What is a life coach? Life coaching has a number of definitions, and what two different life coaches offer can vary widely. But pretty much all life coaching practices can be distilled into this one definition: helping people bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to be in life.
Coaches use a variety of tools to achieve that with their clients, who often confuse coaching with other professions, such as therapy or consulting. In this article, we will help shine the light on what life coaching really is, what coaches do in their everyday work, and how coaching differs from other similar services.
What Is Life Coaching?
Life coaching is the process of helping clients gain clarity about different aspects of their lives. Coaches help their clients define clear goals for themselves and find ways to achieve those goals. Some clients enter their first coaching session with a clearly defined purpose, but more often than not, they arrive with a vague challenge they’re facing. This challenge might show up as a feeling of being stuck, being unable to move on from a situation, or facing the same issues repeatedly without making progress.
The life coaching process usually starts with uncovering these challenges and what the real or underlying issue is. After that, life coaches help their clients define a clear direction for themselves and set goals in a particular area of their lives.
In some cases, the coaching process ends with this newfound clarity itself; in other cases, it shifts its focus to how these goals can be achieved. The goals set in a life coaching process might change over time as the client is going through personal transformation. This isn’t considered a setback, but simply the natural byproduct of developing a stronger self-awareness. When we change, our beliefs, needs, and priorities change as well, helping us live more aligned with who we are.
Reflection is one of the most important catalysts of developing self-awareness, and that’s exactly what a life coach helps their clients with. Professional coaches never impose their own views or solutions on the coachee, but rather help them reflect on themselves, gain clarity about their beliefs, and consciously choose what they want.
What Is a Life Coach, and What Do They Do?
A life coach is considered a wellness professional who helps people improve the quality of their lives in various areas. They do this with a variety of tools that are mostly used in coaching conversations.
Coaches lead sessions with either an individual (1-on-1) or with a group. The purpose of these sessions, and the conversation that takes place during them, is defined by the client or the group. Life coaches ask coaching questions and use coaching tools to steer these conversations towards the desired direction, where insights can happen.
In between the sessions, coaches might assign certain exercises to their clients, that aid the coaching process, and hold their clients accountable to complete them.
Besides the work that happens in the sessions, life coaches normally also manage a business (unless they’re solely hired by an organization as an in-house coach). They develop offers and services, plan and execute marketing or sales activities, take care of their accounting, and pay their taxes — just like any entrepreneur.
Some life coaches you might see in the media also turn their insights into a book, course, or presentation and become speakers or authors. This is definitely not a requirement for becoming a life coach, simply another revenue source and opportunity for greater visibility.
A life coach first and foremost does coaching and creates transformation in the life of their clients. They continuously improve their craft, develop their methodology, and expand their inventory of coaching tools. They might pursue further education throughout their career and complement their qualifications with other methods and healing modalities. For example, EFT (emotional freedom technique or tapping), NLP (neuro linguistic programming), breathwork, and so on.
Types of Life Coaches
Coaching can take many forms, depending on the coach’s approach and expertise, as well as the area they focus on. These are the most common types of coaches you’ll find in the industry.
- Business Coaches
- Financial Coaches
- Executive & Leadership Coaches
- Organizational Coaches
- Career Coaches
- Family Life & Relationship Coaches
- Wellness & Health Coaches
- Spiritual Coaches
- Positive Psychology & Mindfulness Coaches
Within these major categories, you’ll also find coaches with more niche or specialized areas, such as body-image coaches or divorce coaches. Many of them develop an interest for a particular niche because of a personal experience they have gone through themselves.
However, just because a coach hasn’t been married doesn’t mean that, for example, they can’t be well-versed in relationship coaching for married couples. Their personal expertise goes way beyond personal experience, whether they’re certified and had formal training or not.
Why Do People Hire A Coach?
Most people hire a coach because of feeling stuck in their life or career, dealing with difficult emotions, or going through a life transition. But there can be many reasons why someone would seek help from a coaching professional. Here are a few examples.
- Going through a career transition or career change
- Lack of fulfillment in their current job or career
- Being stuck with a project
- Feeling creatively drained
- Wanting to be a more effective leader or manager
- Starting a business on their own
- Difficulty of making a complex life or career decision
- Being confused of one’s true identity
- Lacking motivation for their goals
- Wanting to increase their income or improve their financial stability
- Facing relationship challenges
- Going through a break-up or grieving a loved one
As you can see, the human life has a wide variety of complex challenges, and we all go through difficult periods in our lives, when we could use a little help. Coaches provide much more than just an outside perspective or the comforting presence that you normally seek from a friend. Professional coaches have proven methods and coaching tools that can bring results for their client, no matter how tough their situation is.
A lot of entrepreneurs, high-level leaders, athletes, and artists work with one or more coaches on their goals and performance. These are the people who are usually dealing with high-risk decisions and emotionally or physically challenging situations in their work that are hard to get through on their own.
But coaching isn’t just for A-list professionals. It’s for anyone who needs clarity and guidance in their lives. Luckily, more and more people realize that asking for help is okay and that investing in themselves pays off in the long run.
What is Coaching VS Therapy?
Therapists are the most common service providers confused with life coaches. These two areas do have some similarities, in the sense that they help people feel better and progress in their lives. Therapy and coaching serve different purposes, though.
When we talk about therapy, we refer to the work of psychiatrists and psychologists who are also called therapists. Psychiatrists are licensed medical professionals who can prevent, diagnose, and treat mental illnesses. They can perform medical tests on their patients and prescribe medication for them.
A psychologist is a licensed professional too, but not a medical doctor. They can’t prescribe medication or diagnose their clients, but they can provide talk therapy and help people with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, mood disorders, or addictions.
A life coach, in turn, doesn’t need to be licensed in order to provide coaching sessions to their clients. They can get certified at a training institution like ICF or EMCC, but it’s not a requirement for them to practice coaching.
What’s common in all three of these service providers is that they all focus on helping people stay mentally well, but their methods largely differ. Therapy usually focuses on managing mental health issues and healing from past trauma. A therapist helps clients process the events of their lives and learn tools to cope with their emotions.
In this sense, therapy is normally more focused on issues triggered by past events, while coaching tends to be more future-facing. Of course, there can be an overlap between both methodologies, but normally it’s more beneficial for the client to start with therapy around a key issue, and then progress into coaching later.
What Is Coaching VS Counselling?
Counselling is very similar to therapy and both are performed by licensed psychologists or therapists. However, counselling is a more short-term process, with a particular problem to solve or situation to deal with. It can take a few weeks to a few months, and it usually focuses on a predefined issue, such as addiction or the grief of a loved one.
So the key difference between counselling and coaching is that counselling helps with mental health issues and healing trauma, while life coaching is more likely to focus on building self-awareness and moving towards personal goals.
What Is Coaching VS Consulting?
Another profession commonly mistaken for coaching is consulting. Consulting is most commonly used in the business world or in career situations, so it’s more likely to overlap with the work of business and career coaches.
The most important difference between coaching and consulting is that a consultant gives their clients the answers they need, while a coach helps them find answers on their own. A consultant has to have expertise in the area where they give out advice, but a coach doesn’t necessarily need to be well-versed in their client’s field.
Consultants give instructions, coaches give guidance. If a professional or a team needs out-of-the-box thinking and new perspectives, they will turn to a coach. If they need concrete solutions from someone who’s seen the same problems before, they will work with a consultant.