Getting Unstuck: Do You Need a Coach, Mentor or Counselor?

Have you ever felt “stuck?” Whether personally or professionally? I don’t know about you, but being stuck doesn’t feel good to me. And, yes, I have been stuck in my life and career.

I’ve heard from many coworkers, friends and families that the pandemic hasn’t helped them in getting “unstuck.” Many shared that the pandemic, and the isolation resulting from the pandemic, placed them in a holding pattern. They haven’t been able to find a way out.

There are many ways to help yourself as you try to figure out your best way forward. Coaching, mentoring and counseling are three possible options to put one foot in front of the other. (That gets me singing “Put One Foot in Front of the Other” from the Christmas classic “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”)  Sorry, I digress.

So, how do you define each of the three options I mentioned?

Coaching – The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines this as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Mentoring – Can be defined as someone with seniority offering informal advice to someone with less experience, according to

Counseling – The American Counseling Association defines this as “a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education and career goals.”

Now that we know the definitions, scan the bulleted list and chart below to determine which approach might be the best fit to help you get “unstuck.” Consider what you need and which option could be the most effective solution for you. Consider this:

  • The coach asks powerful, open-ended questions (usually “what” type of questions.)
  • The counselor focuses on the “why.”
  • Mentors give advice based on their personal and professional expertise, and the mentee benefits from the relationship by following the mentor’s path toward development.
Coaching Mentoring Counseling
Focus is prospective Focus is more advisory Focus is typically retrospective
Short-term Long-term Long-term
Formal and structured Informal Formal and structured
Performance-driven Development-driven Theory-driven
Certification strongly encouraged No certification Master’s degree required for licensing and licensing is required by law
The client has the “answers” within him/herself Mentor provides advice/answer based on his/her experiences The practitioner is the authority and offers guidance and advice

Personally, I am a coach and a mentor. I have had coaches, mentors and counselors. All have helped me get “unstuck,” and I hope I’ve helped others in their efforts.

I truly love the coaching approach because coaching clients are viewed as already whole and have the answers within themselves. Ultimately, all three options have benefits. They are not mutually exclusive. And, they can all work in getting you moving forward.

So, if feeling stuck in the mud, put one foot in front of the other and find the path up and out that is going to work for you. You deserve it!

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected]. And to read more from our Winter 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.

Rebecca (Becky) Mack Johnson’s government career spans almost 34 years. She’s been an SES executive for over 15 years. Her leadership experiences range from business operations’ positions to the human capital side of the house. Becky’s passion centers around helping people grow and achieve their goals. Becky considers receiving the Treasury Department’s Leadership Legacy Award in 2017 as one of her greatest accomplishments. Becky believes continual learning is essential. To practice what she preaches, Becky completed her Masters Degree in Strategic Public Relations in her early 40s. She is also an International Coaching Federation ACC certified coach and a Project Management Professional.

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

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