“What in the heck IS life coaching?” It’s the number one question I have received since starting my journey as a coach.

Maybe the question isn’t worded the exact way each time but you can hear and see the confusion when the person is asking. And in fact, every life coach I know tries to answer this somewhere and at some time so I felt it was my turn to address the industry and how I see it .

Not Therapy

There is a lot of discussion around coaching vs. therapy. Therapists dislike the coaching profession and at times it’s mutual. My opinion? There is room for both lines of work and there should be.

First, I want to clear up a misconception – coaching is NOT therapy; I am NOT a therapist, nor do I want to be one.

An important thing to remember about life coaching is that coaches do not diagnose mental illness or treat it. If I felt a client would be better suited to work with a mental health professional, I would work with them to find resources in choosing one with no hesitation.

I have had both therapists and coaches at different times of my life. The work was similar in some ways but different in others. I once had a therapist who was very coach-like and a life coach who was not at all coach- or therapist-like.

Past or Future?

Another point of confusion that is brought up often is that “therapists deal with the past and coaches deal with the future.”

This comment always gives me pause. I mean, yes, as a coach it is my desire to have my clients moving in a forward direction. But I would hope that therapists would want their clients to do the same and not stay as a forever-patient.

One thing that I know is true: We are a product of our past. Not a single decision or reaction is made without some influence from the past. It’s learning the wisdom of the past that can move us forward or can keep us stuck.

So to come clean on this, at times, I do explore the past with my clients as long as my client and I feel it is an important exploration to moving toward their goal. If going back to look the past is too emotional or painful (think abuse, trauma or PTSD that hasn’t received proper attention) , then it’s best if my client do this exploration with a therapist. Please understand, tears are fine and strong emotions are fine. But emotions that are overwhelming and would cause a relapse of feelings is best for a client to seek someone trained to work with these scenarios.

So enough of what coaches are “not”, what “are” we?

I like to think of myself as a guide, someone who walks a journey with my clients. I let them lead and walk beside them; or maybe if the brush has overgrown, I’ll blaze the trail for a couple of steps to help them retake the direction.

At the start of a coaching relationship, I have my clients establish a focus for our time together. We meet via conference line at their convenience, where they are home and feel most safe.

I listen. I ask questions that can lead to deeper discovery as they answer, search and share the thoughts that come up for them. I ask a variety of question styles from fact finding, clarifying, or those that have a client move out of their head and into the reactions of their body (somatic questions). I offer accountability and if needed, a little confronting with love and kindness for clients who are afraid to admit the truth. We work on creating the positive outcome they are wanting, in thought and in action.

At times we will work through exercises on the call and there are times when I assign “homework” to help strengthen our conversation between sessions. But we are constantly moving toward the focus goal.

A little about training and certification

One dividing point in the coaching industry is training and certification. Seriously, coaches can act like the “popular crowd” in a middle school lunchroom around this.

Basically, certification varies among programs and there are also larger entities of certification (the International Coach Federation or ICF) that don’t provide training but direct what they feel should be taught for their certification. Certification comes down to meeting the requirements of the chosen training course or organization.

I am certified in the Courageous Living Coach Certification and have the distinction of a CLCC (Courageous Living Certified Coach). My training within the program required more than 75 hours of real-time holistic training including learning the core competencies set by the ICF plus a minimum of 60 – 1:1 client coaching hours. To complete the certification after the intensive training, I submitted a portfolio of 1) a recorded client call that highlighted criteria within the coaching skill set, 2) an assessment, 3) a test and 4) an exit interview.

There are many other training programs and certifications, neither of which guarantee that a recipient is a good coach. There are brilliant coaches who are not certified and there are certified coaches who I wouldn’t want to hire.

One thing I want to add about this: I will never feel my training as a life coach is over. As I continue to experience my client’s needs, I will constantly be looking to make that experience better for them. Right now, I am learning more on process work and exploring different channels such as auditory, visual and feeling-based processing. My first ever training around coaching was becoming a Stephen Minister in 2005 and my education has continued and will continue to do so.

I recommend that if you are looking for a coach to set up a discovery session with a coach. This will allow you to explore the potential for a coaching relationship before jumping into an agreement. For both the client and the coach, it’s important that the relationship be built from the start around openness and trust. I require all of my clients to initially go through a Hello Session. I want to be sure we are a good match and I have the feeling that I can help the client. If I feel they are better suited with another coach, I have a whole network of other coaches that I can recommend.

Are you interested in finding out more? Book a Hello Session today!

Have any other questions around coaching? I’d love to answer them for you in the comments below!