone who has already been-there-and-done-that.
  • Mentors can become good friends!

The disadvantages:

  • It's not their job to see you, so you're not a priority. Be ready for meetings to get cancelled at the last minute because of their demanding careers and lives.
  • Because you're not paying them to help you, it's easy to be hesitant to ask for their time in case you're asking for too much.
  • If you really admire your mentor, you can become overly self-conscious and seek to impress, which limits the learning potential.
  • Your conversations aren't necessarily confidential.
  • It takes time to build trust in a mentor-mentee relationship.


Coaches: high performance coaching, executive coaching, and leadership coaching, life coaching

The intention: the intention of seeing a coach is to unlock your potential (skills and competencies) and maximise your performance personally and/or professionally.

The experience: once they've helped you assess your strengths and weaknesses, a coach typically recommends a course or programme that they will coach you through. Coaching can be delivered 1:1 or in groups/teams, depending on whether you want a private or shared experience.

High performance coaching, executive coaching, leadership coaching, and life coaching are similar in many ways and designed to drive progress and positive results in your work, relationships, and life, by focusing on what you can own, improve, and bring to the table.

A coaches skill comes from their ability to ask questions that give you the clarity, energy, productivity, confidence, and influence you need to experience progress in your work, health, and relationships - although some coaches specialise in specific areas only. Good coaching sessions leave you feeling mentally more clear and positively charged-up, connected to what's important, and re-aligned with your mission.

The results: your results will depend on the knowledge and skill of your coach, the course or programme delivered , and your level of openness, commitment to apply what you've learned, and sheer desire to excel in your work and life. At the end of the day, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable in order to level-up.

The advantages:

  • Many coaches will have worked in your industry or role before becoming or certifying as a coach, so they have an emotional and intellectual understanding of what you're experiencing.
  • A coach is only as successful as their referrals and testimonials, so they are highly invested to seeing you achieve the progress you want.
  • Coaches can help you gain clarity about yourself and your goals, hold you accountable to your priorities, and keep you on track.
  • Your employer may cover some coaching sessions.

The disadvantages:

  • Not all coaches and programmes are created equal. The coaching landscape isn’t closely regulated so you will have to check testimonials and ensure there's a money-back guarantee.
  • Some coaches specialise in certain areas of personal and professional development (not necessarily both), so you will have to do your research to figure out who suits you best.
  • If coaching is paid by your employer, 1:1 conversations might not be confidential. Be sure to check this.
  • Coaching is present and future oriented, so a good coach won't let you talk about your past or your problems for very long!



The intention: of seeing a psychotherapist is the treatment of psychiatric illness. Psychotherapists tackle problems such as behavioural issues, anxiety and depression, or more complex or severe issues, such as psychosis or a personality disorder diagnosis.

The experience: psychotherapists usually use talk therapy to treat people. Your therapist may go through specific exercises with you, or you might have a more general discussion about how you're feeling. They may ask you questions about your current and past relationships, as well as your childhood and past experiences. Sometimes talk therapy is used in combination with medications or lifestyle changes. You may also experience cognitive behavioural therapy, psychoanalytic therapy, or rational emotive behaviour therapy, depending on which treatment the therapist believes and specialises in. People see psychotherapists for a range of issues, including anxiety disorders, mood disorders, addictions, eating disorders, personality disorders, recovering from abuse, living with major life changes, and resolving relationship problems.

The results: vary and depend on why you went to see the psychotherapist, how complex the issues are, and the treatment(s) used.

The advantages: 

  • You're in the hands of fully-qualified doctors who have completed psychiatry and then undertaken a three or four-year specialist training in psychotherapy.
  • Psychotherapy is science-backed and medication can be prescribed.
  • You can move past any severe illness that's holding you back from progress and positive change.
  • Your health insurance or employer may cover some sessions.

The disadvantages: 

  • Not all psychotherapists agree on practising from the same school of thought, so your experience can vary greatly between individual therapists.
  • Treatments can be costly.
  • You can become reliant on medications.
  • Psychotherapists are highly specialised in their field, so they may never have had another professional job, worked in your industry, understand business, or worked in a leadership role before.



The intention: of seeing a counsellor or practising psychologist is to assess, diagnose, and treat the psychological problems and the behavioural dysfunctions resulting from, or related to, physical and mental health.

The experience: counsellors or clinical psychologists can specialise in a number of areas, such as mental health, educational psychology, and occupational psychology. In healthcare, psychologists specialise in clinical, counselling, forensic, or health psychology. Psychologists are not usually medically qualified and only a small proportion of people studying psychology degrees will go on to work with patients. You can join a group for a shared experience or see a psychologist 1:1.

The result: you can gain greater understanding about why you act the way you do. A counsellor or practising psychologist can help you improve your decision making, stress management, and behavioural choices based on understanding past behaviour. You can gain greater self-acceptance and self-esteem, and better manage your emotions.

The advantages:

  • You will have someone who asks you questions and really listens to you. Counselling gives you the time and safe, private space to work through your problems.
  • You can get guidance for how to move past emotional upsets or difficult situations. It will feel nice to have someone care about what you're going through.
  • Your health insurance or employer may cover some sessions.

The disadvantages:

  • By focusing on why past experiences limit present abilities, you may end up "coping" instead of actually gaining progress or momentum in your career, team, or business.
  • Counsellors may never have had another professional job, worked in your industry, understand business, or worked in a leadership role before.
  • It's emotionally demanding.



You don't have to strive alone. In fact, the greatest leaders and most successful businesses have support professionals in place, that upon closer inspection, would  seem like an unfair advantage!

The knowledge and experience that got us to our current positions won't necessarily be enough to create and maintain success in new (and changing) conditions. Depending on what you need at this point in time, leveraging the insights and tools of a mentor, coach, therapist, or counsellor can greatly improve your impact, sense of self, and overall success personally and professionally.

So, who will you choose to support you on your leadership journey today?


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