Life coaches work with clients as individuals or groups to reach goals that may be related to their business, relationships, health, or self-improvement. It is best suited for those who are emotionally stable and motivated for positive change in some aspect of their life. It tends to be more costly than psychotherapy, due to lack of insurance coverage.
Cost and length of coaching vary greatly from one coach to another and from one situation to another, with the average cost of a personal life coach being $150 per hour.
What Is Life Coaching?
Life coaching is intended to help a client reach their potential in terms of who they want to be or what they want to accomplish. There are three core concepts involved in any life coaching process.
Core Concepts of Life Coaching
First, there must be a belief in the capacity for change and a motivation for change on the part of the client. Both the coach and the client must believe that change is possible for anyone who desires it and is willing to work at it. The underlying assumption is that people are creative, resourceful, and growth oriented.
Secondly, development of an increase in the client’s self-awareness is crucial to the life coaching process. This includes being willing to acknowledge one’s current strengths and limitations so that realistic attainable goals may be set for the future. Likewise, increased self-awareness of values and hopes for the future is encouraged.
A third core concept of life coaching is the importance of setting goals, followed by the client’s acceptance of accountability for reaching those goals. All life coaches facilitate the setting of goals by the client. With the coach’s help, a general statement of goals from the client becomes developed into specific measurable goals.
What’s the Goal of Life Coaching and Who Determines the Goal?
The goal of life coaching is to enable a client to reach their potential in any given aspect of their life. While the life coach asks questions to encourage self awareness and thought, the client must decide what it is that they want to be different in their lives. Once the vision of the future is established, the coach works with the client to figure out how to bring about those changes.
What Can Life Coaching Help With?
Life coaching can help with a wide range of future-oriented outcomes. These may be related to the client’s work, relationships, life/work balance, or general contentment.
Specific examples include:
- Improved performance at work as seen in greater productivity
- Improved work performance in terms of better efficiency
- Increased self-confidence
- Improved relationships (more cooperation, less conflict, etc.)
- Improved communication skills
- Better balance of time spent at work vs. at home
- Improved time management at home
- Improved effectiveness of a working team
- Improved physical health and emotional well-being
What & Who Is Life Coaching Not Right For?
Life coaching is not recommended for coping with mental illness, acute distress, or unresolved past issues. It is also not effective for individuals who are resistant to making changes in their lives, or who are seeking support as the primary intervention. Life coaching is not psychotherapy and can not substitute for therapeutic intervention or counseling. It is not a friendship; it is a working relationship.
Issues for which life coaching is not right (is not recommended or suitable) include:
- Clinical depression, including Major Depression and Bipolar Disorder
- Chronic or acute anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Those with unresolved problems from the past, such as unresolved grief or anger due to past trauma
- Serious mental illness, such as Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder
- Personality Disorders which include eccentric behaviors (Paranoid, Schizoid, Schizotypal)
- Personality Disorders which involve dramatic or erratic behaviors (Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic, Narcissistic)
- Desire for emotional support without intention of making changes
- Need for athletic coaching/training
- Those who view their life as “good enough” and feel no need for change
- Those who want to be directly told “what to do”
Life Coaching vs. Psychotherapy
Life coaching is different from psychotherapy in several critical ways. Most importantly, life coaching is not intended to treat any emotional or mental illness. Coaching is aimed at taking a current life situation which is tolerable but less than ideal toward a future outcome which is highly desired.
Psychotherapy often addresses current situations which are not tolerable and causing significant distress. A psychotherapist is educated and experienced in working with individuals who have serious psychological issues.
Life coaches do not necessarily have such education or experience, unless they also happen to be trained psychotherapists. For this reason, only psychotherapists are qualified to treat the various emotional disorders and personality disorders noted above.
A second critical difference between life coaching and psychotherapy is that life coaches do not address problems related to past unresolved losses or traumas. Life coaching is exclusively focused upon the present and future, while psychotherapy usually involves some understanding of the past as well as coping with the present and preparing for the near future.
