“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 exactly every time but you can hear and see the confusion from the person asking. And in fact, every life coach I know tries to answer this somewhere and sometime 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.

Something 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 and keep us from staying stuck.

So to come clean on this, at times, I do explore the past with my clients as long as I, intuitively, feel it is important to moving toward the future.The difference is that rehashing without forward movement isn’t progress, it’s just an inner-loop review.

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 have had nowhere to land. I may ask questions that have a client move out of their head and into the reactions of their body (somatic questions) or with a client who may need a little kick in the pants because they are stuck in an inner-loop, I may ask a confrontational question that makes them see a different perspective.

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 conversations about the coaching profession 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 that don’t provide training but direct what they feel should be taught. But certification comes down to is meeting the requirements of the chosen training course or organization.

I am certified in the Courageous Living Coach Certification. My training within the program required more than 75 hours of real-time holistic training including learning the core competencies set by the International Coach Federation plus a minimum of 60 – 1:1 client coaching hours. To complete the certification, 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. 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.

Are you interested in finding out more? Book a discovery session today!

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