Differences between a Mentor, Counselor, Coach, and Therapist
I’m biased against therapists, so they only get mentioned in the title and this paragraph. I only wrote that sentence to get your attention. Truth is, the distinction between therapist and all the other lifestyle and mindset helpers is what validates therapy. Therapists are on call for chronic mental illness often in combination with medication or acute situations where a client is unstable–unable to make sustainable choices due to stressors. Once a client is stable, the therapist can give way to other helpers or continue in a different role as another helper type. My bias is that a helper should not use the term therapist lightly. The title should represent advanced training capable of mediating crisis and chronic mental illness with specific therapeutic interventions. EMDR comes to mind.
The Stability Helpers
The difference between a counselor, a mentor, and a coach can be thought of as the different helpers for your life’s puzzle. A counselor helps you pick up the pieces. A mentor provides a frame to house your pieces as a puzzle. A coach helps you fit the pieces together to form a picture of success.
Need for a Counselor. You need a counselor when you have recognized a need for a change in your behavior, but you have little understanding of the origins, patterns, or mental processes that undergird your decision making. In our puzzle analogy, you don’t know what the pieces are or your overwhelmed by the number of pieces scattered about. You may be confused due to a history of trauma or immediate trauma such as the loss of a loved one, change of job, empty nest. The counselor’s job is to inform your choices through specific techniques that balance your anxieties. The outcome is clear-headed, goal-oriented, sustainable choices no matter the stressors.
Need for a Mentor. You need a mentor when you recognize a pattern of development ending in an outcome, but you don’t have a clear knowledge about where and how to start. In our puzzle analogy, you have a clear view of the picture the puzzle will make, but you don’t have a strategy beyond picking out all the corner pieces. A mentor validates you motivation and educates your ability. They may structure projects for you to lead or invite you to participate in ongoing projects. The mentor is careful to manage the pace of your activity so as to ensure that you know the whys of the actions. The outcome is your ability to lead projects and mentor others.
Need for a Coach. You need a coach when you have a solid outline of the systems, inputs, and you own abilities. You may even have the steps outlined. You may have progress and experience, but you have hit a wall of diminishing or stagnant returns. In our puzzle analogy, you’ve lost the motivation to complete the puzzle. A coach provides triggers that stimulate your motivations and reorder your activities so that progress becomes a craving and a routine. The best coaches have specific techniques including schedules, mantras, and mindfulness that influences your mind and body to achieve your goals. The outcome is an internal expectation of progress and an increased capacity to endure to completion.
Most people will benefit from all of the above at some point in your life. I argue that the average person should actively engage rah as a lifestyle routine. The idea that any one person can navigate life without multiple and professionally competent voices is naive. Your help will come with varying titles, but they are nonetheless counselors, mentors, and coaches.
Counseling is much more acute. Mentoring is much more broad-based and shared among many supports. Coaching is much more product focused and time-limited, or at least process-driven. Think of them this way. You will produce many products, supported by many mentors. You may also need professional help to overcome barriers that are more psychological and spiritual. Use these resources in good health.