Life Coach, Mentor or Psychotherapist?

November 5, 2013 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Life Coaching Articles


Life Coach, Mentor or Psychotherapist – what are the differences?

With the continual re-invention of roles and titles in the Personal Development / Advice and Guidance field, I wonder how many people are clear as to the difference between a Life Coach, Mentor, Advisor, Counsellor or Psychotherapist?

Many years ago I embarked on a course of training which on completion meant I would gain a recognised qualification in Training & Development. I successfully completed my course, gained my qualification which entitled me to membership of CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personal Development) and now have been working in Training and Development for over 10 years.

I began my career in Personal Development as a Job Search Tutor in the Government Funded Sector. Nowadays most Training Providers have renamed this position to Employment Advisor. The role involved (and still does) delivering ‘soft skills’ training sessions specifically geared towards job searching and assisting clients in their attempts to find employment.

My experience in this role has equipped me with excellent CV writing skills, knowledge of completing well presented Application Forms and extensive experience of demonstrating Interview Techniques and running mock interviews.

One of the most valuable facets of the Employment Advisor role is the requirement to conduct regular 1-2-1 interviews and reviews to measure the clients progress on their programme. If approached professionally; this gives the Advisor the opportunity to document, revise and amend any goals training requirements or personal issues that the client may have.

When asked recently by a client, “So what exactly is a career coach, what makes them different from an employment advisor or mentor? it struck a chord, so I decided to get answers for myself.

What Is A Life Coach?

My first search was to the widely used internet reference tool Wikipedia which stated……

Life coaching is a future-focused practice with the aim of helping clients determine and achieve personal goals. Life coaches select from among several methods to help clients set and reach goals. Coaches are not therapists nor consultants; psychological intervention and business analysis are outside the scope of their tasking, Life coaching has its roots in executive coaching, which itself drew on techniques developed in management consulting and leadership training.

I then Googled the term and found this description from the website.

What is a Life Coach?

A life coach becomes your partner in making sure you keep your plans on track to reach your goals. A life coach is a person who keeps you focused and moving toward what you want in life.
Your life coach will help you set your goals and create a plan of achievement. He will then cheer you on to victory as you accomplish each goal or ask you the right questions to help you see what’s blocking your progress.

I should have stopped whilst I was ahead, but I still wanted to answer the original question if it ever arose in the future so I searched on.

What Is A Mentor?

Having studied at a good school, I apologise to my ex-teachers who taught me classics for not remembering the origin of the term however the internet has the ability to aid ones memory.

The original Mentor is a character in Homers epic poem The Odyssey. When Odysseus, King of Ithaca went to fight in the Trojan War, he entrusted the care of his kingdom to Mentor.

Mentor served as the teacher and overseer of Odysseuss son, Telemachus.

The Oxford dictionary description is:



an experienced and trusted adviser:
an experienced person in a company or educational institution who trains and counsels new employees or students

[with object]

advise or train (someone, especially a younger colleague).

So a mentor is a guide and trusted adviser who has the knowledge and similar experience to the mentee and can understand, empathise, offer solutions and encouragement. A mentor is usually used in a work or learning institute to assist less experienced or new employees/students.

Having been shadowed by numerous trainees and advised many junior colleagues over the years, I am quite confident that I have found another title I can add to my expanding list.

Now for my final search:

What Is A Psychotherapist?

I was sure that there was no way I could claim to be a psychotherapist, but I am going to find out exactly what they are.

According to the NHS website (I am British so I chose an institution I am familiar with) under the careers description I found:

A psychotherapist may be a psychiatrist, social worker, psychologist, mental health nurse or other mental health professional who has had further specialist training in psychotherapy. Increasingly there are a number of psychotherapists who do not have backgrounds in these fields but who have undertaken in depth training in this area.

Even though the last sentence gave me some slight hope, I had to admit that calling myself a psychotherapist would be somewhat exceeding my limitations. I have no training in emotional therapies, never use the term modality in public and prefer to leave mental issues to professionals who have had thorough in-depth training.

The fact is I could go on ad infinitum researching all the titles, job descriptions and jargon. If I do, then maybe I shall write more in-depth articles in the knowledge that I am confident in the subject matter.

In the meantime I will content myself by knowing that I possess the necessary experience, qualifications and am fully justified to consider and call myself a bona fide, Life Coach, Mentor and Advisor. And when future clients ask me the difference between the roles I shall smile wryly.

Further useful personal development and life coaching articles can also be found on

Harry James is the founder of the NLP Life Coach Directory website. He has over 10 years experience of designing and delivering Personal Development courses, offering career advice and guidance, team building and helping people into work. The NLP Life Coach Directory lists NLP Practitioners and Life Coaches from all over the world. We suggest you find a coach in your area, take a look at their site if they have one, then contact them and get a feel of them for yourself. After all you are the one who knows what you are looking for in your coach. Many life coaches offer a free initial consultation specifically for this purpose. We recommend that you ask for testimonials, past successes and their terms and conditions. A good coach will make you feel comfortable and will only work with you if they are confident they can deliver the results you expect.

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