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When to Choose a Consultant, Mentor, Coach or Therapist

Lisa Guillot

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You wouldn’t hire an electrician to fix a leaky pipe, so why hire the wrong professional to help solve your career issues?

You long for something bigger in your career or business. You know you want to make an impact and create memorable work, but you can’t seem to take the first step toward that future. Maybe you fell into your current job and can’t get out of the daily grind. Or maybe you know what type of role in which you want to be and are ready to build your career with purpose and want a sounding board to support you.

You may know that you’re ready for professional career support, but from whom? I’ve worked with coaches, consultants, advisers and therapists, and—as a professional coach myself—I find it extremely helpful to distinguish between these services.

As a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF), I’m ethically required to share the difference between coaching, consulting and therapy. I like to think of it in visual terms: Therapy, or counseling, is like the foundation of your home. We all have a past, and sometimes past emotional issues are still an issue in how we function today. Consultants are like the windows and walls of your home. If you wanted to replace your windows, you would call an expert to recommend the best windows for your home. Coaching is a home renovation blueprint; it creates a future vision and an action plan to get there. A mentor is like an all-knowing friend who has recently—and successfully—bought a home and is full of advice and connections.

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Knowing what answers or advice you need can help you determine which type of career professional can help.

When to Hire a…

Coach

According to the ICF, “Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

As a professional ontological coach, I honor my resourceful and creative clients as the experts of their own lives. I’m trained to listen and reflect at a deep level, always asking more of them than they ask of themselves. Ontology is the study of who you are being, versus what you are doing. A facilitative coach will tell you what to do, an ontological coach will support, challenge and advocate for you to reach your highest future vision.

A coach is not a cheerleader. Coaches partner with you to win the game of your life, not to cheer you on from the sidelines. They are paid to guide clients to create authentic leadership, inspire and motivate teams, reveal true desires and build a life by design. A coach works with a client to create future experience in their career, business or any area of life.

Why Would You Hire a Coach?

If you are looking for a transformative approach to your life and career through deep mindset shifts and decision-making.

Consultant or Adviser

I come from a brand strategy background and often consult my clients on personal and business branding. I clarify when I’m wearing my consultant hat because consultants and advisers are paid for industry experience, expert guidance and execution, whereas coaches do not need to be the expert of an industry. A consultant is a professional who provides expert advice. They have proven methods and strategies to help you reach your personal and professional goals.

An adviser is similar; I work with business adviser Patrick Dichter from Cultivate Advisors, who brings his expertise and industry know-how to each conversation. Dichter defines a coach as “someone who helps you by asking the right questions and working on the personal challenges. A consultant gives you answers or completes a defined project, and an adviser sits somewhere in between—wearing the coaching hat, swinging to consultant at times and solving business challenges together.”

Why Would You Hire a Consultant or Adviser?

You have a goal, but you need the strategy and structure to help you achieve it.

Therapist or Counselor

Coaching and consulting are not therapeutic in nature. If sessions with my clients turn toward mental health issues, such as an event or trauma from the past that is blocking them from moving forward in their career or life, I recommend they seek a therapist or mental health professional. “Behavioral health counseling or therapy is focused on understanding the impact of mental health on an individual’s life and helping them heal,” according to therapist Suzanne Muirheid. “Counselors work with clients to increase self-awareness and insight, often providing reflection and making connections in one’s self history and current functioning. They then help clients develop coping skills and execute plans to reach their goals of overall wellness.”

She says there is no limit to what counseling can address, including issues that are long-term and deep-seeded to relatively new, but problematic to daily life or relationships.

Why Would You Hire a Therapist?

“People generally seek therapy because they are feeling blocked, experiencing maladaptive emotional and behavioral health symptoms and are otherwise not functioning optimally in their lives,” says Tiffany Louise, a social worker and professional coach.

Mentor

A mentor will have experience and potential contacts to share with you. They can help you avoid mistakes and pitfalls they may have experienced in their career journey.

Because a relationship with a mentor is typically free, I recommend being extremely professional in how you choose to create and maintain the relationship. Great mentors are seasoned leaders who are short on time, so you will need to determine your goals, ask the right questions and take advice with an open mind.

Why Would You Seek Out a Mentor?

If you are looking for someone who has “been there, done that” and is open to sharing advice.

At the end of the day, this is your livelihood and your life. Find someone who is honest and willing to challenge you to create the future you desire. Go beyond what you think is possible and beyond your industry’s blueprint.

If you are feeling unsure of what to do and are lacking confidence, know that confidence is not something that any of these professional services can give you. Confidence comes from taking the leap toward your goals, one step at a time. Each one of these professional services can support you, but your success is truly in your hands. Create it with purpose and intention and ask for help along the way.

Lisa Guillot is a transformational leadership coach, brand strategist and founder of Be Bright Lisa. She coaches executives, entrepreneurs and teams within organizations, Lisa speaks about creative leadership and purpose.