If you want help in the business world, you have many options.  But, often times, these options make it a little confusing.  As a coach, I am an actor in this world, and I thought it may be helpful for me to clear up some nomenclature for those who are seeking help.  For the purpose of brevity, I want to talk about the differences between psychiatric professionals, consultants, mentors, therapists, and coaches.

Psychiatric Professionals

Psychiatric professionals is a group of professionally educated and licensed group of professionals focused on the evaluation and treatment of psychological problems.  This field is comprised of therapists, psychotherapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists.  Each one of these professionals has their own distinction within their professions.  However, their primary focus is on correcting some psychological problem from something that has occurred in the past with their clients that has left clinical scars that need to be treated with medication and intense therapy.


A consultant is an expert is some field that is called on to solve specific problems for a client.  Often times consultants have in-depth knowledge that is unique and so they charge their clients a fee to solve problems for which the client is not equipped.  Consultants hold expertise in multiple professional fields and cost a lot more to solve a highly technical problem.  However, they often cost much less to solve a specific problem on a one-time basis as opposed to a high-cost, full-time employee.


A mentor always has more experience or expertise that the person they are mentoring.  For instance, an experienced CEO may mentor a brand new CEO in how to lead a company.  A mentor will advise a mentee on how to do certain tasks for which the mentor has expertise; and the mentee lacks that expertise or experience.


A coach is defined differently in different segments of our society.  However, I want to focus on the definition as it applies to my profession.  The definition coined by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) is “Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”  Coaches work with their clients to expand their thinking in order to visualize challenging goals; and then hold their clients accountable to achieve those goals.  The idea of coaching is to ‘move forward’.  The coach helps their client first define what ‘forward’ is; and then helps their client navigate the path to move to this desirable state.

My History

I have been in the business world most of my professional life.  I have received training, mentoring, and have paid a lot of money to consultants when I owned my business.  I would hire consultants who were brilliant people.  I would pay them fees to perform consulting engagements to help me through a rough patch in developing my business.  After these engagements, I would take action that was initiated by the advice given to me by my business consultants.  Often times, my actions were quite different than what my consultants advised.

You may ask yourself, “Why would you hire consultants and not follow their advice?”  The odd thing about our relationship was that when I was stuck, I could not see things from an outsider’s perspective.  I would often get stuck in my own way of thinking; and simply needed an outsider’s view to get me unstuck.  Once I was unstuck, my thinking cleared, and I was able to make decisions that I could have never made prior to engaging my consultants.

How is Coaching Different?

I never knew what a coach was when I employed my consultants.  Had I known, I could have saved a lot of consulting fees by simply hiring a coach.  You see, a coach doesn’t tell you what to do.  A coach opens up your thinking to possibilities you will never consider on your own.  In my 16-years of owning my previous company, I spent approximately $500,000 in consulting fees to people who I felt were wiser than I was.  In retrospect, I could have paid a fifth of this amount, if I simply hired a full-time coach for that entire time and met with him or her on a weekly basis.


The reality is that all of these professions overlap to a large extent.  So, if you hire a consultant, you are bound to get a little coaching as well.  If you hire a coach, you are liable to get some consulting as well.  If you hire a psychiatric professional, you will get a little coaching and consulting in the mix.   How do you decide who you need? If you feel like you kind of know what you need to do, but are stuck, you ought to hire a coach.  If you feel like you lack expertise in the area you want to pursue, you probably need to hire an expert consultant.  If you feel like you have lost touch on reality or have a nagging personal problem that developed in your past, hire a psychiatric professional.  If you are inexperienced, hire a mentor.

Each one of these professionals can help… Now it’s a matter of which one will cost you the least amount of money; and give you the help you truly need.

Note from the Author
My name is Jeff Schuster.  I am a certified Life and Business Coach serving small business owners, corporate executives and others who want to transition from “expert” to “entrepreneur”.  I have been a small business owner for most of my 30-years in the workplace.  I grew an energy efficiency and renewable energy engineering and construction company from nothing to over $10-million/year and sold it in 2013.  I now help other business owners make amazing progress toward their own dreams of business ownership independence and success.

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