Coaching, Mentoring, Therapy, and Consulting – What’s the Difference?

More and more organizations are providing coaching to their employees to upskill and reskill them or support their mental health and wellbeing. However, since this is often the first time the employee has worked with a professional coach, they may not know exactly what coaching is and how it differs from other modalities such as mentoring, therapy, and consulting.

While all of these modalities might sound the same and, in some respects they can be similar, they are ultimately very different, and most require specialized training. To support you in setting up your employees for success with their coach, we are breaking down the differences.


Let’s begin with a coach. What is a coach? A coach is a person who supports a “coachee” (the person receiving the coaching) to make a change, learn something new, or achieve goals.

We spoke with coach Kara Ryska to talk about some of the differences from a coach’s point of view. Ryska is an International Coaching Federation (ICF)-accredited coach and host of her own podcast, “The Special Needs Mom.”

Coaching, Mentoring, Therapy, Consulting“I start every new coaching engagement off with laying this foundation because there is so much confusion around it,” Ryska said. When she asks a coachee what they think a coach is, their reply, often, is, “‘Someone who’s going to give me advice; someone who’s going to look at my situation and tell me what to do’.”

It’s at this point that Ryska explains it’s her role as a coach is to “come alongside you as a partner.” She will look at where the coachee is now, and where they want to be. Together, the coach and the coachee will identify what the gaps or obstacles are, and then co-create a plan to obtain the future goal and how to get there.

The coach and the coachee will identify what the gaps or obstacles are, and then co-create a plan to obtain the future goal and how to get there.

“My clients say they love coaching because they get to feel like they can take action and actually do something with the information.” 


Therapy, she said, is different in several ways. Most importantly, a therapist has to be licensed. Also, it focuses more on where someone is now in relation to the past.

Coaching and Mentoring“Certainly, in therapy, depending on the client’s desires and needs, and depending on the therapist’s professional training and background, (the therapist) is less inclined to be looking ahead,” Ryska said. “We don’t leave a therapy session with actionable items to take on. It’s usually the desired result of the client to heal something from the past, whatever that might be. It’s the goal of therapy to uncover that and heal it so that the client can then move on.”

Ryska added that sometimes coaching can also have a healing effect, even though that’s not the intent of coaching, in design or training. Often, she said, it’s very healing to become aware of something, put it into action, and create something new.

The desired result of therapy is usually for the client to heal something from the past.

“In coaching, we will sometimes take glances back as it relates to how you’ve developed or to see if there’s a pattern. It’s valuable to look back for those reasons.”


The dictionary describes a mentor as “an experienced and trusted advisor.” Mentoring assumes that the person who is mentoring has already achieved what the mentee is setting out to achieve.

Coaching Session“I see a mentor as someone who has already done what you want to do, and is willing to come alongside you to teach you, to maybe give some informal coaching, to help you see the possibilities for yourself,” Ryska said. “Somebody who believes in you, and comes along to help you.”

Mentoring can come from someone you don’t even know, she said. For example, “I listen to a podcast by someone I happen to know who has a very large audience. I consider her one of my business mentors. Does she consider me one of her mentees? Yes, along with a million other people (who listen). So you don’t have to have a personal, one-on-one relationship to have a mentoring relationship.”

A mentor is someone who has already done what you want to do and is willing to come alongside you to teach you.

In business settings, it’s common to have assigned mentors and a formal process around mentoring, such as raising up women in business, or for purposes of inclusion. Or, mentorship could come from an outside-of-industry situation, like a business association.


A consultant is a person who provides professional or expert advice in a particular field of science or business to either an organization or an individual. Their expertise is what people are seeking.

A consultant provides professional or expert advice.

“Consultants really have that expertise on what works,” according to Ryska. “They have that (ability) to tell you what works, to come in and tell you directly what you need to do differently than what you’re doing now. You’re paying them for that expertise.”


While all of these modalities can be beneficial to the person receiving them, coaching and therapy are the two in which the lines can sometimes feel blurred to a degree. Both therapists and coaches create an environment in which walls can be broken down within a safe space, where clients and coachees can open up, and not worry about repercussions.

“This happens all the time in coaching,” Ryska said. “People often disclose information that they wouldn’t otherwise share. It’s intentionally confidential, even though there are different regulations between therapy and coaching. With the ICF, we have a code of conduct. We work with an understanding of confidentiality. However, legally, we are not held to the same standards of a therapist.”

While there are many other differences, not only including credentials, education, insurance issues, and other variations, all of these modalities can be beneficial to the person receiving them. All offer positive results in the pursuit of a happier, more fulfilling life.

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