Updated: Feb 12
Life Coaching is a reasonably new helping service that is one of the fastest-growing around the world. The concept of coaching itself is very familiar. Most of us have had some relationship with a coach somewhere along our life's journey, if not many times along the seasons' pages. Whether it was a little league baseball coach or maybe a tennis coach, to possibly a school coach that taught us basics in sports during our PE classes, the concept, and term of coaching has been around for a long time. So we readily understand a coach from a sports point of view, but what is a life coach?
A life coach is someone who partners with a client to help a client reach his/her goal(s). Coaching is not counseling. Counseling is about therapy. Counseling is often about using evidence-based therapy techniques to help a patient examine and deal with the past. Past relationships, pains, and unresolved issues that are causing a heightened sense of anxiety or pain in the present are often reasons someone might seek out counseling. Now it can be said that counseling is often broader than the definition I just gave, but hopefully, it will suffice to illustrate this point: coaching is not counseling.
Coaching is a service in which a coach comes alongside a client to help them evaluate who they are, the goal or goals they are trying to reach, and the resources they possess to achieve those goals. The world leader and most well-known coach accrediting agency, The International Coach Federation says this about coaching:
ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today's uncertain and complex environment. Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole. (International Coach Federation, 2013)
Coaching is not a replacement, nor a substitute for counseling but an entirely different process. If someone requires counseling and can benefit from the therapeutic process of counseling, they should seek out a counselor or psychiatrist. However, if a person is otherwise emotionally, mentally, and physically stable but feels they are in a "rut" and are not progressing towards goals they have set for themselves, a life coach specializing in whatever area or niche the client is seeking could be of great help.
The next logical question would be, how does coaching work? As already said, coaching is not counseling, and just so we are clear, coaching is also not consulting or mentoring. Coaching can, and sometimes does draw from these different fields; however, coaching is about a one on one relationship to help a client get results in their life. A coach brings to bear a particular toolset, of active listening and assessment to help the client discover or realize who they are. In my case, as a Christian coach, who God made them to be. A coach will also help the client see where they want to go and what it will take to get there.
This kind of process involved in coaching is a very open and transparent process. A coach will often share their story, their authentic ability to show forth experience, and understanding in the field which the client is seeking help. It is this transparency, often reaching and sharing from the coach's personal life experiences, that helps the coach and client form a partnership that will facilitate the success sought.
With some explanations and processes in front of us, let's use a hypothetical situation to illustrate. I am a minister and have been a full-time pulpit minister for over seventeen years as of the writing of this essay. Throughout those years, I have had a lot of opportunities to sit with people in conversation regarding many different problems, pains, and trials. I would say many good times as well, but for the sake of this illustration, I have some experiences in speaking with individuals that are hurting or in a "rut." A potential client comes to me; we will call him John Smith, who is having some problems with his marriage, how do I handle this situation?
First, I want to get to know Mr. Smith and make sure coaching is something he is seeking or if counseling may be better suited for his needs. I will ask either by a questioner or in a personal conversation questions to try to help me discover who John is. I will ask questions about his family, how long he has been married, how long he dated his wife before getting married. I will ask and seek to find out about his work or career, about children if he has them, about extended family and friends. I want to know who this person in my office is, but I also want him to discover or maybe rediscover who he is in the process. It is helpful for a client to take a bit of a self-inventory.
Next, I want to know why he has come to me. I want to find out what he seeks to accomplish, what his goal or intended outcome is. I want to work with John to help him realize what this goal is or should be. At this point, a bit of a word on ethics would be appropriate. I want the purpose or goals that Mr. Smith is going to be pursuing to be his goals, not mine. My place as a coach is to help my client reach their goals, to see themselves and their own resources, not to mold them into an image of my own choosing. I also want to make sure in this process that my client is in a place where coaching will be of benefit to him. I want to listen for and observe for signs that John may need therapy counseling or even medical help. It would be unethical to coach an individual who would be better served at this point by a psychiatrist or medical doctor.
We will assume at this point, I have helped Mr. Smith to realize a goal. For the sake of this hypothetical, he has decided he needs to have better communication with his wife. Here is where I, as the coach, can draw on my experiences with other couples, including my own marriage, to help establish and give context to the client's own struggles. By drawing on similar situations, l am looking to accomplish a couple of things—one to show forth the experience on my part to be able to help the client. Secondly, to show hope in the situation. Past frustrations often leave people devoid of hope. Hope is a necessary element to be re-established to affect change.
Now we are looking to establish a plan to help the client reach his goal. This may be evaluating what the client already knows and finding the barriers that keep the client from implementing the changes he already knows he needs to make. This planning process would include helping the client create a plan of action to achieve measurable steps towards his goal but also to hold him accountable. This is one of the main points of coaching that we must hold our clients accountable for change to take place.
In order to hold my clients (and for that matter to have clients) accountable, I must hold myself accountable as well. It is about trust. Dwight Bain said, "Trust is everything." (Bain, 2013) This statement is so on the money.
Hopefully, through assessment, planning, education (where needed), and accountability, we help Mr. Smith achieve his goal of better communication with his wife. This is a snapshot of how a professional relationship in coaching would function.
International Coach Federation (2013). The International Coach Federation Official Website.