Distinguishing Professional Coaching From Other Disciplines

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To understand what coaching is and is not, it can be helpful to also understand other related disciplines.  While sharing some skills with these disciplines, coaching is a field of its own and utilizes a unique set of skills to enable and affect change.

A common misconception is that a coach tells a person what to do. On the contrary, a good coach asks the right questions so that a person discovers for themselves what to do.

Like coaching, all of these disciplines aim to improve the lives, wellbeing and performance of the individuals and organizations they serve. The differences are in expertise and scope of practice, as well as approach.  While most disciplines use an expert-centered approach, professional coaching uses a client-centered approach. [link to Client-Centered Approach]


A consultant will analyze a situation or organization in order to diagnose problems. They will then prescribe solutions and, if hired to do so, will implement those solutions.

Consultants are experts in specific situations or subjects. They are solutions focused and driven by identifying and resolving problems. They offer know-how as well as advice, and guidance when needed.

Consultants are hired by individuals or organizations for their expertise and may work individually or in teams. Each consultant or consulting agency will have their own unique approach, methods, and process that include task specific means of achieving an objective.

Unlike coaching, consulting uses an expert approach, i.e. they tell the client what to do. Consulting is not necessarily concerned with individuals’ growth and development or behavior change. Like coaching…???


A mentor provides wisdom and guidance based on her or his own experience.

Mentors are considered experts in the area or subject matter on which they are mentoring. Usually, they have succeeded along the path that the mentee is taking.  A mentor will guide and help the mentee navigate the learning curve of their chosen path and offer support and encouragement as well as advice and counseling when needed.

A mentor may be hired for pay but typically provides services pro bono as a way of “giving back” after they’ve achieved a certain level of success. Mentoring sessions may be formal – following a schedule or agenda – or informal and free-form in nature.

Mentoring typically uses the expert approach. Unlike coaching, mentoring is not focused on setting or reaching an objective. Like coaching…???


An advisor gives recommendations based on her or his expertise and experience.

Advisors are considered experts in specific areas although, the recommendations and advice given is often informed by a broad range of knowledge and experience. Advisors are outcome focused and driven by providing guidance towards a specific problem or goal.

Advisors may work individually or as part of a team or board.

Advising uses the expert approach and unlike coaching is usually not involved with establishing or following-up on objectives. Like coaching…???


A facilitator helps a person or group understand an objective and guides them through the process of achieving that objective.

Facilitators are experts of the process. They are agenda focused.  They ensure a smooth flow through the process, making the achievement of objectives as easy as possible. In the case of group facilitation, the facilitator enables and encourages input from all sides, allowing everyone a say. The facilitator remains neutral, meaning, they do not take a side or a position but rather guide the individual or parties toward an outcome. They are not part of the conversation and have no stake in the content or outcome.

Facilitators may or may not work exclusively as a facilitor. Often facilitation is performed as part of another job. For instance, a school teacher facilitates the learning process as part of his or her job and a professional coach facilitates the change process. On the other hand, a professional facilitor may be hired solely to facilitate a meeting or event. 

Facilitation uses a process-centered approach. Unlike a coach, a facilitator does not typically participate in determining the objectives. Like a professional coach, a facilitator asks questions to… ???


An educator provides information and/or instruction so that a person or group may acquire knowledge, gain competencies or broaden skills. 

Educators are experts in their field. They are also often experts in teaching and training methodologies. They are content focused and are driven by relaying information to others. They facilitate learning and encourage and enable others to acquire knowledge.

Educating uses the expert approach. Unlike coaching, education focuses on a specific agenda established by the educator. Like coaching…???


A trainer teaches and develops particular skills or behaviors.

Trainers are experts in the specific skills or behaviors they are teaching or developing in others. They are task and outcome focused. They establish a structured learning or development plan that coincides with predetermined objectives. Depending on the situation, trainees may participate in setting their own objectives although typically, objectives are set by the trainer.

Training uses an expert approach. Unlike coaching, the expected outcomes and agenda are set by the trainer. Like coaching…???

Personal Training and Athletic Development

A personal trainer helps individuals improve physical health and fitness and/or athletic performance through instruction and exercise prescription.

Personal trainers are experts in physical fitness, exercise and/or specific sports. They are task and outcome focused. They assign physical exercises to be performed by the client in order to achieve predetermined objectives. They may or may not analyze performance, skills or behaviors.  They offer encouragement and motivate clients by setting goals and providing feedback and accountability.

While personal trainers may at times work with groups or a team, their focus is typically on the development of the individuals within the group.

Personal training uses the expert approach and unlike professional coaching, the training plan and the agenda is set by the trainer. Like professional coaching, personal training is ????

Sports Coaching

A sports coach teaches and develops skills or behaviors specific to a particular sport.

Sports Coaches are experts in their sport. They are performance and outcome focused. They work to achieve predetermined objectives by analyzing performance, identifying skills or behaviors that can be improved, and then implementing a training plan and practice schedule to work towards a specific goal. Sports coaches provide instruction and encouragement as well as guidance, advice and counseling when needed.

In the case of a sports team, the coach is concerned with how individuals work together as a team to achieve a specific outcome.

Sports coaching uses the expert approach and unlike with professional coaching, a sports coach determines and directs behavior, training agendas and outcomes. Like with professional coaching, the person being coached does the work.


A therapist deals with the healing of pain, dysfunction, and conflict within an individual or relationship. 

Therapists are experts in a specific field related to the body or relationships. They are treatment and outcome focused.  In the area of psychology, “the focus is often on resolving difficulties arising from the past that hamper an individual’s emotional functioning in the present, improving overall psychological functioning, and dealing with the present in more emotionally healthy ways.“ (1) A therapist whose expertise is the physical body will focus on resolving injury, acute and chronic pain, and improving overall physical functioning.

Therapy is either expert-centered as in the case of physical therapy for instance, or client-centered as may be the case in psycho-therapy. Unlike coaching, therapy is often reactionary; in other words, it is focused on healing or correcting a trauma that has already happened or is currently happening. Like coaching, therapy is a collaborative partnership.


A professional coach enables and empowers an individual or group to achieve an outcome.

Professional coaches are experts in the process of transformation and change. They are growth and future focused. They are concerned with providing judgment-free space for the client to discover and use their own creativity, intelligence and resourcefulness to achieve an objective. A coach guides the client in uncovering internal motivation and leverages the client’s knowledge, strengths, capabilities and thoughts to enable growth, development and/or performance achievement. While the coach guides the process, agendas and objectives are determined by the client.

Coaches are hired by individuals or organizations and work privately in one-on-one sessions or in group or team settings.  Coaches poses a unique skill-set that allows them to facilitate transformative and sustainable change.

Professional coaching uses a client-centered approach that values the client’s learning process more than the coach’s expert knowledge. (2) A coach may offer advice and expertise but only when needed and requested by the client.

While coaching may be combined with other disciplines, it is best done so with care and thoughtfulness so as to maintain client’s independence and choice.



(1)(2) Moore, M., Jackson, E., Tschannon-Moran, B. (2016) Coaching Psychology Manual, ((1) p 21, (2) p 13). Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer.


Stacy Feil