Do you want to forge a new or improved path in life but feel you have the basic building blocks under control? Or, do you feel you have major life events that act as stumbling blocks and need resolution? While therapists are licensed and coach/mentors are not, they both provide valuable input when you are stuck or have self-limiting patterns. To make the determination of whether you need one or the other, you will want to figure out whether deeper unresolved issues are holding you back. Or, is your path forward cloudy because of either a sense of not knowing your options yet or not being motivated to stick to a plan. Coaching operates in a framework where the basic assuption is a client is healthy and whole, therapy involves the assumption that the client wants/needs healing of some sort.
If you want to think in terms of a sports analogy, therapists treat deeper issues much the way a physical therapist, orthopedist, chiropractor, or acupuncturist might treat an ongoing injury such as tennis elbow. A coach/mentor will act more like a workout or sport coach, giving you tasks and monitoring your progress while providing you feedback and motivating you as you improve. I have seen students who employ both therapy and coaching together. While this approach can be costly, it is quite effective. Likewise, I have seen folks who use these two modalities sequentially – some start with therapy, resolve issues, potentially are medicated for any mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, and then move on to coaching. Others start with coaching and if they fail to meet their objectives, they move on to therapy as a way to uncover and resolve emotional issues that are blocking their progress. The key thing is that a reputable coach or mentor is just that, a coach/mentor, and does not handle psychological issues. Both approaches can bring life long value and are worth exploration.
To know yourself better, you can do a short exercise where you write down five goals you have for your future. Under each goal, write down what is holding you back. If the issues seem to be tactical in nature such as motivation, lack of contacts to help you, dissastistaction with concrete tasks and commitments you have in your life, a desire to move or to get a promotion but a fear of breaking down and executing on the detailed steps that will take, then a coach may be the best approach. If your mind focuses on deeper and more generalized fears – fear of failure, sadness around lack of love or happiness in your life, unresolved issues with family or friends, then therapy may be a great place to start.