What is life coaching? What does a life coach do exactly? And do I need one?!
Life abroad has treated me well, but at times I’ve found it overwhelming. The practical logistics of relocation, the challenge of reshaping my career into something remote, the stress of moving abroad with kids… no doubt I could have benefited from some type of professional support.
As a freelancer writer focusing a lot on mental wellbeing I work with life coaches a lot. I’ve come across inspirational leaders who have changed the way I think, as well as charlatans cashing in on a trend.
I often get asked if I offer life coaching myself. As of yet I don’t, but I do write about the strategies that have helped me personally in my life abroad.
I’ve been looking into life coaching training as a means to deepen my understanding and wanted to share my thoughts here. What does a life coach do? Are they worth it? How much do they cost? And everything else in between…
What does a life coach do exactly?
A life coach is a wellness professional. A life coach supports their clients in their relationships, career, business and life in general. A good life coach can help an individual identify their goals, build on their strengths and make changes to reach their full potential.
A life coach does not make decisions on behalf of the client, but helps them find their own way forward. They unleash confidence, spark new ideas and inspire. A good life coach doesn’t preach, but listens, and offers tailor-made support.
Most importantly, life coaches are not therapists, counsellors or psychologists. They are not medical professionals.
Counsellors, therapists and psychologists focus on mental health, digging deep into an individual’s past to heal trauma and repair broken habits. Meanwhile, life coaches focus not on the past, but the future. Life coaches work from the principle that the client is free of mental health conditions and is generally well in terms of their mental health.
Life coaches are not qualified to diagnose medical issues. They are there for people seeking a little extra purpose in life, who need support with their self confidence or who need a neutral third party for some clarity.
Do I need a coach?
Just a generation ago consulting a life coach would be unheard of in most households. Since then, coaching has rocketed in popularity. The stress and challenges of the pandemic have heightened the need for support yet further. Nevertheless, a life coach might not be the best person to help you.
Do you need a life coach? It depends.
I have friends who have greatly benefited from life coaching. They’ve transformed their businesses, relationships and careers. They’ve grown in confidence, felt happier and become more motivated.
However many get by just as well with other forms of support. This support could come in the form of a business mentor, a spiritual leader, a colleague or a friend. For some, work experience is a more fruitful way of advancing in a career. I also have friends who consult with a priest as a means of staying grounded and finding purpose. For others, the sympathetic ear of a good friend might be just as beneficial as life coaching.
Sometimes, expert psychological care is more appropriate. For example, if you’ve experienced trauma in a hardship location, if it’s affecting your daily routine and you’re struggling to move forwards, then a qualified therapist might be better placed to help. Whatsmore, only a qualified mental health expert will be able to diagnose and treat mental health conditions. A life coach cannot replace a doctor.
Life abroad can be lonely. I’ve seen some women turn to a life coach in the hope of meeting people and making friends. While a life coach might be able to boost a client’s confidence, and while the coaching experience may be intimate, a coach is not a friend. A good coach will be impartial and will hold you to account, but they cannot replace friends or family.
And finally, life coaches are not magicians. If you’re looking for a quick fix, overnight solution without pain, effort or heart ache, then a life coach isn’t for you. A life coach doesn’t do the work for you, they make you accountable for your own work and your own life decisions.
In fact I’d say consider life coaching only alongside exploring other options, too. Perhaps you need to see a medical expert, perhaps you just need a holiday. Don’t assume you need life coaching.
Who are the best life coaches?
A famous name such as Tony Robbins might impress, but they won’t necessarily be best person to help you. The best life coach is the best life coach for your needs.
Do you want to work one-to-one or in groups, or a mixture? Are you looking for help in a specific area? No doubt a coach with niche expertise in a very specific field will be more useful to you than a generic conference on wellbeing. Perhaps you feel more inspired within a group setting than on one-to-one calls. It’s important to consider the style of coaching you feel you would benefit from most.
While life coaching is unregulated and anyone can choose to call themselves a coach, a good life coach will most likely be certified with a reputable organisation. A life coach who has undergone training accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) isn’t guaranteed to be perfect for you, but they have undergone specialist training. They have invested time (and money) to train, so they take their profession seriously. Barefoot Coaching, Animas and Co-Active are some of the most highly regarded life coaching schools, and their programmes are all accredited by the ICF. There are also coaching associations – such as the Association for Coaching or the European Mentoring and Coaching Council UK to look out for.
Qualifications needn’t be limited to the coaching space, however. Far from it. Good life coaches may have other relevant certificates under their belt too, e.g. a sports degree, a diploma in nutrition or an MBA.
