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what is life coaching?

The profession of life coaching has gained increasing popularity in recent years, piquing the interest of both potential clients and individuals considering career paths.

However, the question that often arises is, what exactly is a life coach, and how does one embark on this journey?

The growing intrigue around life coaching is reflected in the statistics. According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), the number of life coaches in North America increased by 33% between 2015 and 2019.

It's a profession that offers the opportunity to make a positive impact on people's lives, but understanding the role of a life coach and the pathway to becoming one is essential.

In this comprehensive exploration, we will delve into the nuances that differentiate life coaching from therapy, how they complement each other, and the criticisms life coaching faces.


Life Coach vs. Therapist: A Fundamental Distinction

Therapy and life coaching serve distinct purposes and offer different services, each with its own focus and approach.


Therapist Rachel Fisher elucidates the contrast, stating, "Therapy is about helping you to identify what particular life experiences you've had that limit the way that you show up and how you see yourself in this world."

She further explains, "Therapy goes through actually exploring what particular life experiences you've had in the past and clearing a lot of the baggage and the hurt and pain."


In contrast, the role of a life coach comes into play after this introspective journey, focusing on intentional living.

Fisher describes it as, "Once you've done that work and we're ready to say,

'Okay, let's be intentional about how you do want to live your life.'

What strengths would you like to find in yourself?

What inspires you, and what are you passionate about?"


These distinct roles also entail differing levels of training.

Therapists are licensed mental health professionals with the capability to diagnose and treat mental health conditions, typically requiring a master's degree for counsellors and a doctorate for psychologists.

Conversely, life coaching does not demand specific educational prerequisites.

Although there are certification programs for life coaches, they are not obligatory, permitting virtually anyone to offer their services as a life coach.

Despite the differences, both therapists and life coaches provide a safe space for clients to discuss their fears, relationships, challenges, and aspirations.

In fact, some life coaches may incorporate techniques like cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) to help clients reshape unproductive thought patterns.


It's worth noting that therapists employ various therapeutic methods, such as psychoanalytic therapy, which delves into deep-seated thoughts and past traumas, extending beyond the scope of life coaching, which predominantly focuses on current behaviours and their connection to future objectives.


Choosing Between Therapy and Life Coaching

While both therapy and life coaching aim to help individuals achieve fulfillment and happiness, determining which is most suitable for you can be challenging.

Making the wrong choice can lead to a delay in progress.


Rachel Fisher provides a valuable insight, "I actually have had some clients come to see me and say, 'I've gone through years of coaching, but I feel like I'm right back where I started.'"

She emphasizes the significance of this phenomenon, noting that if there is underlying trauma or healing work required, it should be addressed before embarking on life coaching.

However, there comes a point where the therapeutic progress plateaus.


"Just the therapy alone, the therapeutic component, isn't enough for us to actually be equipped with the resources and the clarity that we need to say, 'This is the kind of person I want to show up as in this world.'

And that's where the coaching piece comes in," Fisher asserts.


If you find yourself unsure about the best path for your needs, consider scheduling consultations with both a therapist and a life coach.

They can assess your suitability for their services.


Critiques Surrounding Life Coaching

The field of life coaching has faced criticism from its inception, primarily due to the absence of a governing body or licensing entity to regulate it.

As Rachel Fisher points out, "You could have absolutely no experience or training in coaching and still call yourself a life coach."


This lack of regulation allows individuals with varying levels of competence to offer their services as coaches.

While most have good intentions, some may be primarily motivated by financial gain.

Another factor contributing to skepticism about life coaching is its association with the self-help movement.

This genre of literature, workshops, and videos experienced significant growth in the 1990s and the 2000s.

Best-selling books like "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" and "The Secret" have had a profound impact on countless individuals, inspiring them to seek self-improvement.

However, the self-help genre has also been fertile ground for fraudsters like Werner Erhard, Osho, and Keith Raniere, who exploited people's desire for self-fulfillment.

