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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Psychiatrists' Support Service
on Coaching and Mentoring

To contact the Psychiatrists' Support Service please telephone: 020 7245 0412  or e-mail:


This information guide is intended for a psychiatrist who is interested in taking up mentoring or coaching. The information can be used as a guide only and is not a substitute for professional advice. If you need further advice and support, please contact us at



Many people find a mentor or a coach helpful, but it is not always clear how to access one or what is likely to be provided. The terms may be used in an overlapping way to indicate an arrangement of support and encouragement for personal development, usually with a professional focus but with an awareness of ‘work/home (work is part of life!) balance’. These activities, while usually comprising one-to-one personal and confidential discussions, are not therapy or treatment, but similarly depend for success on the participants’ willingness to engage.



Mentoring at any stage of a psychiatrist’s career is encouraged by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, especially for new consultants, as it can be very helpful at times of transition to a new role. Informal mentoring is frequent, but the value of more formal access to mentoring is now recognised.


Mentor and mentee

The mentor is usually more experienced and qualified than the ‘mentee’. He or she is often a senior person in the organisation, who can pass on knowledge and experience and provide or recommend opportunities which the mentee may not have considered so that they may develop skills and competencies to progress along a successful career path. The mentor may also provide contacts that the mentee would not normally access.

Mentors should ideally have training and the opportunity for ongoing support and peer supervision, but should be independent of managerial structures if they are from within the same organisation as the mentee. Generally, it is a voluntary role, but professional time should be allowed for it.

Meetings are usually one-to-one, and while at first it is helpful if there are regular set times, later meetings may take place as and when the mentee needs some advice, guidance or support. The agenda is set by the mentee, with the mentor providing support, guidance and sometimes challenge to help forward professional development.

The mentoring relationship lasts for varying lengths of time, but for newly appointed consultants a typical time period may be up to 2 years with meetings at least monthly. There is some agreed structure to the meetings, which may include an agenda and brief notes with possible interim contact if needed. The mentoring relationship moves from an ‘initial phase’ to the ‘working phase’ and on to the ‘dissolving phase’. Mentor and mentee may eventually establish a more equal lasting friendship.


Access to mentoring

  • A personal approach from a potential mentee to a recommended mentor, or known senior colleague, often works well.
  • Some mental health trusts have in-house mentoring schemes for consultants, or know how to access mentors, so a clinical or medical director should be able to help.
  • Some deaneries have well-developed schemes.
  • Some College Divisions are developing mentoring schemes, with lists of volunteer mentors. This may be of particular usefulness if the potential mentee cannot find a mentor within their own organisation or would prefer not to. For those in the sub-specialties, approaching the faculty Honorary Secretary is advised.



Coaching is typically provided on a professional and paid-for basis with a written, signed contract specifying how the coaching relationship will operate and providing boundaries.

Coaching is usually for a contracted number of sessions over a period of time and can often take the form of telephone discussions. Coaches should have a relevant qualification in coaching, which will have provided training in technique. They may or may not have special knowledge of the professional area of the client, such as medicine or psychiatry.

The aim of coaching is to support people through change, promote a balanced life, accelerate personal development and enable people to realise their potential. The agenda is focused on achieving specific, immediate goals.

Coaching is confidential and uses a range of skills, including listening, questioning, relating learning to the client’s experience and challenging to promote personal development, balance and effectiveness. As well as improving quality of life this can increase productivity and job satisfaction.

The client is encouraged to expand their awareness and understanding of situations they face, explore options and shift their behaviour in ways that produce positive results. They identify areas of their life they want to work on, increase their awareness of relevant factors, work to develop options and make and carry through plans for action.


Access to coaching

Coaching can be found through a number of different sources, including a number of Deaneries and the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management ( It is advisable to ask others about their own experiences and to look at the websites to see what might suit your individual needs.




The College has now developed mentoring training specific to psychiatrists in the form of one day interactive workshops.



Further reading

There have been a number of relevant articles on mentoring and coaching published in BMJ Careers Focus. These can be accessed from the online archive.

Of particular relevance are Chambers (2005) and Houghton (2005).




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If you require advice and support about a particular issue then please contact the Psychiatrists' Support Service at the Royal College of Psychiatrists on 0207 245 0412 or email

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