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Get a Life ... Coach
What do you want to do with the rest of your life? What’s your strategy for accomplishing it? Are you happy with your current career path, or your current relationship?
If you struggle to answer any of these questions or you don’t like your answers, maybe it’s time for a life coach. But what exactly is a life coach, anyway, and how do you find a good one?
We did the research to bring you this 101 guide to how a life coach could help you, where to shop for a life coach, what kind of training a good life coach has, and what fees and results to expect.
What is a life coach?
Life coaches help people set and/or achieve goals through a variety of methods that often involve tools and exercises. Sessions can be conducted one on one, by phone, in groups or at weekend seminars.
The International Coach Federation (ICF), one of the largest coaching associations, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Sarah J. Crews, an ICF-certified life coach from Charlottesville, Virginia, says she strives to empower people to live their dream life based on the principle that the client has all the answers.
Life coaches specialize in a wide variety of niches, from well-being and self-confidence to spirituality, parenting, organizational skills, relationships and career development. Beth Schoenfeldt, a life coach and author from New York City and co-founder of Ladies Who Launch, a social network and educational resource for female entrepreneurs, works mostly with people who are launching businesses. However, Schoenfeldt says, everything is interrelated. “You can work on one thing and everything else is affected.”
Crews agrees. “Someone thinks her issue is in compartment X of her life, but through coaching she may realize the blocker is actually in compartment Y of her life.”
Life coaching is similar to therapy in respect to helping a patient become more functional, but it’s also different in many ways. About.com’s life coach expert, Elizabeth Scott, explains that coaching is different than therapy in that with coaching, the focus is more on the present and future than the past, and more on goals and behaviors than emotions and emotional patterns. There is also a more equal balance of power between the coach and client than between the typical therapist and client. Another way of looking at it, she says, is that therapists try to help people with problems, while coaches help already healthy people improve their lives.
But, beware; a life coach is more limited in the types of problems she can help her clients with. People with more serious types of emotional problems such as depression should see a licensed therapist.
Training, accreditation and history
While coaching of some sort has been around for decades, the profession of life coaching started about a decade ago and has been gaining in popularity every since. The ICF says that it has 14,000 members worldwide, which is more than double the amount they had just five years ago. Life coaching has its roots in many professions, such as sports coaching, executive coaching, counseling and consulting.
No training or certification is required to become a life coach. But there are several organizations that offer certification. The ICF, the International Coaching Council (ICC) and the International Association of Coaching (IAC) being the three biggest ones in the United States.
There are numerous coach training programs, including some offered by recognized universities. Columbia University in New York, for example, opened the Center for Coaching Excellence in 2007. The program, collaboration between the Executive Education Division at Columbia Business School and The Center for Educational Outreach & Innovation at Columbia Teachers College, is focused on training coaches to help strengthen organizations. Yale provides coach training for its employees. And San Diego State offers training for executives and others looking for certification based on competencies identified by the ICF.
No independent supervisory board evaluates these programs. They are all privately owned, and each regulatory body independently develops standards of coach training programs.
With no regulation in place or required training, it’s easy for charlatans or unqualified people to jump on the coaching bandwagon and cause more harm than good. On the plus side, a person with the talent and drive to help others via coaching can do so without spending time and money she may not have to spend on formal training and certification. Just be sure to interview your coach carefully before signing on.
How to find a life coach
ICF offers an online searchable database of coaches who are certified by an ICF-accredited program. The American Association of Drugless Practitioners, an international association of doctors and medical practitioners who practice drugless methodologies, lists member practitioners, some of whom are life coaches, specializing in health and wellness. And many coaches are being trained through the University of Pennsylvania Masters of Positive Psychology Program.
Databases may be a great place to start, but Schoenfeldt and Crews agree the best way to find a good life coach is via word of mouth. If someone you admire and respect has benefitted from using a coach who is not certified, that coach may be worth exploring.
Before seeking help from a life coach, think about what areas of your life you’d like to change. A good coach will lead you through what Crews calls mental gymnastics. She says a coach is beneficial because “Most of us have to train to give ourselves the time and brain power to figure out what we want our lives to look like.” The truth is, most of us will not take the time on our own to make these assessments; a coach will ensure you do.
If you’re wondering whether the coach you’re seeing is any good, ask yourself these questions:
1. Do I trust the coach?
2. Is our rapport comfortable?
3. Am I seeing results?
The bottom line: what a life coach costs
Fees typically range from $75 to a few hundred dollars for a 30-90 minute session. Crews says some coaches offer daylong or weekend retreats for individuals or groups, and it’s typical for these fees to run close to $1,000.
In one-on-one sessions, the coach will typically ask a lot of open-ended, probing questions. On the surface, it looks a lot like therapy. However, the conversation is very different. The coach helps the client brainstorm and devise strategies for achieving her goals. Crews lets her clients lead the discussion, and helps them stay on their own agenda. “The client is fully empowered to change their agenda, but then I help them be aware they are doing it, so it’s a conscious choice. Because most often we change our agenda without realizing it and then wonder what happened.”
Results to expect from working with a life coach
At the outset, it’s important to clearly communicate with the coach about what you want and expect.
Crews says you will get from the coaching relationship and experience what you put into it. A self-described “tough love” coach, she sets the bar high.
“I have high expectations for my clients in terms of achieving what they want within the realms of reality,” Crews explains. “I want all my clients to walk away feeling satisfied with their experience —from how much effort they put in, the results they achieved, and what they felt I was able to add. If they walk away with a few golden nuggets about themselves and what they want, then I’m happy.”
Be aware that you may begin sessions with a life coach to achieve a certain result, but then end up with a very different result. Schoenfeldt doesn’t promise the exact result that her clients seek. “I want them to get that result, but I also want them to be open to other results that might come their way.”