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What is a Life Coach And What Is Life Coaching?

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What is a Life Coach and what do life coaches do?  Here's how to answer that question with confidence as well as questions about how life coaching compares with therapy, consulting and mentoring.

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What Is A  Life Coach?

Chart showing the elements that define a life coach, including mentoring and goals.

The best answer to the "what is a life coach?" question is that it he or she is a trained professional, who help the client achieve  their goals and outcomes, in personal and professional life.  

Having  invested in extensive training myself in the profession, I believes it is not OK to call yourself a professional life coach, unless you have some training in the specific coaching skills and understand how it differ from therapies such as phycology and counselling, or mentoring and consulting.

That said, a coach, who can bring another personal development tool to their practice, may have a distinct advantage in what they are able to offer their clients.

The professional life coach operates within the guidelines of a professional standards code such as the one created by the International Coach Federation (ICF) code of ethics, (The ICF is an independent coaching association which is recognised as the benchmark standard for good and ethical coaching)

The Definition Of Life Coaching

There are a few definitions of what life coaching is and does.

The ICF defines coaching as "partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential.

Another definition I found described life coaches and coaching as a "type of wellness professional who helps people make progress in their lives in order to attain greater fulfillment. Life coaches aid their clients in improving their relationships, careers, and day-to-day lives."

Personally, I often simplify it to  "As a life coach I take my clients from where they are to where they want to be in all areas of their life."

It often also helps to explain that life coaching can fill the gap left by therapy and/or consulting and mentoring in the path to success. A coach creates in partnership with the client a customised path  to  identify and set goals and outcomes in all areas of life and solve the issues that need to be handled to achieve this.

I hope this helps and you develop your own "user friendly"  and personalised answer to the questions about what is a life coach and what is life coaching. 

What Life Coaching Is Not

Coaching is very different from training and teaching in that it is client led, with the client needs setting the agenda. 

It is also different from therapies mentoring and consulting.

Pure Life Coaching: What is sometimes described as "pure coaching" is where only questions are asked and no advice is given. It does not include providing suggestions or advice or go deeper into therapy techniques, consulting and mentoring .

However, life coaching is often combined with these related practices which is fine, so long as the coach has the extra qualifications (in the case of therapy), background and skills and the client understands when these boundaries are crossed.  Here are some comparisons and differences.

Life Coaching versus Therapy

A couch for therapy

Therapies such as psychiatry, psychology or counselling mainly focus on healing the past whilst coaching is about enhancing the present, looking at possibilities and building the future.

Coaching doesn't depend on resolution of past issues to move the client forward, although a skilled professional coach may use information volunteered from the client's past to clarify a situation about where the client is today.

Therapy practitioners who have also studied coaching techniques find they can work well together.

As a coach, it is really important to learn and understand those situations when you are out of your depth and it is best to recommend a prospective or existing client to an appropriate, and qualified therapist or even, in the case of business coaching, a consultant.

Life Coaching And Consulting

Consultants are usually employed to assess business situations, provide and even help implement solutions.

One of the most important answers to the question what is life a life coach is that Life Coaches generally don't evaluate a situation or come up with solutions unless they are specifically asked for or given permission to make suggestions.  

Coach/Consultants who have the relevant experience and knowledge can appropriately offer the best of both worlds.

Mentoring And Life Coaching

A life coach mentoring a client

A mentor is usually defined as someone skilled specifically in the area where the client needs direction and advice. Someone who has 'been there - done that'.

For example, an aspiring author might seek out a someone who has written and published a best seller to mentor them through the writing and publishing options of a book.

The mentoring would be limited to the field of expertise (in this case writing and publishing) and would generally not get into anything deeper unless the mentor was also a coach and felt comfortable and qualified to do so.

Some businesses appoint mentors from their senior staff to help those less experienced.

Similarly, many experienced coaches offer mentoring to guide new coaches in consolidating their skills, gaining a credential and building their practice.

The lines between life coaching and mentoring have become increasingly blurred: 
It's is becoming more and more acceptable for coaches to venture into the realms of mentoring with their clients.  Also many independent life coaching associations now embrace mentors as well as coaches in their memberships.

In summary, because coaching is often taken up by other professionals as a valuable 'add on' to their skills there can be a natural and often beneficial crossover of those skills during the course of the coach/relationship.

The main thing to understand is that professional coaches have undergone a training at a recognised Life Coaching School to obtain a a coach specific skill-set.

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

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