Nevertheless, qualifications don’t necessarily mean life coaches are qualified to help you personally. There is no substitute for life experience. It’s worth researching the life coach’s background to check if they have the skills and expertise to support you. An executive coach should be able to demonstrate how they have worked successfully within large organisations, an entrepreneur coach should have experience of setting up their own business and a family coach should have experience working with children, for example as a teacher or a parent.
Finally, a well intentioned life coach isn’t necessarily a good coach. A good life coach should be content in themselves. They shouldn’t be using coaching as a means to plug a gap in their own lives.
What is the best way to use a life coach?
While the pandemic has restricted movement, it’s also worth thinking about whether you’re happy to work online only, or if you’d prefer face to face meetings. A good life coach will adapt to your needs, but will still have a particular style of working. A free, no obligation chemistry call should give you an idea of their work styles.
Just as importantly, a chemistry call will give you an idea of their character too. Yes, all life coaches should be inspirational, but the term inspirational is very subjective. For some this means a high energy, happy and focused individual, for others, it means a more gentler, softer listening style.
You’ll need to lay out your expectations and what you’re willing to invest (time & money) from the outset. To avoid any misunderstandings, explain exactly what you’re hoping to get out of the coaching, including the results you’d like to see. A good coach should manage your expectations if necessary. They will lay out the roadmap that you’ll be following to your dream destination, including how often you’ll meet, what type of exercises you’ll be doing and the time frame that you can expect to work in.
Essentially, you both need to be crystal clear about your expectations from the outset.
Are life coaches worth it? Is life coaching a con?
There can be huge benefits to life coaching. As mentioned I’ve seen friends who have transformed their lives through life coaching. Nevertheless there are lots of charlatans out there.
The International Coaching Federation estimated that there were approximately 71,000 coach practitioners in 2019, an increase of 33% on 2015. However as life coaching isn’t regulated, it’s hard to say just how many people are advertising themselves as a life coach. The true number of supposed life coaches could be much higher.
Personally I’ve been bombarded by offers for quick life fixes through social media. With just one credit card payment I could see my life transformed. Yeah, sure.
And for a few hundred dollars and a quick glance over an ebook, I could be coaching others too. And then I could move onto coaching coaches in a glorious pyramid scheme of fakery. There is nothing wrong with training and education, but when someone’s only credentials are to teach to teach, it all gets a bit ridiculous.
It’s also worth investigating the supposed life coaches who were earning a six figure salary and want to teach you to do this too. Watch out for the con artists in life coach disguise who will claim that they had a hugely successful career in [insert industry] and now work as a coach. If they were so damn successful and enjoyed it so much, why aren’t they doing it now? There may well be a good reason for this, just as really good teachers and sport coaches are often better placed to train others than themselves. However I’d be wary of anyone making wild claims.
Moreover, even the best coach is only worth as much time and energy you are willing to invest. Just as if you consulted a doctor but refused to take the medicine, life coaching will be a waste of your time and money if you don’t make the effort. Save yourself the time and money. Book yourself a facial, a holiday or dinner with a friend.
How much does a life coach cost?
Fees vary immensely, depending on the level of experience of the coach and the type of coaching. For example one-to-one executive coaching with a highly experienced coach including weekly calls and the option to call out of office hours would be priced much higher than a group webinar with someone less experienced in the field of personal coaching. Rates per hourly session vary enormously, from free to over £2,000 GBP.
According to Animas Centre for Coaching, within personal coaching a new coach will charge rates of £30-£50 per hour, while more experienced coaches (3+ years) will charge around £150-£200. In the executive coaching sphere, coaches generally charge a minimum of £200 per hour, or a daily fee of £1500 upwards.
Most coaching centres will require a minimum level of experience for a coach to qualify, so some new coaches will offer free coaching in order to gain their accreditation.
However there really no such thing as a free lunch, so don’t assume that free coaching is always worth it. If something is for free, chances are you’re the one being sold. On the flip side, don’t assume the coach with the highest rates will be the best. The bet life coach is the best coach for you.
What are the different types of coach?
Broadly speaking, there are two types of coach – personal and executive. Executive coaches deal more with business and leadership related issues, while personal coaches focus on the personal space, e.g. healthy eating, fitness etc. Of course, both types of coaching may overlap with each other as coaching generally takes a holistic approach.
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the most common types of coach:
- Relationship coach. Relationship coaches give direct, impartial advice and bring people together to deal with issues. They support individuals who are having difficulty finding a partner, provide guidance to couples considering getting married or divorced. As per all coaches, relationship coaches aren’t just for broken people or couples, but for anyone looking to stay healthy in their relationships. I have happily married friends who consult with relationship coaches like a general check up with a dentist.
