The Difference Between a Coach, Mentor, and Therapist (and When You Need Them)

The Difference Between a Coach, Mentor, and Therapist (and When You Need Them)
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Maybe you’ve hit a career rut, or you need one-on-one guidance to overcome a personal struggle — whatever it is, self-help books aren’t cutting it. Asking for help can be the key to getting ahead. But who exactly should you turn to? If you’ve started your search for guidance, you’ve probably seen three different titles pop up: life coach, mentor, and therapist. While these roles all have some overlap, they also have key differences in how they meet your needs.

There are different cases for coaches, mentors, and therapists depending on what you’re trying to get out of them. How do you know which one will be the right fit for you? Here’s what to know about choosing between a coach, mentor, and therapist.

Coaches: For specific, short-term outcomes

Professional coaching is essentially one-on-one consultation to help you achieve your goals, whatever those may be. While this may sound like your understanding of a mentor, there are some important distinctions.

Coaching is often short-term, well-structured, and designed to achieve specific, tangible outcomes. Compared to both mentors and therapists, a coach is the least personal relationship option. This means there are fewer strings attached, and you don’t need to stress about finding the “perfect fit” for a years-long investment.

Mentors: For long-term growth

Compared to goal-oriented coaching sessions, mentorship is all about a mutually beneficial relationship in which the mentor is invested in your growth as an individual. A mentor should be able to provide insight and advice that’s specific to the mentee’s interests.

Ideally, a mentorship comes about organically. You meet someone who you’d like to be like one day, and they likewise take an interest in helping you follow in their footsteps (or carve your own path). Whereas a coach might promise to give you the tools to achieve specific skills and checkpoints, a mentor is a more personal relationship designed to help you achieve long-term growth.

Therapist: For healing from your past

This seems obvious but needs to be said: A therapist is a licensed health professional. Coaches and mentors are not.

Coaches and mentors are focused on your future goals and are not necessarily qualified to dive into your past trauma. Therapists are healthcare professionals who can diagnose conditions that might be at the root of whatever you feel is holding you back. There are many different kinds of therapy available to you. Here’s our guide to selecting the right therapist for you.

The takeaway

Reflect on your goals to figure out which sort of guidance is right for you. For short-term, performance-based help, look into coaching. For a more personal investment in your long-term growth, seek out a mentorship. And to address aspects of your mental health that could be holding you back, therapy might be the move for you.

In the booming world of self-improvement, there’s sure to be some snake oil sellers out there, so always do your research before you invest in a potential partnership.

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