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The History of Life Coaching

Page Summary

The history of life coaching - its origins and development is an interesting story and an important one for aspiring life coaches to know, understand and appreciate how it differs from therapy and other services.

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The Origin of Life Coaching

The concept of life coaching goes back to sports coaching, school coaching, music coaching etc and how advantageous it can be for people in all walks of life and occupations, to have the support of a coach to bring them to their full potential.

But life coaching, as you will discover, is very different in its criteria and application from sports and other types of coaching. It is also often confused with therapy, consulting, training and mentoring. So let's get started with some life coaching facts.

It started with Thomas Leonard

The concept and history of life coaching today really starts in the 1980s with Thomas Leonard, an American financial planner.

Leonard observed that his clients, though emotionally stable and hardly needing therapy, wanted more from him than just the usual tips on how to invest and safeguard their incomes.

They wanted help in organising their lives better and planning and achieving their goals.  

As a result of his observations, Leonard’s career gradually shifted from financial planning to full-time developing of the techniques which were to become the origin of life coaching methodology.  At the time he called it “life-planning”.

Within a few years, he was coaching and training people in those specific coaching skills which were complimentary but quite different to those practiced by therapists, mentors and consultants. (You can read about what life coaching really is, by reading this life coaching definition.)

The First Life Coach SpecificTraining

In the early 1990's Leonard founded the first formal coach-training program.  He called it Coach University. Coach U as it came to be known. Coach U offered courses in coaching that were conducted live or via a series of conference calls often called “tele-classes”. No Skype, Zoom or Internet back then!

Coach U's Essential Coaching Tools - your complete practice resource

I'm proud to say I trained with CoachU in 1998 to 2000, with 200 hours of tele-classes. I later become a tele-class leader teaching other aspiring life coaches from all over the world.

I still believe the life coaching principles and processes Thomas Leonard devised (which have been adopted and adapted by many other coaching schools) are a strong and authentic foundation for life coaching success. 

CoachU's Essential Coaching Tools has many processes and checklists and is a great resource to have on hand to choose from to enhance your coaching - wherever you did your life coach training. Also check out their Personal and Corporate Coach Training Handbook. 

The International Coach Federation

Thomas Leonard was also instrumental in founding the International Coach Federation an important component in the history of life coaching to this day. This worldwide body was the first to set and publish industry standards and ethics and provide independent credentialing of coaches and accreditation of coaching schools.

Thomas Leonard died tragically young at 49, but Coach U and the ICF remain as his legacy. 

The ICF is still the benchmark for coaching excellence though there are now many other associations that provide accreditation of training courses and credentialing of coaches. 

From Cynicism About Life Coaching To Understanding And Praise

When life coaching first hit the personal development scene, it was often presented vaguely and viewed cynically.

People couldn't decide whether it was a credible profession or the latest dubious fad from the U.S.

Now, the idea that a properly trained and certified professional life coach can be a real asset to individuals and businesses, has gained worldwide acceptance.

Thousands of trained professional life coaches and many people from other similar disciplines such as mentoring, therapy and consulting have embraced its value. 

As coaching has become more of a recognised discipline, numerous college and university post graduate courses in coaching are being offered around the world.

Unfortunately, life coaching is not licensed or regulated in most parts of the world. This has resulted in many people who have little understanding of the specific skills needed to life coach are simply able to add the word "coach" or "life coach" to their portfolio of skills without any training.

And this is further complicated by the many different types of coaches there are - sports, health, fitness, financial, business who are in reality trainers or consultants and do not do life coaching as prescribed by Leonard.

I have to labour the point that life coaching is a specific and wonderful skill to master. It can be combined with other qualifications or skills a person may have but to credibly call yourself a life coach you need to have had life coach specific training. 

Getting Started As A Life Coach

You can learn more about life coaching and becoming a life coach by exploring this site including, in particular the related pages shown below.  

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Created and written by Wendy Buckingham, Class One Productions P/L. Sydney

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