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The difference between Mentoring, Coaching and Counselling: Counselling [4/6]

Posted on 29 October 2021

Where does a boundary need to begin between them for Practitioners?  [Blog four of six]

Authored by Mark West 

What is Counselling?

A Literature Review

The term counselling is used interchangeably with the word therapy. This is also reflected in the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), which has included the term ‘psychotherapy’ [my italics] in its’ title since the year 2000 in order to encompass a wider concept of the term counselling (BACP: 2011).

A good starting point for a current definition of counselling would be the main professional body – British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP):

Counselling and psychotherapy are umbrella terms that cover a range of talking therapies. They are delivered by trained practitioners who work with people over the short or long term to help them bring about effective change or enhance their well-being’. (BACP: 2011)

As counselling is described as an ‘umbrella term’, it is difficult to define – McLeod (1998) states that there are over 400 models of counselling within this definition. The concept of ‘effective change’ seems to overlap with coaching but a difference emerges in the objective to ‘enhance…well-being’ and the mention of ‘talking therapy’. Whilst this helps to separate counselling from coaching and mentoring in terms of purpose, it gets no closer to discovering the elusive boundary in practice. This definition also implies that unless delivered by a trained practitioner, counselling cannot be called counselling. However, as a definition, this does not seem to hold up to reason. Someone could be teaching even if they are not qualified, therefore, surely somebody could be offering counselling without being a trained counsellor. Understandably though, an aim of the BACP is to protect the professional nature of counselling and therefore might explain why this is included within their definition. It is perhaps more helpful to briefly consider the different historical origins, practices, theories and philosophies within this umbrella term.

The three main types of counselling practiced within the UK are summarised to show where similarities exist with coaching and mentoring. According to Hough (1994), McLeod (1998 and 2009) and Palmer (2011), the three main types of counselling are: Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Psychodynamic Therapy and Person-Centred Counselling. There are many offshoots from these three main approaches, but for simplicity they are not explored.

Person-Centred Counselling

Person-centred counselling emphasises the fact that the recipient is the expert in their own life. This concept of an ‘expert in their own life’ matches with the purest coaching concept. Carl Rogers is credited with the emergence of person-centred counselling (Hough, 1994; McLeod, 1998, 2009; Palmer, 2011). The word emergence is deliberately used as it does not have an over-arching, abstract or theoretical model, which is a difficulty when defining it. Person-centred counselling has many similarities with ‘purest coaching’. It is process-orientated and is often concerned with improving awareness of the ‘here and now’. It has overlaps with the idea of ‘flow’, whereby the therapist attempts to help the person to become ‘congruent’ and ‘authentic’.

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT has different roots to person-centred counselling, originating from the psychological discipline of behaviourism – ‘First Wave’ according to Hayes (2004). Behaviourism works on a feedback cycle principle: a stimulus is encountered by an agent and a response is generated to obtain positive rewards and avoid negative consequences; an association is thus created. A famous experiment that demonstrates this is ‘Pavlov’s dog’: a bell is rung (stimulus) before the dog is fed every time (positive reward); the dog would then salivate (association) when the bell was rung, regardless of whether food was presented. However, this principle was challenged during the 1960s and 1970s (McLeod, 2009). It was noted that there were differences between humans and animals due to the fact that humans try to make sense of the world around them – they are thinking beings, which complicates their responses to stimuli. This added the ‘cognitive’ component within CBT (McLeod, 2009).

This therapy is less concerned with ‘insight’ and ‘awareness’ but is used to identify negative behaviours and cognitive patterns by the therapist. The skills of listening and questioning are used to inform the therapist. This matches up with the idea of finding a ‘problem’ to be fixed within the mentoring field. There are also some models of coaching that also look at these areas (‘faulty thinking’) and it is suggested that these models should be treated with caution.

Psychodynamic Counselling

The main distinctive features of psychodynamic counselling according to McLeod (2009; pp.24 – 35) are:

Transference is the phenomena when someone transfers their relational responses from one person to another. For example, someone might experience an emotional response to their boss which is not to do with the boss but transference of feelings and thoughts about their father or mother. Dream analysis is linked to the concept of a subconscious which is a psychodynamic, philosophical concept based on Freudian psychoanalysis.

There does not seem to be as much overlap with this type of counselling to mentoring and coaching as it primarily deals with the past. This could be one difference between practices – counselling can look into the personal past of an individual whereas coaching and mentoring does/should not.

Similarities and Differences

There are many roots for current mentoring and coaching, indicated by the arrows in the model below:

Table 6: Mentoring and coaching model showing therapeutic roots

The model above was taken to Michael Carroll for peer review as a highly regarded and published author on coaching.

The following blogs focus on the difference between counselling and coaching/mentoring, providing a model that can be used in sessions.


British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (2000) [accessed 24/10/11]

Hayes, S.C. (2004) Acceptance and commitment therapy, relational frame theory, and third wave of behaviour therapy. Behaviour Therapy, Vol. 35, pp. 639 – 65.

Hough, M. (1994) A Practical Approach to Counselling. London: Pitman Publishing

McLeod, J. (1998) An Introduction to Counselling. 2nd Ed. Buckingham (USA): Open University Press

McLeod, J. (2009) An Introduction to Counselling. 4th Ed. Maidenhead (UK): Open University Press

Palmer, V. (2011) Interview on Definitions of Counselling. Conducted by West, M. on 22.08.11 at home of Palmer, V. (address not disclosed).