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Coach, Mentor or Counselor – how are they different and which do I need?

April 23rd, 2010 / By: Lauran

This is one of those questions that can truly change a clients outcome. The three are professionals and can have similar impacts on the person they are working with however the training is different, the educational level can vary and the issues in which they work can also vary.  So I truly understand the confusion and today hope to help clarify the three. 


If you refer to your clients as patients … you’re a counselor.  On the flip side if you the client see themselves as needing therapy, then they need to see a counselor.  

Counselor tend to have additional training in a field of expertise for two or more years and hold an advanced degree (Masters Degree or higher) and log hundreds of supervised contact hours while attaining their degree .  Many states require state certification where they practice.  They also tend to utilize past actions, issues or behaviors to reflect upon your current behavior.  Their focus is clinically based and can fall under: depression, anxiety, sever life changes and other diagnosis.  

A counselor tends to meet their clients face to face in an office.

You need a counselor if:

  • You are dealing with depression or anxiety
  • Are in a crisis situation
  • Are having serious personal problems
  • Resolving marital issues (marriage counselor)

Fees: vary and usually can be covered by health plans.


Coaching is a relatively new field and tends to be more action based rather than diagnosis based.  They are more like a thinking partner and create a synergistic or co-creative relationship with their clients.  They too also specialize however the training is more life based training. A client can find coaches who are relationship, life, transition and career focused.  Those who specialize in leadership, executive and business typically come from a strong  business/leadership background as well as an educational background in that topic.  The degree level can also vary as leadership and executive coaches typically are Master’s level or higher and those in life coaching can fall anywhere. 

The International Coaching Federation is a governing body that requires is members to adhere to high ethical and educational standards, Schooling/certification programs are found through out and typically should be accredited through the ICF or National Coaching Association, however certification is not a requirement. 

Coaching typically takes place on the phone either weekly, bi weekly or monthly.

A Coach is ideal if:

  • You are looking to set goals and be held accountable to them
  • Are in career transition (career coach)
  • Have a hard time staying motivated and focused on task
  • Looking to learn effective ways to enhance your current position
  • Making changes in your life

Fees: can vary are based on weekly coaching sessions ranging from $250.00/month or higher.


If you are looking for career advice, new to a field or are looking for the hand to guild you – then you are looking for a mentor.   Mentoring is co-creative relationship that can jump start your career and help you succeed faster. This relationship is more like a partnership. Your mentor coach is focused on getting you the knowledge you need to succeed NOW. Anyone who has enjoyed great success in their life typically had a mentor of some kind.  You can find mentors either in the place you work or on the outside however, a note on mentor coaches – if you are in finances hire a mentor who also is in finance, another words there are individuals who are excelling in their own career and look to help you get ahead. 

Mentoring can take place on the phone or face to face.

You would benefit with a Mentor Coach if:

  • You are looking for a career role model
  • Need an advocate in your corner to help you further your career
  • Are new in an industry and are looking to move ahead faster than your peers
  • Need a helping hand to guild you along your path to success

Fees: can vary based on weekly or biweekly mentoring sessions ranging from $250.00/ month or higher pending on the level of the mentor.

Regardless of which of the three you work with, the relationship is key.  It should be open and honest and free of presumed biases.  I implore you to select the right fit from the beginning and ask as many questions as you need until you get the fit you need to achieve your desired outcome. 

It is also important when looking at coaches and mentors they are trained and certified even if not required as this show a commitment to ongoing education.

Best Wishes,

Lauran Star

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