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The Difference Between a Mentor, Counselor, and Life Coach

Updated on September 11, 2017
Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok is an award-winning author who shares his ideas and inspiration to help others make life happier, healthier, and more enjoyable.

Three different types of people practice the method of helping others with important issues they have in their lives. Each one has their own way of handing things.

Life coaches can help people manage just about anything that they need guidance with. They help one focus and gain a better understanding of what’s required for the changes they wish to achieve.

However, other difficulties one might have will require the attention of a more professional guide who has the expertise devoted to that specific problem. I'll discuss the difference between all three of these professions.

Life Coach ~ Counselor ~ Mentor
Life Coach ~ Counselor ~ Mentor | Source

Coach ~ Counselor ~ Mentor

What's The Difference?

Who Can Help Solve Your Problems?

In many ways all three fields overlap. They all can help in a number of different ways. However, in order to get the best value for your time and money, it’s useful to know how each can help you.

I had to do my own research in order to understand what each one does. Here is how I understand the difference:

Life Coach
A life coach offers suggestions, inspires and motivates to create immediate effectiveness. Usually the relationship is informal, leaving room for one to be honest and not hold back.
A counselor provides a process to help one get past personal problems. They are licensed and professionally trained in specialties such as education, careers, health and law.
A mentor is one who is more experienced or more knowledgeable with a particular endeavor, helping to guide one with less knowledge or experience in the endeavor.

How Does Life Coaching Help?

Why would one want to seek the help of a life coach? They usually want to uncover and eliminate destructive behavior and negative thinking patterns.

According to Wikipedia, a life coach aims towards helping people identify and achieve personal goals.{1}

Life Coaches can also help create a personal vision, change attitudes, and motivate in many areas of one’s life, such as:

Areas of one's life where a life coach can help with motivation and lifestyle improvement.

A life coach aims towards helping people identify and achieve personal goals.

How Does a Licensed Counselor Help?

If you have specific decisions to make that are overwhelming with career moves, marriage problems, health issues, a licensed counselor may be the person you want to talk with.

There are counselors who specialize in these fields, as well in social work, education and law. There are also grief and bereavement counselors who are licensed to help with those issues.

You just have to find the right one for the area in which you need help.

What Does a Mentor Provide?

When you want to be shown how to do a particular task that you’re not familiar with, a mentor can lead you along, and steer you in the right direction.

This is usually not something that needs life changing attention, but rather is just related to getting a job done­–be it managing a new skill, creating a business plan, writing a book, and so on.

Supervision with each step is helpful when you’re doing something for the first time. Some people are self-learners and are comfortable doing new things on their own. Others feel more comfortable with the help of a mentor.

Do People Really Want an Objective Answer?

I think that one of the most difficult things to do is to communicate with close family about troubling matters. I often notice that friends come to me for help with issues rather than discussing things with their own brother or sister.

I also realize how difficult it is for a family member to be objective. So immediate family members are probably the worst to go to for guidance and useful inspiration.

At least that's what many life coaches explain in their writing. I partially agree with that, but there are exceptions. Tough love is available from family and close friends. The only problem is that one has to be willing to listen.

Usually people asking for help don't even want an objective viewpoint anyway. I know this because often when I give a friend constructive criticism, it turns out they just want support for how they are messing up their lives.{2}

It’s possible that people are afraid of making changes. It brings up the unknown and that could be scary. Some people would rather avoid the possibility of a life-changing experience.

Why Friends Don't Listen

I happen to be one who tells it like it is. Many of my friends don't like that. They would rather have me sugarcoat it, so to speak. They would rather not hear what troubles them.

Since I have no vested interest, I walk away when someone who is destroying their life tells me that they don’t want constructive guidance. I’ve actually had a couple of friends insist that all they wanted was encouragement without being told how to change their destructive behavior.

I don’t know about you, but I’d welcome it when someone brings to my attention something detrimental that I might be doing. Nevertheless, I guess some people just need to hear it from someone with whom they have no close ties. Okay, I get that.

One can feel free to discuss really dark stuff with a stranger.

How a Stranger Can Be a Better Coach

One of the advantages of going to a life coach is that they are not related. One can feel comfortable with a stranger. They can rest assured that whatever they discuss is not going to leak out to people they know.

