Life Coach, Mentor, Therapist: Life Advice Comes in Many Forms

March 21, 2019

Woman Speaking With Therapist
Christine Yu

We can all use a cheerleader in our corner at times, someone who can give you a nudge towards achieving your goals, help gain perspective when you hit a rough spot and keep you accountable throughout it all. And when it comes to life advice and professional mentorship, help comes in many forms. But what's the difference between a life coach, career counselor, mentor or therapist?

While these trusted advisers play a similar role, each one offers a unique skill set to address specific issues. Curious about which might be the right fit for you? Here's what you need to know.

Life Coach: Your Life Cheerleader

When it comes to life advice, there seems to be a coach for everything: athletic coach, financial coach, relationship coach, career coach, etc. Recently, life coaches have become more popular. "Part consultant, part motivational speaker, part therapist and part rent-a-friend, coaches work with managers, entrepreneurs and just regular folks, helping them to define and achieve their goals — career, personal, or most often, both," as described in a Newsweek article.

If there's a gap between where you are in your life and where you want to be, hiring a coach may help get you out of a rut. They work with you to understand what issues may be standing in your way and create a strategy to overcome those obstacles by asking questions and guiding you, not telling you what to do. Just like you may work out smarter and harder with a personal trainer at a gym, a life coach can hold you accountable so you actually take concrete steps toward starting a business or changing careers that you've only dreamt about in the past.

But life coaches aren't mental health professionals, and they may not have specific career expertise in your field. They're a diverse group of individuals and have different degrees of training. There isn't a licensing body or governing board, so qualifications do vary. Be sure to do your research before hiring a coach.

Career Counselor: Your Professional Guide

If you're not sure where your career path should lead, a career counselor may help. While you may be most familiar with the on-campus career counselors at colleges, they can help you at any stage of your work life, whether you're choosing, changing or leaving a job.

Career counselors help with more than just deciding on what job you want. Using a variety of techniques and assessments, they can help you look at your interests and work experience to understand your skills, strengths, values and goals within a work context to determine potential career options. They can point you to specific resources and map out ideas for finding the right job.

Mentor: Your Work Role Model

Traditionally, a mentor is assigned to a new hire, often at big businesses. Usually, they're someone who's more experienced and senior within the company. They serve as advisers, showing new hires the ropes around the office to helping to navigate confusing HR policies.

But mentors can take on a bigger roles too, and a professional mentorship can exist outside of a specific company. They can provide an outside perspective and share their own experience in an effort to help their mentee grapple with a current challenge. They can also serve as a confidant and open doors to jobs and career opportunities.

Therapist: Your Mental Health

A therapist is a mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychotherapist. While they aren't focused specifically on business or career guidance, they can be helpful when you are trying to uncover the reasons why certain obstacles stand in your way.

Therapists can help you develop positive thinking, cognitive and emotional coping skills, and help you manage stress both at work and in your personal life. They also treat mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and addiction. Therapists are licensed professionals such as a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) and licensed professional counselor (LPC).

If you find yourself stuck in a rut and not achieving your goals, a coach, mentor or therapist could be the adviser you need to help you progress. Think about your goals and what you want to achieve during your sessions as well as how much you're willing to pay. (Each of the advisers has different price points.) And remember, no matter who you choose, you must be an active participant during your sessions to get the most out of the counseling.

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