Back to Blog

The difference between Mentoring, Coaching and Counselling: Intro [1/6]

Posted on 8 October 2021

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

Authored by Mark West


This is part one of a six-part blog post of a literature review aiming to explore the distinguishing characteristics between mentoring, coaching and counselling. They may serve a similar purpose when loosely described, but they have fundamentally different approaches and are effective on a case-by-case level, meaning one would be better suited than the other in certain scenarios.

This topic and subsequent review were born from an attempt at introducing a coaching programme within a primary school. It became stalled at a Senior Leadership level due to a lack in understanding of coaching and its difference to counselling and mentoring. Through the process of this literature review, a theoretical model was created and explains some of the relationships between these three different approaches. After creating this theoretical model, it was submitted for academic peer review, which led to some modifications of the framework. Consequently, this framework could now be used in the real world.

A difficulty when defining mentoring, coaching and counselling is the difference between relational contexts. Yrle et al (2002) conducted research on the impact of exchange between manager and subordinate and discovered a variance of exchange when compared with peer-to-peer. To avoid these potentially complicating factors, this review considers the terms mentoring, coaching and counselling within a theoretical vacuum with no relational context.

These blogs start with an assumption that there is a boundary and difference between coaching and counselling. The early blogs in this series cover the emerging connections between mentoring, coaching and counselling before bringing the components together.

Simplistic Difference

As a rudimentary starting point, there appear to be different purposes for mentoring, coaching and counselling. For this essay, mentoring and coaching are concerned with ‘performance improvement,’ giving a workplace or career-based emphasis; counselling is considered to be about ‘life improvement.’ It is accepted that improvement in one could lead to improvement in the other. It should also be noted here that some people might use the terms mentoring and coaching interchangeably even though this essay is seeking to find the difference. Also, the terms ‘client’, ‘mentee’, ‘coachee’ and ‘recipient’ all refer to the person on the ‘receiving end’ and no distinction is made between these terms.

Blog two will explore the concept of mentoring and compares this to coaching…


Yrle, A., Hartman, S. and Galle, W.   (2002) An investigation of relationships between communication style and leader-member exchange.  Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 6, Issue 3.