They can feel free to bring up the really dark stuff that they really do need help with. In addition, a stranger can be tough and give straight answers, like it or not. I see how that can work.

Reader Survey

From whom would you prefer to get life changing guidance?

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A Coach's Code of Ethics

There actually is an International Coaching Federation.{3} The ICF has a Code of Ethics stating that coaches shall treat people with respect, avoid conflicts of interest, offer complete confidentiality, and not mislead or make false claims.

I think this is something we all should adhere to. It's a wonderful way to behave. We should not judge another person based on our own feelings or beliefs. I try to consider that with all my dealings, with friends, clients and with acquaintances.

© 2015 Glenn Stok


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    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 20 months ago from Long Island, NY

      aesta1 - You have learned to manage your own life challenges. I think that's even better. Good for you!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 20 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      When I was younger, we used to go to a spiritual director and because we fully trust the person, it change my life. These days, I have not really engaged a life coach as I could not find I fully trust. I don't know them well and at this age, I have learned to manage my own challenges. Having said that, your article is great.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Kylyssa - You expressed some very important and meaningful points. Everything you said makes perfect sense and may very-well explain a lot. Your thoughts provide a great addition to the subject. Thank you for your comment.

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 2 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      From what I've seen, average life coaches charge from $100 to $500 per hour. The average person in the US really can't afford a life coach. That's probably why so many people use self-help materials and attend self-help seminars instead. They get more input for a lot less money and get to be seen as taking care of their own problems themselves.

      I wonder if the stigma of seeing a therapist carries over to seeing a life coach, which is likely seen as something very similar to getting mental health care by the average person?

      As to why life coaches don't seem to get much attention online, perhaps it has to do with the socio-economic class that hires them. Don't you think upper middle class and wealthy people would be more likely to hire a life coach recommended by a business contact or friend than to go shopping for one online?

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      B. Leekley - You hit upon an important subject that parents are, or should be, the first in one's life to give them guidance. I also like how you included a spouse in that. I feel that one's spouse is the best coach one can have for the rest of their life. It's the only person who has the most interest in the success and wellbeing of the other.

      What are you talking about in your last paragraph is called positive reinforcement. A good life coach does not criticize or tear you down, as you mentioned. That serves no purpose whatsoever. A coach gives one ideas and opens one's mind to possibilities he or she may not have considered.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 2 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      My main reasons for not hiring a life coach: 1. They cost money, which I don't have to spare after paying for rent, food, minimal insurance, etc.; 2. I don't see what makes one of them any closer to perfect than I am or any better at living than I am; 3. I have a wife.

      What you say about how life coaches help sounds like what parents, grandparents and teachers should be doing for children and what spouses should be doing for each other.

      I find that I am much more likely to change for the better when another person responds with praise or other signs of being pleased by my commendable behaviors, attitudes, and aspirations than when my shortcomings and failures are criticized. Getting torn down is discouraging and depressing, especially when what I have accomplished and done right gets no encouragement.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      MarleneB - The interesting thing is that you can hire a life coach to focus short-term on an issue you wish to resolve. No need to go through your entire life with a coach.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      heidithorne - Thank you for adding that important information. Your comment actually clarifies what a life coach is and you added many more specialties that I left out. The service of a life coach can be a very positive experience in one's life.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 2 years ago from Northern California, USA

      I don't know why people shy away from having a life coach. I like the idea and if I could afford it, I would have a life coach with me throughout my life. Thank you for showing the difference between a life coach, counselor, and mentor.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Glen, what a great article! I am a coach (for business, marketing and writing) and have several friends who are life coaches. I definitely see that people are often hesitant to seek out their help.

      Here's what I think the problem is... and something you've touched on. People don't know what a life coach is or does. And, to be honest, many life coaches have a hard time describing what they do which just compounds the problem.

      I see the issue as a marketing problem for coaches. Sure, they can still say they are life coaches, but they really, REALLY need to clarify what their market is since it can run a wide spectrum of client issues. For example, in my networking, I know coaches who deal with grief, divorce, confidence building, health, image, aging... there's just no end to the specialties this field can cover.

      I have hired coaches for a variety of issues and have always gotten something positive out of the experience. Thank you for clarifying!