Thirdly, life coaches differ from therapists in terms of the role of support in the relationship. Psychotherapists will be supportive as needed during the therapy process, as they are fully aware that their clients are often in a state of distress. Life coaches must focus upon goals and measurable outcomes as opposed to coping with current distress. Therefore, life coaches will primarily be a motivator and an accountability partner as opposed to a supportive person.
A fourth difference between the role of life coach versus psychotherapist is that the former will usually be much more open about their personal life, at least in their advertising of services and social media presence. Most psychotherapists only reveal facts of their personal lives when relevant and helpful to the topic presented by the client, such as to express empathy.
A final, often cited, difference is in the role of providing advice and guidance to the client. There is less clear distinction in this role because psychotherapists vary greatly in their tendency to be directive and provide guidance, depending upon the therapeutic model.
A behavioral therapist will be much more directive than a psychoanalytic therapist. A life coach is expected to provide guidance and to advise the client as a primary part of their work, although they generally avoid telling a client “what to do.”
Common Steps, Techniques, and Types of Life Coaching
There are four basic steps involved in the life coaching process, regardless of the type of coaching. The first step is to clarify the real issue. Most often, the issue with which the client presents is not the actual cause of their problem, and not what is holding them back from reaching their potential.
Step two is to assess where the client is now. It is important to determine and describe their current pattern of behavior as it relates to the problem. The third step is to define the desired outcome. Setting up the ways to get to the desired outcome is the final step. The following techniques, as well as others, may be used throughout these four steps.
Common Techniques Used in Life Coaching
A very common technique is to create a safe space in which the client feels seen and heard so that they may begin to describe their current problem. This is done by offering help and asking general questions about the client’s situation. Much of the time, active listening is the most effective way to create this safe space.
Another common technique is to ask more probing questions in order to identify the current pattern of behavior. This questioning is meant to generate an understanding of how the current pattern is serving the client. It may protect them from taking certain risks which would expose them to underlying fears.
Sometimes, these questions are asked in the form of incomplete sentences which are meant to get at the underlying motives for current behavior. For example, a client who has been unsuccessful in growing a new business might be asked to complete the sentence: “If my business were more successful, then I would no longer be able to…”
Common Types of Life Coaching
There are two basic types of life coaching: workplace/business coaching and personal coaching. Workplace coaching isdirected toward increasing the resilience and the effectiveness of the individual for the benefit of both the individual and the organization.
The client and the coach work as equal partners to solve problems, improve performance, and/or achieve longer term goals. It is distinct from workplace training due to the focus upon individualized goals for that particular client. Workplace coaching may be labelled “executive coaching” when the purpose is to develop business qualities such as leadership.
In contrast, personal coaching is directed toward reaching a client’s individual goals for their own purposes, regardless of any organizational outcomes. There is sometimes an overlap in terms of who/what benefits from the coaching process. For example, a small business owner may see little distinction between optimizing personal outcomes versus organizational outcomes.
Life Coaching Examples
There are several situations in which life coaching may be helpful, including job issues, confidence, or relationship complications. Here are the ways that a life coach could be beneficial for each of those scenarios.
Job Satisfaction Issue
Marie seeks out a life coach to help her overcome a frustration with her current work situation. Her direct supervisor, with whom she worked very well, has recently left the company, and Marie is having difficulty adjusting to the style of the new supervisor.
Marie was used to daily meetings and frequent correspondence with her prior supervisor. This gave her plenty of guidance for projects given to her to manage. The new supervisor appears to have less time available for Marie and expects her to work more independently.
A life coach would guide Marie through imagining her desired outcome within the realistic constraints of what this current supervisor can provide. She will be encouraged to identify the goal behaviors which will get her the supervision that she needs most, and which will allow her work behavior to continue to meet her own personal standards of excellence.
Mark asks a life coach for help in building his self-confidence, which he believes to be holding him back from being promoted at work. He has been given excellent reviews for his level of productivity and his efficiency, yet has been passed up for promotions by seemingly less qualified co-workers. He has been told by friends that he needs to be more self-confident.
