What Does a Life Coach Do — and NOT Do?

June 25, 2021
Podcast
The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, featuring JRNI Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux, is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. In this episode, we’re clearing up the confusion between life coaching and therapy, and clarifying what it actually means to be a life coach.

In an attempt to explain what coaching is, you’ll often hear it compared to other disciplines. And one of the most commonly held misconceptions about life coaching is that it’s “just another form of therapy”. 

It’s easy to understand why. People who seek out life coaches, therapists, and counselors are all linked by the common desire to make progress in their lives.

So what does it actually mean when we say that life coaching and therapy are different? Aren’t they both about helping people? And why might you want to choose a career in coaching?

Let’s break it down!

Therapy

A therapist is who you’d see if you want to take a deep inward dive.

Therapists help explore and process the events and influences of your past, and how those experiences may be shaping your behavior in the present. A trained health provider is also who you’d want to check in with if you are experiencing emotional or behavior challenges that interfere with your ability to function at your best.

Therapists are licensed to treat mental illnesses using psychotherapeutic methods, and help their clients achieve and maintain baseline mental health. Psychotherapy includes treatment of depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and other diagnosable conditions.

Only therapists and counselors are qualified to determine and diagnose mental illnesses. 

Life Coaching

Life coaches help translate insight into action, adding rocket fuel to the process of achieving your goals, aspirations, or dreams.

This is where coaching clearly diverges from mental health counseling. Life coaches primarily work with clients on issues related to their present life and forward. Together, coach and client define a future vision, and develop a tactical action plan to achieve the client's specific goals.

A good life coach understands theories and models of change, and brings tools for self-inquiry, focus, and accountability to the table. The coach’s techniques are similar to a therapist’s in that they are research and evidence-based, and rooted in positive psychology. But these are two distinct, albiet complementary modalities.

What Does A Life Coach DO?

We’ve touched briefly on the core scope of work differences between mental health professionals and coaches. Now let’s dive into what it means to be a life coach, and how it’s experientially different from other fields!

Job of the Life Coach

Looking for the specific definition of a life coach? The International Coach Federation talks about coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”.  

Why do people need life coaching?

We all have insights and revelations. That’s the easy part. It’s translating those ideas into action that can be tricky. Life coaches help clients to identify what they really want, set and achieve measurable goals, clear roadblocks, and assess progress along the way.

Coaching is all about execution: figuring out what to do, and how to do it.

If you’re curious about what motivates people to hire a coach, and what clients typically receive from the process, check out: Who Hires A Life Coach, Anyway?

Professional Freedom

In coaching, there’s more opportunity to choose your own adventure, or as John Kim likes to put it… to be a “Mad Scientist”! 

Life coaching is an emerging field with ample room to experiment, play, and try new things. Whether you're interested in remote work and location independence, want more flexibility in your professional life, or are seeking deeper meaning and a more creative process in your work… there's a place for you in coaching.

Flexibility

We’re often asked: What does the typical day of a life coach look like?

The good news/bad news is that there isn’t one way to do it! It’s up to you to put together the approach that’s right for you... and your clients. 

This might seem intimidating if you’re jumping from a structured 9-5 background and into coaching. However, the ability to structure your business your way is one of the greatest sources of satisfaction for most coach practitioners.

LIfe coaching is liberating, but it’s not a free-for-all! When you enter this field, you’re joining the ranks of a global industry of professional coaches.

While you can have your own take on the "life coach definition" and how you practice within your specialty, the best practitioners follow a shared set of professional guidelines, standards, and a code of ethics, as set forth by the International Coaching Federation.

Content Creation

Whether it’s on social media or through workshops, articles, and programs, part of what it means to be a coach is to share your point of view.

Offering up your perspective is not just about marketing, attracting prospective clients, and making sales. Coaches produce content as an intervention, and as a way to share possibility and hope with others. 

Whether it’s the neuroscience of habit formation, or your own story of transformation, coaches share and talk about what we know to be true from both our training and experience. 

Personal Connection

So what does it mean to “share your story” as a coach?

HINT: Clients choose to work with you, not your resume. 

Odd are, there are going to be other life coaches out there offering services similar to yours. Whether you specialize in business coaching, focus on health and wellness, or are a relationship coach… you probably won’t be the only one in your niche. And that’s OK!

What makes your services unique is not just your training or the life coaching packages you offer, but YOU. Your lived experience. The challenges you’ve faced, joy you’ve experienced, lessons learned, and who you’ve become as a result.

‍Here's the important thing: your perspective is the single greatest asset you possess.

Your style and unique way of seeing the world is what draws prospective clients to you. It's why people choose to hire you. Those clients will rightfully expect you to draw from your own lived experience alongside the coaching training, techniques, and tools you have to offer. 

Coaches DON'T:

Provide Advice, Wave Magic Wands, or Offer Easy Answers

One of the most common misperceptions about coaching is that you’ll receive advice and guidance. Or that you'll be mystically "transformed" simply by signing up for a coaching program.

Nope.

As coaches, we don’t advise. We're also not your fairy godmother.

Instead, we regard the client as the expert in their own life. We help clients assess their thinking, get clarity, shift perspective, and uncover the wisdom of their own inner guidance system.

Many people who enroll in life coach training have heard countless times that they are “great listeners”. Often, our students also tell us that they’re the person friends and family come to for advice. So it can come as something of a shock in coach training to discover that this perceived strength may need to be “unlearned”!

In a life coaching session, the work is always client-directed.

What this means is that it’s not a life coach’s job to tell other people how to live. A coach’s role is to hold space in such a way that the client can have their own revelations.

Want more intel on how coaches do this?

Check out: If Life Coaches Don’t Give Advice, What Do They Do?

Coaches DO:

Bring Expertise to the Table

You may have heard that coaching is "an unregulated industry". That's true. And while anyone technically can call themselves a coach, we don’t advise it. Becoming a successful coach requires hard work, serious study, and a business mindset. 

Life coaching is a job, just like any other job.

The theoretical roots of coaching stem from sports psychology, goal setting theory, human development models, positive psychology, mindfulness, and neuroscience. As a coach, it's necessary to have an understanding of change theory and human development in order to be effective. Understanding the science behind why coaching works alongside the application of those techniques is a fascinating and worthwhile endeavor. 

The work of professional coaches is fundamentally about holding space and asking good questions. It’s about providing expert facilitation.

For more on coach-specific training and how to become an ICF Certified Coach, check out: What Certification Do You Need to Be a Life Coach? 

Want to Be A Coach?

One of our values at JRNI is that we dare to be different. Our coaches ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power and you’d like some partners in the process, come check out JRNI Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.

JRNI Coaching: Vibrant community. Evidence-based life coach training. Lifetime support.

[Free Guide] 6 Steps to Start Coaching Today

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