Coaching: What it isn’t.

In the last article, we talked about what coaching is. We explored what you can expect from a coaching experience and how it can help you do more of what you want.

However, seeing as coaching is a helping profession like many other helping professions, it is necessary to explain what coaching is not. That is to say; it’s important to elaborate on what not to expect from a coach when you meet one. 

For that purpose, we will compare coaching and other similar helping professions. This will help you understand how they differ and so correctly decide what help you need.

The premise: What’s coaching

What exactly will a coach do for me?

Before beginning the comparisons, it may be a great idea to remind yourself what coaching is.

Coaching[1] is helping clients improve their performance and achieve their goals in specific areas. Coaching is very forward-focused. This means that your coach is more concerned with where you want to go and what you want to do than where you have been and how you got here. 

A client’s past may be used to inform the coach and client on the best next steps, but it is never the session’s focus.

Coaching vs. Therapy

Unprofessional therapist POV: when will this session end

According to the American Psychologist Association [2], a therapist, sometimes called a psychotherapist, is a person who has been trained in and practices one or more types of therapies to treat mental or physical disorders or diseases. The main differences between the two professionals are

  • Therapists focus on diagnosing and treating their patients, while coaches work with their clients to make changes, such as working on goals or changing behaviors.
  • Therapists are more past-focused, while coaches are more future-focused.
  • Therapists work with clients on an ongoing basis, where coaches may have a set number of sessions within which they work with clients.
  • Therapists offer long-term care, while coaches provide short-term care
  • Therapists typically focus on mental health problems and do more in-depth mental health work. Coaches work on supporting clients through life changes like changing careers and building/breaking habits.
  • Therapists are often required by law to complete formal educational programs to begin practicing though these requirements may vary on location. The requirements for coaches are more relaxed, and some coaches do not have formal training.


Sometimes, a client can work with a therapist and a coach. However, some coaches request their clients to consult a therapist and work with them for some time before they can coach them. This is especially true if the coach determines the client requires therapeutic help. For example, suppose a coach suspects that a client has major depression. In that case, the client may need to get a formal diagnosis and get help with the underlying mental health issue before they can implement changes in their life.

Coaching vs. Counselling

Though counseling and therapy are often used interchangeably, the two differ. According to the American Psychological Association [3], counseling is personal help in coping with personal problems. According to a different source [4], counseling is often short-term and focuses on one specific issue. Therapy, on the other hand, can cover a broader range of topics and last longer.

Therapists and counselors are both licensed mental health practitioners. While counselors and therapists are qualified to heal trauma and psychological problems, coaches are not. A coach can recommend a client see a counselor if they feel that their underlying mental health issues may interfere with the coaching process or prevent the client from getting the desired results. 

Coaching vs management

A manager wants to help you but their agenda is for the good of the organization

Management [5] refers to the process of administrating, controlling, and dealing with the happenings of an organization. The role of a manager is to create and maintain a specific business environment. Some managers take on the role of coaches for their colleagues, but the process of management and coaching differ. Some of the differences are;

  • A coach will not do the work for you. Sometimes a manager may take over for you and show you how to do a task. A coach can never take over for you.
  • A manager has a stake in the results you are delivering. A good manager brings results to their organization. A coach has no stake in your performance. While they are focused on your development, your success or failure will not benefit/hurt them directly.

Coaching vs. Consulting

A consultant is an expert in their field and wants to share this expertise with you

Consultants leverage their expertise and experience to help their clients

Consulting involves a person or groups of people with skills, expertise, or experience using their knowledge to advise individuals, groups, or organizations. [6]. One key differentiator between a coach and a consultant is the source of ‘the truth’ [7]. In consulting, the consultant is the source of the truth. They advise you on what to do based on their knowledge, skills, and experiences.

In coaching, the client is the source of their truth, and the coach helps the client find this truth from within themselves. While the coach may sometimes add value by sharing observations and insights, the main focus of the coaching process is to help the client find their own insights.

Coaching vs. training/teaching

A teacher focuses on giving you the information. A coach is focused on helping you find the answers in yourself

A teacher/trainer is an individual with theoretical or practical knowledge and experiences who undertakes the process of imparting this knowledge to students. The main goal of teaching [7] or training is to equip the learners with the knowledge to make their own conclusions and decisions and apply what they learn. This differs from coaching in that the coach’s goal is not to impart knowledge to their client.

As with consulting, a coach may have insights and observations to share. However, sharing these insights and observations is not the goal of the coaching practice. Other differences include;

  • There are no assessments or tests with coaching.
  • In teaching, teachers lead the process. In coaching, the client directs the session.
  • Teaching focuses on learning, while coaching focuses on the development of the client.
  • In coaching, the client sets out the objectives of the process, whereas, in teaching, the teacher sets out the goals.

Coaching vs  mentoring

A mentor undertakes the role of working with and advising a mentee to help the mentee grow in particular areas. For example, a career mentor can help a mentee grow their career. Often, a mentor is in a more advanced position than their mentee and acts as a role model or a sounding board while providing guidance. 

Mentoring, like consulting, is based on giving advice and pointing a client in a specific direction, whereas coaching is not. Some mentors play the role of coaches, but not all mentors are coaches.


Which helping professional do you need?

There are many helping professions. The best way to distinguish between them is to look at what type of help you need, for how long, and how you would like that assistance to be given. You then compare this with what the profession can offer. Hopefully, this article has shed light on the differences between some of the helping professions allowing you to decide which one you need.

If you are looking for a coach to assist you in managing your ADHD or in filling executive function deficits, email me or book a free 30 min consultation using the button below.. Not sure what executive functions are? Check out this article I wrote on it.

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