A life coach would help Mark to define in a specific way what he means by self-confidence. Through questioning, it might become clear that Mark’s communication skills are lacking and that he would benefit from speaking with more certainty at work. An initial goal for Mark would be the development of better communication skills and practicing these new skills in his workplace.
Maya would like to begin dating again after a bad break-up but finds herself sabotaging new relationships as soon as they seem promising to her. Maya recognizes that she is full of self-doubts about her own self-worth and whether she can find someone with whom she will feel safely vulnerable.
Maya reveals to the life coach that she was often harshly criticized by her ex-partner and that these memories stay with her, holding her back from trusting others enough to form close relationships. The life coach would facilitate her ability to move past these painful memories. A first step would be to imagine a future relationship which is supportive and kind. The specific types of interactions which characterize a healthy relationship for Maya could then be identified.
Cost of Life Coaching
Most life coaches charge by the hour, with prices ranging from $50 to $500 per hour. The rate varies depending upon the type of coaching, with business coaching typically being more costly. For personal coaching, the cost varies with the coach’s expertise and reputation.
The typical range for personal life coaching is from $75 to $200 per hour, with an average cost of $120 per hour. Many coaches offer packages, such as $300 per month for four 30 minute sessions. A longer term option might be $2000 for eight 90 minute sessions. In contrast, a life coach working in a corporate setting may have a monthly charge of $750 to $1000 per month.1
Cost is also affected by the duration of the coaching relationship, which will depend upon the intended goals. Duration of coaching relationships may be short-term and last from three to six months, or long-term and last one to two years.
Typically, insurance does not cover any of the cost of life coaching. The issues addressed by a life coach are not considered to be mental health issues and therefore are not deemed as necessary care by most insurance companies. If the client does have symptoms of a mental health issue, most insurance plans would cover outpatient psychotherapy with a licensed clinician.
How to Find a Life Coach
There are several ways to find a life coach, whether it be for personal or business purposes. One option is to use an online coaching directory, such as that provided by the International Coach Federation (ICF). This directory allows one to look up a specific coach by name and verify that they have met the ICF standards for education and training.2 However, it will not provide any information about how well-matched any particular coach is to the client’s specific needs.
A second option is to use an online local search, which may be important if face to face meetings are preferred and therefore geographic distance is relevant. As a third option, it is not unusual to obtain a referral from a friend, particularly for personal coaching. The clear drawback of that approach is lack of any screening other than the subjective opinion of that individual.
Finally, one might use a coach matching service, which will have pre-screened coaches for education and training and also matched possible coaches to the client’s personality preferences. This would seem to be the ideal method to use, depending upon cost. There are coach matching services which are advertised as free to use, including Noomii.com, lifecoachhub.com, and Koach.net, among others.
Who Is Able to Offer Life Coaching?
There is no license or certification required in order to call oneself a “life coach.” There is no oversight or regulation of the practice of life coaches. The International Coach Federation (ICF) offers a globally recognized professional “coaching certification” to those who have undergone coach-specific training.
With an ICF Credential, a coach can indicate their knowledge, skill, and commitment to high ethical and professional standards.3 Without this credential, there is no certainty that a life coach adheres to professional or ethical standards. It is therefore very important to interview coaches and ask questions before beginning a coaching relationship.
Key Questions to Ask a Life Coach Before Starting Work
Before starting work with a life coach, it is advised that the client interview several coaches to determine qualifications and best fit given the client’s needs. Many coaches will offer a brief initial interview at no charge.
Here are key questions to ask during this initial interview:
- What kind of issues do you typically work with?
- Do you have any certification?
- What type of education or training do you have?
- How many years of experience in life coaching do you have?
- What is the usual length of sessions that you offer?
- What is the usual duration of your coaching relationships with your clients?
- Are you available for follow-up to a session, such as a phone or email follow-up?
- Do you give assignments, such as writing in a journal or reading?
- What is your fee per session, and do you offer any multi-session packages?
