What is a Life Coach?

Many people have heard of, have experienced, or may know someone who has experienced some sort of mental health therapy, at the group or individual level. Fewer, however, understand the duties and responsibilities of a life coach.

If someone tells you that you need a life coach, what exactly are they saying? While a life coach is not a therapist, they do share some of the same characteristics as therapists.

Here, we will discuss the definition of a life coach.

History of Life Coaching

Life coaching is a relatively young discipline which stems from many older disciplines. These include psychology, the human potential movement, leadership training, executive coaching, management consulting, adult education, career counseling, mentoring, personal development and self-help.

Life coaching became popular in the 1980s, and has increased its popularity since then. Life coaches have moved from helping clients to plan their lives into focusing on other areas of a client’s life, such as:

  • Finance
  • Career
  • Relationships
  • Health
  • Wellness

Today, life coaches blend ideas from psychological helping professions like psychotherapy and counseling with business and organizational development, as well as personal development training.

Responsibilities of a Life Coach

A life coach will assess a client to determine their personal goals and help them to achieve these goals, through a variety of methods which are tailored to the client. They are similar to sports coaches, except that they work one-on-one with each client and help them to identify goals then define and change their lives to achieve those goals. They focus on what is occurring at the present moment in a person’s life, what that person wants to do/have next in life, and how to get there.

A big part of a life coach’s responsibilities involves helping clients to identify what obstacles get in their way, help them to find motivation, and help them overcome their resistance to change. Rather than just providing advice or imparting wisdom to clients, a life coach jump-starts the client’s own process of connecting to their inner wisdom and subsequently making choices. In a way, a life coach helps clients brainstorm to meet their goals and change their lives.

Life Coach vs Therapist – How They Differ

Although life coaching can be described as a therapeutic process, there are differences between life coaching and therapy.

The therapist concentrates more on a client’s past in helping them manage their present. The life coach, on the other hand, focuses on a client’s present in helping them to create a future they desire.

Life coaching is not as open-ended as therapy, and is much more direct. In life coaching sessions, clients are directed to accomplish steps towards achieving specific goals.

Life coaches cannot diagnose or treat mental health conditions. For this reason, they do not require formal education and are also not required to follow health information privacy (HIPAA) laws.

Who Needs a Life Coach?

If a client has issues that are disrupting their lives, they should consider working with a therapist instead of a life coach. However, if a client wants to change their life and address certain goals, a life coach might be the perfect fit.

A life coach won’t address the same type of clinical issues that a therapist addresses, so if those are your main concern, you might want to see a therapist first, then consult a life coach to help you make changes once those issues have been addressed.

Types of Life Coaches

Life coaches can focus on the general health and well-being of their clients, including the mental and the physical. There are some life coaches, however, who specialize in certain areas such as:

  • Life skills
  • Mental health
  • Addiction
  • Business/leadership
  • Diet/fitness
  • Career
  • Dating/relationship
  • Health/wellness
  • Financial
  • Family life
  • Divorce
  • Sports
  • Spirituality

Educational and Experiential Requirements for Life Coaches

As there are no states which license life coaches as of yet, the requirements for education and experience for life coaches are very loose. They are entirely dependent upon the credentialing organization you choose (see below).

The International Coach Federation, for example, requires that you complete coach training, which can be done at a variety of schools and online. The Center for Credentialing and Education requires that you have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in any field. Both organizations also require experience as a life coach, with not all of it needing to be paid.

Life Coaching Credentialing Organizations

There are two major life coach credentialing organizations. They are the International Coach Federation (ICF), and the Center for Credentialing and Education.

International Coach Federation (ICF)

The ICF offers three levels of coach credentials:

  1. Associate Certified Coach (ACC), which requires 60 hours of training and 100 hours of coaching experience.
  2. Professional Certified Coach (PCC), requiring 125 hours of training and 500 hours coaching experience.
  3. Master Certified Coach (MCC), requiring 200 hours of training and 2500 hours of coaching experience.

Center for Credentialing and Education

The Center for Credentialing and Education offers the Board Certified Coach (BCC) credential, requiring a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in any field and 2500 hours of paid experience over five years (there are other ways to fulfill the requirements for this credential as well, including advanced degrees, coaching credentials and being a national or state-certified counselor).

The CCE also offers specialty designations of Executive / Corporate / Business / Leadership Coach, Health and Wellness Coach, Career Coach, and Personal/Life Coach.

Many clients, when seeking a life coach, will be more likely to choose a credentialed coach over a non-credentialed one. Credentialing gives a life coach more professional clout, giving a client more of a sense that the coach is better trained and experienced than other non-credentialed coaches. 

What Impact Can a Life Coach Have on Your Life?

A life coach’s responsibilities center on motivating clients to achieve their own goals. They can help clients to overcome negative patterns of thinking and behavior and to bridge the gap between the present and the life that they want to lead. The impact of a life coach is largely dependent upon each client’s wants and needs, as well as their motivation.