While these are extreme cases, many individuals market their services as life coaches without necessarily being malevolent, though they may lack the professional expertise to do so.

The absence of stringent regulation presents a double-edged sword.

While it allows for the presence of well-intentioned individuals who are genuinely passionate about helping others, it also leaves room for opportunists to offer services without proper training or qualifications.

Rachel Fisher encapsulates the challenge succinctly, saying, "Regulations exist to protect the public from being deceived about any particular promise that they're being told will be delivered."

She adds, "But I feel like sometimes the pendulum swings the other way completely, where it's overly regulated."

She further elaborates on the balance between regulation and allowing individuals to provide services they are genuinely capable of offering.

Choosing a Life Coach: What to Look For

Given the varying levels of experience and qualifications among life coaches, it's crucial to exercise due diligence when selecting a coach.

Here are some factors to consider as you explore your options:


  1. Experience:

    Assess not only the duration a coach has been working but also the relevance of their experience to your specific goals.

    If you aim to start a business, seek a coach with experience in entrepreneurship within your field. For those aspiring to relocate abroad, consider a coach who has personal experience as an expatriate.

    General life goals can benefit from a coach who has overcome similar challenges.


  2. Credentials:

    Although education is not a strict requirement, nearly three-quarters of life coaches hold certification from a professional coaching institution. Investigate the type of credential or certification your potential coach holds. Programs accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) are generally considered the gold standard.


  3. Client Testimonials:

    Client testimonials can offer valuable insights into a coach's effectiveness.

    Pay attention to testimonials that provide specific details on how the coach benefited the client.

    Beware of reviews that seem generic or repetitive, as they may lack authenticity.


Becoming a Life Coach:

The Path Ahead


Individuals drawn to coaching often share characteristics with those considering careers as therapists, including qualities like patience, empathy, and a passion for helping others.

While it may be tempting to bypass traditional education and immediately venture into coaching, Rachel Fisher underscores the advantages of her psychology background when providing coaching services.


"I can't imagine doing either one without the other at this point in my life," she emphasizes.

"I went and got the training and have the degrees to provide therapy. If I hadn't gotten certified in things like positive psychology … I would be severely limited in terms of my scope as to how I can help individuals."

This doesn't necessarily imply that one must pursue a doctorate to become a life coach.

However, considering the type of life coach one aspires to be, acquiring some form of relevant training or education is essential.


For instance, a career life coach would require a background in business education or experience in the corporate world.

A nutrition coach would benefit from education in dietetics and mental health.

A general life coach could enhance their skills by completing an associate or bachelor's degree in psychology.


Once equipped with relevant education or experience, pursuing a certification in coaching can be a valuable step.

While not mandatory, certifications offer crucial benefits, such as the development of approaches to engage with clients and a framework for specialized areas.


Programs accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) are generally considered more credible in the industry.

Checking the ICF's database for accreditation of a coaching program can guide individuals interested in enrolling in such programs.

Upon completion of an ICF-accredited program and acquiring a certain number of coaching hours, individuals can explore earning one of ICF's three credentials, subject to renewal every three years.



Who should see a life coach?

Generally, those seeking to address past traumas and heal inner pain should opt for therapy.

Life coaching is better suited for individuals with specific goals they aim to achieve.

How long does it take to become a life coach?

There are no educational prerequisites to offer life coaching services.

However, certification programs typically span from 6 to 24 months.


How much do life coaches make?

According to the ICF's 2020 report, life coaches in North America had an average annual salary of $62,500 in 2019.


In conclusion, distinguishing between the roles of a life coach and a therapist, understanding their training requirements, and critically evaluating the legitimacy of life coaching are crucial steps in both seeking and pursuing a career in this field.

The choice between therapy and life coaching should be made based on individual needs, understanding that both can play instrumental roles in personal growth and well-being.

While the path to becoming a life coach doesn't necessarily mandate formal education, a solid foundation in relevant fields coupled with the appropriate certifications can significantly enhance one's ability to make a positive impact on their clients' lives.

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