- Family coach. Family life coaches help facilitate conversation between parents and their children or other family members. An expat family life coach might look at ways of managing a relocation as a family, for example. They can suggest ways of dealing with stress individually and as a family unit. They can offer up ways for parents to better connect with their children in case they’re having a tough time with the move.
- Career coach. A career coach supports anyone facing career issues. These might be a career switch, retirement, redundancy or dismissals. A career coach can also help people discover what types of jobs would suit their talents and personal interests, and help them to get started on their new career path.
- Entrepreneur coaches. These support people in setting up their own business. They should have personal experience of setting up a business themselves and be able to give objective third party advice with everything from business plans and pitch decks, to finding a healthy work-life balance.
- Finance coach. A financial coach helps people meet their financial goals. They assist people struggling to meet financial obligations, who are looking to make a long-term financial plan or who are looking for ways to pay off multiple or complex debts. Finance coaches also support people who have overspending issues or are concerned about building a safe financial future.
- Mental wellbeing coach. A mental wellbeing coach supports those with specific, but mild mental health issues such as conflict, or anger. For example, they can teach anger or stress management. However they should not be used in cases of a mental health disorder, for depression or to heal past trauma. Only a psychotherapist or qualified healthcare worker can diagnose and treat mental health conditions. A mental wellbeing coach helps people who are generally OK in themselves, but are looking for more confidence, balance or sense of purpose in their life.
- Health / wellness coach. They are many types of coaches within the health coaching spectrum. Weight loss, nutrition, fitness and sleep coaches all fall under this category. Some of these might also be certified personal trainers or nutritionists. They cannot replace qualified medical healthcare professionals, but they can support an individual in their quest to address overeating, muscle gain, poor nutrition etc. Many wellness coaches work on a holistic basis, meaning they examine how different health aspects all impact upon an individual. These may include helping an individual to draw up meal plans, fitness schedules and meditation routines, for example.
- Spiritual coach. A spiritual coach supports those who are seeking enlightenment or a more meaningful life. They might advocate techniques such as mediation and prayer, and their coaching will reflect the principles of their faith. Spiritual coaches often specialise in a particular religion/spirituality such as Buddhism or Christianity.
How to find a good life coach – 10 tips
There is no singular path to finding a good life coach, however there are a few points which should hopefully help you in your search:
- Consider the alternatives. Is life coaching even right for you? A self help book, a mentorship programme, work experience or even a chat with a close friend might be more beneficial. If you have faced a psychological trauma, a qualified mental health expert, e.g. therapist or psychologist will be better placed to help.
- Look for qualifications. While coaching isn’t regulated and you might find a good coach without any certification, a post graduate qualification accredited by the ICF is a good benchmark and filter.
- Research experience. Experience is key and unless the coach has lived, worked and breathed your area of concern, chances are they won’t be able to help you. A good coach should have a proven track record in your field of interest.
- Look to your niche. Go as niche as possible. For example, if you are looking to get back into work after having children, consider a job coach for mothers, or a job coach specialising in your particular industry with a track record of supporting mothers.
- Say no to a hard sell. A reputable life coach will offer a free, no obligation chemistry call. If they don’t feel they can help you, they will decline your custom or redirect you. Anyone offering a long term life coach programme should offer the customer a cool off period to make up their minds before handing over any money.
- Be wary of scams. A reputable life coach won’t be pushing you with ‘hurry now, sale is ending’ style fake promotions, and will be transparent about their fees. Transformational coaching takes time, and anyone promising a quick fix, overnight success, or life changing experience without effort are out to make cash, not transform lives. If a coach says they can help support you, they will outline exactly how.
- Consider your style. Would you prefer to work with your coach on a regular weekly basis, or spread out your coaching through monthly target reviews? Do you thrive best in a group setting, or would you prefer the intimacy of a one-to-one setting? Do you feel comfortable speaking online face-to-face, or do you prefer to work via email? Ask the coach about how they work.
- Check their availability. Consider time zone differences and the life coach’s availability. Will they be available only during business hours or on weekends too? Will they be accessible only during sessions, or will they be available in between too, if necessary? Can you send them a quick email or Whatsapp with a question now and again? Would you be charged extra for this?
- Determine the final cost. Check how much a full coaching programme will cost in full, and how much coaching this breaks down to (e.g. x many hours of one-to-one calls). Determine the cost by reviewing any small print. Ask for the fee breakdown and final total.
- Assess results. A good life coach will come with references and public endorsements. If a friend has recommended a coach to you, dig deep about how they helped – what was the coach’s strategy, how did they add value? A good life coach will be open about their level of coaching expertise, citing their number of coaching hours and results (e.g. 90% of clients went on to a promotion one year afterwards, 95% of customers would recommend to others).