Examples of things that a life coach can do for clients include (but are not limited to):

  • Enhance their creativity
  • Create and maintain a better work/life balance
  • Eliminate anxieties and fears that have been long held
  • Have a more satisfying work life
  • Have greater financial security
  • Better communication skills
  • Create and maintain better relationships with family and friends
  • Overcome barriers to finding a life partner or mate
  • Getting started on a new career path

Life coaches hold their clients accountable and therefore help them to achieve goals that they would not necessarily have reached on their own. It has been found that life coaching can help clients to reduce procrastination and improve the attainment of their goals. Life coaching can also improve self-empowerment and self-efficacy. It is a way to improve the functioning of people within organizations, and to better one’s mental health and quality of life.

How to Find a Life Coach

If you think you could benefit from a life coach, you should consult one of the two main credentialing agencies listed above. The International Coach Federation provides an online directory to help you find an ICF-credentialed coach. There are other online directories (such as Noomi.com) that will offer life coaches, but they may or may not be credentialed. Make sure that you thoroughly investigate a life coach’s credentials, background and client testimonials before engaging one.

Life Coach Areas of Focus

A life coach focuses on nurturing the growth of their client’s:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Intellectual
  • Emotional and/or spiritual well-being

Life coaching is distinct from other helping professions like counseling, psychotherapy, nursing, social work and ministry. A professional life coach offers support and guidance for a client’s personal and professional goals, projects, and life transitions. They don’t diagnose, offer advice or practice therapy. Instead, life coaches are trained to ask questions and guide their clients to determine the course that is best for them. Then, they empower their clients to achieve their ambitions or make a life change with the encouragement and accountability of the life coach.

Education and Preparation for Life Coaches

There is no specific degree needed to become a life coach. No license is required. The United States government does not provide regulations for the life coaching industry. As a result, anyone can call themselves a life coach. Indeed, there are more than 500 “certification” programs worldwide, and many of them offer certification to anyone if they’re willing to pay a fee. But not all programs are created equal, have the respect of the industry or prepare coaches sufficiently.

Because life coaching is a non-regulated industry, ultimately, it is up to the life coach to distinguish themselves with credible training and accreditation. In order to find the right program with the niche training you may require, do your research and get recommendations from life coaches you know and admire. In fact, before you embark on your own training, it’s a valuable learning experience to be a recipient of life coaching yourself. You’ll experience various styles, philosophies and methods that work well for you and even those that don’t. Those experiences will assist you in determining the training and niche coaching that’s best for you.

Establishing Reputable Standards for the Coaching Industry

There are well-known organizations like International Coaching Federation (ICF) and International Association of Coaching (IAC) which have set reputable standards that have become benchmarks for the coaching industry.

International Coaching Federation (ICF)

International Coaching Federation offers the only globally recognized, independent credentialing program for coach practitioners. The ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. At least 60 hours of coach-specific training that meets ICF standards is required for certification. For example, in addition to training, their Professional Certified Coach certification requires 500 hours of coaching experience—450 of which must be paid with at least 25 clients.

Along with life coaches, ICF also accredits training programs that have undergone a rigorous review process and demonstrate that their curriculum aligns with the ICF Core Competencies and Code of Ethics.

These core competencies include:

  • Establishing the Coaching Agreement a.k.a. the Rules of Engagement
  • Establishing Intimacy and Trust with a Client
  • Coaching Presence
  • Active Listening
  • Powerful Questioning
  • Direct Communication
  • Creating Awareness
  • Designing Actions
  • Planning and Goal
  • Setting Managing Progress and Accountability

As you do your research, look for training programs that are accredited by the ICF because these programs are accountable to broader ICF oversight and the above values.

International Association of Coaching (IAC)

The International Association of Coaching is an independent, global professional association of coaches. With the input of a team of international coaches, the IAC developed a list of Masteries which define the highest level of coaching. These are used in their certification process along with an evaluation of several recorded forty-five-minute sessions with your actual clients.

These masteries include:

  • Establishing and Maintaining a Relationship of Trust
  • Perceiving, Affirming and Expanding the Client’s Potential
  • Engaged Listening
  • Processing the Present
  • Expressing
  • Clarifying
  • Helping the Client Set and Keep Clear Intentions
  • Inviting Possibility
  • Helping the Client Create and Use Supportive Systems and Structures

The IAC does not endorse, promote, or give accreditation to any coach training programs or coach mentors.

Life Coaching Trends and Careers

According to LinkedIn, the market value of the Life Coaching Industry will reach $20 billion by 2022 with a 6.7% average yearly growth rate from 2019 to 2022. Moreover, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the Life Coaching Industry is the second fastest growing sector in the world.

In 2019, It is estimated that there are currently 5,86,292 coaches worldwide. About 92% of these are active. Of these, 42% operate in the United States — a total of 2,88,500 coaches. It appears the U.S. market is saturated, but excitedly, demand is still growing.

Life Coaching Business

A profession as a life coach is essentially an entrepreneurial venture. Not only are coaching skills foundational, some business and administrative skills are also needed to launch your practice. As a life coach, you set your own schedule, rates, and client contracts. You bill your clients, market your services and network within your niche. There is freedom and limitless potential but also the responsibility as a business owner. It is advisable to check with the city hall to verify the specific licenses your city and/or state require before opening your practice.

Life coaching is a fulfilling profession. Working one on one or in group coaching allows you to use your skills to impact people’s personal and professional well-being.

Combining a passion for helping people with your specialized skills and experience can result in a satisfying career.