What to Expect at Your First Appointment
Once the choice of a life coach has been made, a first appointment will be the opportunity to clarify the details of the coaching relationship and the process. The life coach will explain the terms of payment, such as types of payment which are accepted and when those payments are due. Included in this discussion is how to handle any missed appointment, late starts, or last-minute cancellations.
This first session may also address whether notes are taken, how confidentiality is maintained, and what types of communication may occur between sessions. Although some of these issues may have been addressed in the initial contact before starting the work, this is the time to formalize the working agreement.4
This first session will be the time for the client to state what they want to get from the process as short, medium, and long-term outcomes. Although specific goals and the steps toward them may not be fully worked out at this time, a general statement of what the client is seeking should be noted.
By establishing these desired outcomes at the beginning, later mis-understandings or disappointments may be avoided. This also gives the life coach the chance to determine if any group coaching will be helpful to the process. The first session should conclude with a specific date and time for the next session, as well as a general outline for scheduling future sessions.
Is Life Coaching Effective?
Evaluations of life coaching’s effectiveness have been based mostly upon surveys rather than empirical research, and they are usually done in business settings. Typically the question has been whether or not the high costs of business coaching was worthwhile for a company, versus the less costly traditional training or self-coaching.
There have been companies which report high levels of satisfaction with their use of business life coaches. At least one survey indicated that 96% of companies who used life coaches would do so again.5
The few objective studies in which outcomes were measured in terms of measurable goals reached (rather than subjective satisfaction), were often not randomized trials. In a rare quantitative study of effectiveness of personal life coaching, subjects were a group of college students whose goal was to stop procrastinating.
The value of life coaching was compared to self-coaching and to group training for these students, using randomized groups. The researchers concluded that individual coaching was superior to either self-coaching or group training in helping the participants reach their desired goals. Group training was effective in increasing the knowledge of the students about the problem of procrastination, while self-coaching was generally ineffective for this study group.6
Overall, there is not enough evidence to determine whether either type of life coaching is a cost effective way to accomplish goals. Most coached clients report being satisfied with the outcomes, but the evidence for change in measurable goals is lacking. Also, the factors which actually mediate changes have not been isolated.
Risks and Criticisms of Life Coaching
There are numerous risks involved in hiring a life coach, whether for personal or business purposes. The major risk is that of working with someone who isn’t truly qualified to do the work of a life coach.
Since there is no licensing requirement, virtually anyone might call themself a life coach. They may have started a seemingly successful business based upon a charismatic personality and/or effective self-promotion.
The following criticisms of the field of life coaching all relate back to this risk:7
- Life coaching is not an established field.
- There is no significant barrier to entry into the field.
- There is no common body of knowledge.
- There is no standard course of study.
- There is no government oversight to ensure that practice standards are met, including ethical standards.
A second major risk of hiring a life coach is that a mental health issue may be overlooked, since most life coaches are not qualified to diagnose mental illness. This could result in an untreated mental health problem at worst, and a lack of progress toward the coaching goals at the very least.
For example, a business coach may be hired to solve the problem of an employee not getting along well with peers. If the interpersonal problems are due to a broader personality disorder, the business life coach is not likely to be effective in changing that client’s behavior.
Thirdly, a lack of clear guidelines for the confidentiality of information presents a risk for both personal and business/workplace coaching. There is no threat of loss of licensure for a breach of confidentiality, as there is between a licensed psychotherapist and their patient. In the business setting, the risk is greater when the company versus the individual client is paying the bill. In that case, the limits of confidentiality must be clear from the beginning of the coaching work.
Additional risks relate to the often unclear roles of the life coach. The ICF discourages coaches from giving advice but in reality many coaches slip into the role of mentor and provide examples of how they have solved similar problems to that of their client.
Likewise, it may be difficult for the coach to avoid the role of a friend, and to insist upon accountability on the client’s part. There is also a risk that the client will become overly dependent on the life coach and have difficulty ending the relationship. It is not unusual for clients to “recontract” with new goals.7