What Is a Life Coach?

And why are they popping up everywhere?

For many years there has been a steady increase in the number of people setting themselves up as ‘life coaches’. Following the COVID 19 pandemic, I’m fully expecting even more of them to appear. Already you may have begun to notice your social media feeds, and your inbox, filling up with claims from people who seem to have found the solution to living a happy life. Surely they are all a load of con-artists? After all, there is no magic wand for life. Here I explain, what a life coach is, why there are loads about, and some tips for separating the good from the downright dodgy.

When is a coach not a coach?

Answer: When they are a mentor, a counsellor, a therapist, a trainer or a sports coach!

There is a lot of confusion around what a ‘coach’ is (Both in the general public and, unfortunately, the coaching industry itself). Coaching is the process of helping a person find their own solutions to problems, usually through skillful and insightful questioning. As individuals we are the experts on our own lives, but often we have blind spots, fail to see the bigger picture or lose perspective. Working with a skilled coach helps us find our own path forward. This is one of the things I love about it. Someone who is purely ‘coaching’ will never tell you what you should do. At most they may stretch to a suggestion, which you can choose to ignore. This is very different to a ‘mentor’ who is teaching based on their experience, a ‘trainer’ who is teaching you how to do something, or a ‘sports coach’ who is often part mentor, part trainer, and the good ones have some actual coaching thrown in too.

Another area to emphasize is that coaching is about the future and moving forward. Contrast that with counsellors and therapists who are more likely to look to the past, particularly to explore trauma or difficult events. A coach may discuss past events with you, but only for the purpose of context and understanding of where your thinking is now.

What on earth is a ‘life coach’?

So next we have the myriad of different types of coaches: Business Coach, Health Coach, Mindset Coach, Life Coach… These are indicators of the field of work of the coach, and gives you some idea what they specialise in. In reality many coaches blend at least some mentoring into coaching, and as individuals we are attracted to work with people whom we perceive have solved the problems we want to solve – which is actually mentoring. Whilst it’s important to have a coach you feel comfortable with, they don’t actually need experience of your problem if they are truely coaching. Remember you are capable of finding your own solutions, a coach will help you uncover them.

A ‘Life Coach’ will help you resolve issues in life, and a ‘Wellbeing Life Coach’ (that’s me!), will take a perspective of prioritising wellbeing as a foundation for supporting other parts of life.

How do I avoid getting ripped off?

Unfortunately anyone can set themselves up as a life coach as the area is unregulated. You can ask about training, which shows at least a commitment to the profession, and it’s also a good idea to ask a prospective coach why they do what they do. This may help you sniff out those who think they’re going to make easy money, and don’t have your best interests at heart. It’s actually a bit of a myth that coaches are money swindlers, because despite low start-up costs and overheads, most coaches barely make any money at all. It tends to be something people are drawn to because they care (a bit like nurses), rather than a financially astute career choice. Of course there are exceptions, and you should be wary of flash advertising and quick fixes, in the same way you would be in any industry. There’s always some bad apples around.

Why are they popping up everywhere now?

I think there are a couple of reasons for this which I’ve already mentioned. First, it’s an easy business to set up and anyone can do it. This will be attractive to people out of work thinking they have something to offer. They may be very well intentioned. They may even have something useful to offer as a mentor or trainer. But coaching is a learned skill, and if that’s the skill you want to employ then make sure you are checking out credentials.

The other reason I expect to see an influx of life coaches, is that they are incredibly helpful for getting through times of change. The more turbulent the change, the more helpful a coach can be. When we are in crisis is when we are most at risk of losing sight of what’s important. A coach can help us keep perspective and look to move forward. A life coach is also really helpful for forging a new path in life. Whether it a new career, and change in relationship status, or dealing with a health issue, a good life coach helps us work through the difficult decisions, develop new ideas, and keep moving.

In behavioural change science it is well recognised that sudden shocks in life can cause us to re-assess our priorities, and want to make a change for the better. Right now we are experiencing such a life-changing shock on a global scale. It will affect people differently and on different timescales, but it is certain that many people will benefit from support for the change ahead. Of course life coaches are not the only people who can help here, but they are part of the picture, and are stepping up to make their contribution.

Diane Brown is a Wellbeing Life Coach, helping women who want to move forward and thrive in life. Originally trained as a PhD. Chemist, she has since had a 15 year in corporate management, before choosing to re-train and set up her own coaching practice in 2018. Diane holds qualifications in Workplace Coaching, Triathlon Coaching, Wellbeing Life Coaching and Sports & Exercise Psychology (Including Behaviour Change). She lives in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, with her family and treasured garden.

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