What Is Life Coaching?
Life coaching is intended to help a client reach their potential in terms of who they want to be or what they want to accomplish. There are three core concepts involved in any life coaching process.
Core Concepts of Life Coaching
First, there must be a belief in the capacity for change and a motivation for change on the part of the client. Both the coach and the client must believe that change is possible for anyone who desires it and is willing to work at it. The underlying assumption is that people are creative, resourceful, and growth oriented.
Secondly, development of an increase in the client’s self-awareness is crucial to the life coaching process. This includes being willing to acknowledge one’s current strengths and limitations so that realistic attainable goals may be set for the future. Likewise, increased self-awareness of values and hopes for the future is encouraged.
A third core concept of life coaching is the importance of setting goals, followed by the client’s acceptance of accountability for reaching those goals. All life coaches facilitate the setting of goals by the client. With the coach’s help, a general statement of goals from the client becomes developed into specific measurable goals.
What’s the Goal of Life Coaching and Who Determines the Goal?
The goal of life coaching is to enable a client to reach their potential in any given aspect of their life. While the life coach asks questions to encourage self awareness and thought, the client must decide what it is that they want to be different in their lives. Once the vision of the future is established, the coach works with the client to figure out how to bring about those changes.
What Can Life Coaching Help With?
Life coaching can help with a wide range of future-oriented outcomes. These may be related to the client’s work, relationships, life/work balance, or general contentment.
Specific examples include:
Improved performance at work as seen in greater productivity
Improved work performance in terms of better efficiency
Improved relationships (more cooperation, less conflict, etc.)
Improved communication skills
Better balance of time spent at work vs. at home
Improved time management at home
Improved effectiveness of a working team
Improved physical health and emotional well-being
What & Who Is Life Coaching Not Right For?
Life coaching is not recommended for coping with mental illness, acute distress, or unresolved past issues. It is also not effective for individuals who are resistant to making changes in their lives, or who are seeking support as the primary intervention. Life coaching is not psychotherapy and can not substitute for therapeutic intervention or counseling. It is not a friendship; it is a working relationship.
Issues for which life coaching is not right (is not recommended or suitable) include:
Clinical depression, including Major Depression and Bipolar Disorder
Chronic or acute anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Those with unresolved problems from the past, such as unresolved grief or anger due to past trauma
Serious mental illness, such as Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder
Personality Disorders which include eccentric behaviors (Paranoid, Schizoid, Schizotypal)
Personality Disorders which involve dramatic or erratic behaviors (Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic, Narcissistic)
Desire for emotional support without intention of making changes
Need for athletic coaching/training
Those who view their life as “good enough” and feel no need for change
Those who want to be directly told “what to do”
Life Coaching vs. Psychotherapy
Life coaching is different from psychotherapy in several critical ways. Most importantly, life coaching is not intended to treat any emotional or mental illness. Coaching is aimed at taking a current life situation which is tolerable but less than ideal toward a future outcome which is highly desired.
Psychotherapy often addresses current situations which are not tolerable and causing significant distress. A psychotherapist is educated and experienced in working with individuals who have serious psychological issues.
Life coaches do not necessarily have such education or experience, unless they also happen to be trained psychotherapists. For this reason, only psychotherapists are qualified to treat the various emotional disorders and personality disorders noted above.
A second critical difference between life coaching and psychotherapy is that life coaches do not address problems related to past unresolved losses or traumas. Life coaching is exclusively focused upon the present and future, while psychotherapy usually involves some understanding of the past as well as coping with the present and preparing for the near future.
Thirdly, life coaches differ from therapists in terms of the role of support in the relationship. Psychotherapists will be supportive as needed during the therapy process, as they are fully aware that their clients are often in a state of distress. Life coaches must focus upon goals and measurable outcomes as opposed to coping with current distress. Therefore, life coaches will primarily be a motivator and an accountability partner as opposed to a supportive person.
A fourth difference between the role of life coach versus psychotherapist is that the former will usually be much more open about their personal life, at least in their advertising of services and social media presence. Most psychotherapists only reveal facts of their personal lives when relevant and helpful to the topic presented by the client, such as to express empathy.
A final, often cited, difference is in the role of providing advice and guidance to the client. There is less clear distinction in this role because psychotherapists vary greatly in their tendency to be directive and provide guidance, depending upon the therapeutic model.
A behavioral therapist will be much more directive than a psychoanalytic therapist. A life coach is expected to provide guidance and to advise the client as a primary part of their work, although they generally avoid telling a client “what to do.”
Common Steps, Techniques, and Types of Life Coaching
There are four basic steps involved in the life coaching process, regardless of the type of coaching. The first step is to clarify the real issue. Most often, the issue with which the client presents is not the actual cause of their problem, and not what is holding them back from reaching their potential.
Step two is to assess where the client is now. It is important to determine and describe their current pattern of behavior as it relates to the problem. The third step is to define the desired outcome. Setting up the ways to get to the desired outcome is the final step. The following techniques, as well as others, may be used throughout these four steps.
Common Techniques Used in Life Coaching
A very common technique is to create a safe space in which the client feels seen and heard so that they may begin to describe their current problem. This is done by offering help and asking general questions about the client’s situation. Much of the time, active listening is the most effective way to create this safe space.
Another common technique is to ask more probing questions in order to identify the current pattern of behavior. This questioning is meant to generate an understanding of how the current pattern is serving the client. It may protect them from taking certain risks which would expose them to underlying fears.
Sometimes, these questions are asked in the form of incomplete sentences which are meant to get at the underlying motives for current behavior. For example, a client who has been unsuccessful in growing a new business might be asked to complete the sentence: “If my business were more successful, then I would no longer be able to…”
Common Types of Life Coaching
There are two basic types of life coaching: workplace/business coaching and personal coaching. Workplace coaching isdirected toward increasing the resilience and the effectiveness of the individual for the benefit of both the individual and the organization.
The client and the coach work as equal partners to solve problems, improve performance, and/or achieve longer term goals. It is distinct from workplace training due to the focus upon individualized goals for that particular client. Workplace coaching may be labelled “executive coaching” when the purpose is to develop business qualities such as leadership.
In contrast, personal coaching is directed toward reaching a client’s individual goals for their own purposes, regardless of any organizational outcomes. There is sometimes an overlap in terms of who/what benefits from the coaching process. For example, a small business owner may see little distinction between optimizing personal outcomes versus organizational outcomes.