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What is the difference between Mentoring, Coaching and Counselling: The Boundary [5/6]

Posted on 5 November 2021

And where does a boundary need to begin between them for Practitioners?  [Blog five of six]

Authored by Mark West 

Peer Review

Michael Carroll was chosen for this peer review of the proposed model. He professionally trained as a counsellor and went on to become an executive coach, he has written numerous books and journals on the very subject matter of these part mentalised blog posts.

Where is the boundary between coaching and counselling?

It is this section, Carroll (2011) provides the greatest insight that most educational coaching literature has seemed unable to fully explain.

Carroll (2011) stated that if a problem ‘between people’ became thematic or reoccurred for an individual, then the problem would be inside the person and therefore counselling would be needed. In fact, Carroll (2011) expanded upon this to say that if any problem within coaching became a theme or pattern and would not go away then it would be a psychological problem. For example, you can coach someone who has a money problem (a problem ‘outside’) but if they are always having a money problem then the problem lies within the person e.g. gambling. It would be at this point that theme would be pointed out by Carroll (2011) and a suggestion of counselling might be made.

Some literature advises that emotional content should not to be addressed within coaching; Carroll (2011) disputes this idea. Carroll (2011) stated that, “Most coaching problems involved emotions,” it is about what you do with that problem.

In order to get at what this might be like in practical terms, an educational situation was given to Carroll (2011) in order to obtain further clarification.

Scenario Given to Carroll:

A teacher within a coaching session says that they get really angry when a particular child disrespects them by refusing to follow instructions they have given. A few examples below are given as to how this could be approached based on the area of work done with the client/coachee.

Table 6: Potential approach enacted in a scenario based upon the location of a problem

This perspective on the boundary between coaching and counselling gives permission to coaches to use many of the skills, concepts and theories from the profession of counselling.

Dryden and Kwiatkowski (1989) might support this idea as they see the skills of counselling as a component, which can be separated. This would also give credence to Well and Spinks’ (1997) who argue that counselling can be seen as an applied communication skill to be used with employees, which could be transferred to a coaching modality. This is also similar to Thomas and Smith’s (2004) coaching model, which advocates the concepts of working with ‘self-talk’, ‘emotions’ in the moment and other concepts and theories, which draw from the counselling profession. Or Allan’s (2007) identified benefits of coaching considering ‘negative thoughts’ and ‘limiting beliefs’ would be also be appropriate.

However, what is concerning with all these authors is that they place no boundary on how these concepts should be used. For example, to explore the possible cognitive processes or ‘self-talk’ of a colleague in order to transform perspective on a bad working relationship would be considered okay as the ‘problem’ is between the coachee and the other. But it should noted that an unqualified, unsupervised coach starting to work with a client on their cognitive processes and ‘make them better’ should be treated with extreme caution and could be considered unethical, potentially opening the door to psychological damage. This same concern is echoed in the field of therapy by authors such as Spinelli (2008), Bueno (2010), Bachinkirova and Cox (2005) who consider the unqualified nature of coaches a concern. Passmore (2006) rightfully states that the world of coaching needs to reflect upon the lessons of counselling.

This would seem to show that the model thus far in our blog has been accurate in discovering the similarities and cross-overs of theory and skills but has fallen short of showing the fundamental difference – the boundary. We shall draw together all the points in our final blog, giving the final model.


Allan, P. (2007) The benefits and impacts of a coaching and mentoring programme for teaching staff in secondary school. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 12- 21.

Bachkirova, T. and Cox, E. (2005) A Bridge Over Troubled Water: bringing together coaching and counselling. Counselling at Work, Spring 2005, Issue 48. pp. 2 – 9.

Bueno, J. (2010) Coaching: one of the fastest growing industries in the world. Therapy Today, September 2010, pp.10- 15.

Carrol, M. (2011) Interview on the Boundary Between Coaching and Counselling. Conducted by West, M. on 20.09.2011 at the home of Carrol, M. (address not disclosed).

Dryden, W. and Kwiatkowski, R. (1989) What is Counselling? Some discussion issues. Journal of Workplace learning, Vol. 1, Issue 3, pp.4-10.

Thomas, W. and Smith, A. (2004) Coaching Solutions. Practical Ways to Improve Performance in Education.

Passmore (2006) Coaching Psychology: Applying Integrative Coaching Within Education

Spinelli, E. (2008) Coaching and Therapy: Similarities and Differences. International Coaching Psychology Review, Vol. 3, No. 3, pp.241 – 249.

Wells, B. and Spinks, N. (1997) Counselling Employees: an applied communication skill. Career Development International, Vol. 2, Issue 2, pp. 93 – 98.