A life coach is someone who aims to help and empower others to make, meet and exceed personal and professional goals. This can include achieving promotion in the workplace, becoming happy and fulfilled in your relationships, or exploring your potential and achieving other ambitions.
Using techniques based on psychological principles and their own intuition, life coaches provide their clients with the tools to face difficult situations and push past any emotional barriers that might be stopping them from achieving their goals.
Life coaching is about objectivity and empowerment; they can’t do something for you but they can help you do it for yourself.
Life coaching is a natural career choice for many, and a second career choice for some. It’s a career that requires compassion, good listening skills and the ability to creatively problem solve. There are no legal standards required to become a life coach, but certification is available through the International Coach Federation (ICF).
Life Coaching Requirements
Generally, there are no specific requirements needed to become a life coach. Many people who enter the field have a background in mental health or counselling. Others enter the field simply because they always loved helping people, offering advice and providing guidance. Often, people who become life coaches say they did so because friends or family were always coming to them to ask for help in solving their problems.
There are no formal education requirements needed to become a life coach, either. In fact, essentially any person who wants to be a life coach can become a life coach, regardless of age or educational background. It is an industry that has little regulation, despite its pace of growth.
There are some basic principles and qualities of life coaching that all coaches should follow:
- Subjectivity: we all have different perspectives, none of which are 'right' or 'wrong', but some perspectives can be restrictive and can stop a person becoming who they want to be.
- Empowerment: it is within everyone's capability to adjust their own perspective. With the tools that you learn through life coaching, anyone can learn to open their mind to achieve their goals.
- Guidance: there is a difference between an instructor and a guide. An instructor shows a person exactly what to do, whereas a guide provides the tools and support a person needs to do something for themselves. A life coach is a guide, not an instructor; they will not tell you what to do.
Life Coach Certification
This provides a set of universal standards and experience that coaches should achieve. Although not legally mandated, it’s the closest thing the industry has to legal requirements.
Certification is offered through the International Coach Federation (ICF), a membership organisation of trained coaches. ICF sets standards for coaches provides independent certification and accredits programs that deliver coach-specific training.
Getting certified gives life coaches an advantage over those who don’t, as many clients prefer to work with someone who is certified. To get certified by ICF, a life coach must complete the following at an ICF-accredited coach training program:
- Coach skills training
- Mentor coaching
- Ethics training
- Session observation
- Final exam
There are many organisations that purport to offer life coaching certification, but ICF is one of the only legitimate credentialing bodies.
Life Coaching Credentials
ICF offers three levels of coach credentials:
- Associate Certified Coach: Achieving this level requires at least 60 hours of training and 100 hours of coaching experience.
- Professional Certified Coach: This credential requires at least 125 hours of training and 500 hours of coaching experience.
- Master Certified Coach: The highest credential requires at least 200 hours of training and 2,500 hours of coaching experience.
ICF certification is not exclusive to life coaches and is available to anyone pursuing a career in any type of personal coaching.
Finding a Coach
There's a huge variance in the effectiveness of professional coaches and while life coaching remains unregulated you can still follow some general rules to find a great coach.
Get recommendations from people you know well and trust. Has a friend had a great experience with a coach? Then begin there. But ask your friend if the coach paid them for the referral. That can be common practice. A reputable coach will always tell you, up front, if they paid for your referral.
Look for coaches certified by ICF. Yes, there are good coaches who aren't certified by these organisations, but increasingly, better coaches are getting these certifications, because they are a stamp of approval from a trusted source.
Only work with coaches who use written coaching agreements. Your agreement should give you an idea of what to expect and will likely reflect the code of ethics followed by that coach.
Look for coaches who have joined a professional organisation, such as the ICF, that requires members to sign a code of ethics. Of course, unethical coaches can sign codes, but if the coach is upfront about the ethical code they are bound by, then you at least have something with which to measure their behaviour. The good news is that these organisations have online coach directories of their members.
Work with coaches who have a substantial amount of coach-specific training. Most genuine coaches have had coach training, including the ones who've been practising for decades. The ICF only allows coaches with at least 60 hours of coach-specific training to join their organisation, so that's a good number to keep in mind, but their entry-level certification requires 100 hours.
What Happens During a Life Coaching Session?
If you do decide to get a life coach it’s good to know what to expect. Life coaching sessions typically last between 45 minutes and 60 minutes (depending on the coach you choose). Sessions are conducted over the phone, face to face, over email, via Skype or even through instant messaging.
During the session, your life coach will ask you several questions, such as what you want to get out of life, what areas you want to change and where you see yourself ending up. Although a life coach will work with you, it is ultimately up to you to reflect upon certain ideas or to challenge your own perspective to help you move forward to achieve your goals. You will never be forced to make any decisions you don't feel comfortable with and all sessions will be confidential, allowing you to explore your thoughts and feelings privately.
Life coaching is a partnership between you and your life coach, who will encourage you to explore how to make positive changes in your life. A life coach will also offer support and feedback to help you to stay focused on your goals and keep you moving forward.
Feeling Comfortable With a Coach
Whilst it is recommended to go with a coach that has the right qualifications and memberships, they don’t mean much if you don't get on with your life coach.
Rapport is one of the most important factors of life coaching, and when you need help in life it is arguably more important than any qualifications. If you don’t feel comfortable with your coach, you’re not going to gain much from coaching session.
It’s a good idea to get in touch with a coach before you book a session. You can get a feel of what the coach is like before you commit your time and money.
If you don't feel it’s right trust your instinct – this is not a sales pitch, you are choosing someone to help you reach your personal goals so make sure you find someone you’re comfortable with.
Life coaching can be a valuable tool in life, whatever your situation, so don’t be put off by the industry’s lack of regulation.