Are you Coaching Counselling or Consulting?

coaching counselling consulting coach counsellor consultant conversation

In the dynamic world of personal and professional development, it’s crucial to understand the distinct roles of various guiding professionals. Whether you’re a CliftonStrengths® coach or exploring the coaching landscape, knowing the differences between a coach, counsellor, consultant, mentor or teacher can help you navigate your growth journey effectively. During a conversation, ask yourself, am I coaching, counselling or consulting? Let’s delve into these roles with examples to clarify their unique contributions.

What does a Coach do?

A coach partners with clients to help them achieve their personal and professional goals. The focus is on the present and future, using powerful questions to unlock potential and foster self-discovery. For instance, a CliftonStrengths® coach works with an individual to identify their top strengths and create a personalized action plan to enhance their performance.

How can a Counsellor help?

A counsellor provides support for emotional and psychological issues, often delving into past experiences to understand current behavior and emotions. The aim is to promote mental health and well-being. For example, someone struggling with anxiety might see a counsellor to explore the root causes of their feelings and develop coping strategies.

What is a Consultant?

A consultant offers expert advice and solutions based on specialized knowledge in a particular field. They analyze problems and provide actionable recommendations. For example, a business consultant might assess a company’s operations and suggest strategies to improve efficiency and profitability.

What is the difference between Coaching and Counselling?

While both focused on personal development, Coaching and counselling serve different purposes and use different approaches.

Coaching is future-oriented and goal-focused. Coaches help clients set and achieve specific goals, identify strengths, and develop action plans for improvement. The emphasis is on self-discovery and empowerment. For example, a CliftonStrengths® coach might work with individuals to leverage their strengths for career advancement.

Counselling, on the other hand, is often past and present-focused, dealing with emotional and psychological issues. Counsellors help clients explore their feelings, resolve past trauma, and improve mental health. For instance, someone dealing with anxiety might see a counsellor to understand the root causes of their anxiety and develop coping strategies.

What is the difference between Coaching and Consulting

While both coaching and consulting involve providing guidance, they differ significantly in their methods and goals.

Coaching is about facilitating the client’s own problem-solving and growth through powerful questions and active listening. Coaches do not provide direct solutions but rather help clients uncover their own answers. For example, a CliftonStrengths® coach might help a client improve time management by exploring what strategies align with their strengths and preferences.

Consulting involves providing expert advice and solutions to specific problems. Consultants analyze situations and offer recommendations based on their expertise. For instance, a business consultant might evaluate a company’s operations and suggest strategies to improve efficiency and profitability, often providing a detailed plan for implementation.

Sarah Crittenden

When I coach the team Manager they sometimes seek consultancy for team related issues, asking for recommendations based on my expertise. When this happens I check in with them to clarify the role they are wanting me to have for that part of the conversation, if they identify consultancy, I clearly state when I temporarily switch role to “Consultant” and again when I switch back to Coach.

Sarah Crittenden

What about Mentors and Teachers?

Adding two extra roles to the mix, we can appreciate more of the differences.

What is a Mentor?

A mentor shares their knowledge, skills, and experiences to guide someone less experienced. The relationship is often long-term, focusing on personal and professional growth. For instance, a senior executive mentoring a young professional, offering insights on career progression and navigating corporate challenges.

What does a Teacher do?

A teacher imparts knowledge and skills through structured education. The focus is on delivering information and assessing understanding. For example, a teacher in a classroom setting teaches students mathematical concepts and evaluates their comprehension through tests and assignments.

Understanding the differences between a Coach, Counsellor, Consultant, Mentor, and Teacher

Which Role Do You Need?

When approaching a conversation, it’s essential to ask yourself What type of role am I using for this conversation? to increase your awareness and identify your role. Followed by Which role is needed for this situation? so you can be intentional about the role you adopt. When the purpose is a coaching conversation, it is easy to slip into a counselling or consulting role.

For example, here are different ways each role might approach the same scenario.

Scenario – An employee is struggling with time management and meeting deadlines.

As a coach, you might ask open-ended questions to help the employee identify their strengths and find their own solutions. For example, you could say, “What strengths do you think you can leverage to improve your time management? What strategies have you considered so far?”

As a counsellor, you would explore underlying emotional or psychological issues that might be affecting their time management. You might ask, “How do you feel when you’re approaching a deadline? Are there any past experiences that make these situations particularly challenging for you?”

As a consultant, your focus would be on providing specific advice and tools to enhance their time management skills. You could suggest, “Based on my analysis, here are some time management techniques and tools that could help you prioritize tasks and meet deadlines more effectively.”

As a mentor, you would share personal experiences and offer guidance based on your own career. You might say, “When I faced similar challenges early in my career, I found that setting clear priorities and breaking tasks into smaller steps was very helpful. Here’s how I did it…”

As a teacher, you would deliver structured lessons on time management principles and techniques. You could explain, “Today, we’ll go through a step-by-step approach to effective time management, including setting SMART goals and using time-blocking methods.”

Lorranie Govender

Leading with my top CliftonStrengths® of Belief®, Connectedness® and Relator® was undoubtedly a challenge to focus on the actual mandate (to coach or consult or council) – as agreed with the client. To flow into consulting or counselling, from coaching, is easy to do, however, I had to intentionally train myself to catch the inflection moment and verbalise and check-in with the client, before proceeding.

Lorraine Govender

Key Differences between a Coach, Counsellor, Consultant, Mentor, and Teacher

What is the focus of each role?

  • The focus of coaching is on achieving future goals and self-improvement. Coaches work with clients to identify strengths and create actionable plans to reach desired outcomes.
  • Counselling focuses on emotional health and understanding past experiences to address current issues. Counsellors help clients process emotions and develop healthier coping mechanisms.
  • Consulting is centered around problem-solving and providing expert advice. Consultants analyze specific issues and offer strategic solutions to improve performance.
  • Mentoring emphasizes personal and career development through shared experiences. Mentors guide mentees by sharing their own knowledge and insights.
  • Teaching focuses on structured learning and knowledge transfer. Teachers impart specific information and assess students’ understanding through various evaluative methods.

How does each role approach a conversation?

  • Coaches empower clients to find their own solutions by asking insightful questions and fostering self-reflection.
  • Counsellors provide therapeutic and supportive environments, helping clients explore their emotions and resolve psychological issues.
  • Consultants take an analytical and directive approach, offering concrete recommendations based on their expertise.
  • Mentors take a supportive and advisory role, guiding mentees through their experiences and offering wisdom gained from their own careers.
  • Teachers use instructional and evaluative methods, delivering structured lessons and assessing comprehension through tests and assignments.


Understanding these distinct roles helps clarify what kind of support you or your clients might need at different stages of personal and professional development. Whether it’s the targeted guidance of a coach, the emotional support of a counsellor, the strategic advice of a consultant, the wisdom of a mentor, or the structured education of a teacher, each role plays a vital part in fostering growth and achieving success. So to provide the most appropriate form of guidance, ask yourself what role am I using and which role is needed for this situation. Am I coaching, counselling or consulting?

Further Reading

Deepen your effectiveness with Coaching Supervision
Strengthening the Coaching Relationship by Cultivating Trust
How do I become a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach?

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