What Is a Life Coach?

Business woman working together and sharing a computer.

Tempura / istockphoto

What Is a Life Coach?

A life coach is a type of wellness professional who helps people make progress in their lives in order to attain greater fulfillment. Life coaches aid their clients in improving their relationships, careers, and day-to-day lives.

Life coaches can help you clarify your goals, identify the obstacles holding you back, and then come up with strategies for overcoming each obstacle. In creating these strategies, life coaches target your unique skills and gifts. By helping you to make the most of your strengths, life coaches provide the support you need to achieve long-lasting change.

Who Should Consider Working With a Life Coach?

Many people seek out life coaches for guidance in navigating a significant life change, such as taking on a new career. In plenty of cases, however, people turn to life coaches simply for help in building a happier, more meaningful life.

There are a number of indications that working with a life coach could be helpful for you. These signs include:

  • Frequent irritability
  • High levels of stress and/or anxiety
  • Inability to break bad habits
  • Lack of fulfillment in your social life
  • Persistent feeling of dissatisfaction at work
  • Sense of blocked creativity

In recent years, life coaches have acquired a considerable presence in the mainstream. Indeed, a growing number of creatives, executives, and entrepreneurs are now teaming up with life coaches to attain success in their professional and personal lives.

Types of Life Coaches

Some life coaches take a more general, all-encompassing approach, but there are also many that specialize and focus on helping people in specific areas. Some of the different types of life coaches include:

  • Addiction and sobriety coaching
  • Business, executive, and leadership coaching
  • Career coaching
  • Dating and relationship coaching
  • Diet and fitness coaching
  • Divorce coaching
  • Family life coaching
  • Financial coaching
  • Health and wellness coaching
  • Life skills coaching
  • Mental health coaching
  • Spirituality coaching
  • Sports coaching

Difference Between a Life Coach and a Therapist

Although there may be some overlap in the benefits of working with a life coach and participating in psychotherapy with a licensed therapist, these professionals have distinct roles and serve unique purposes.

Unlike life coaches, therapists and other mental health professionals focus on healing, treating mental health conditions, and helping people work through trauma and other issues from their past. While working with a life coach may help you to deal with certain unresolved issues, life coaches cannot treat mood disorders, anxiety disorders, addiction, or any other mental health condition.

Therapists
  • Can treat mental health conditions

  • Have a degree and are licensed in a related field

  • Adhere to ethical codes

Life Coaches
  • Cannot treat mental health conditions

  • Do not need any formal qualifications or academic training

  • Are not required to follow health privacy laws

Therapists have a degree and are licensed mental health professionals. They must follow an ethical code and adhere to regulations regarding confidentiality and ongoing education.

Life coaches, on the other hand, are not governed by a board and don't have to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and its privacy rules that help protect your personal health information. To that end, a life coach should never be considered as a substitute for a mental health professional.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health problem (such as feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, sleep disruption, and mood disturbance), it’s crucial to consult a mental health professional as soon as possible.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a mental health condition, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

What a Life Coach Can Do for You

One of the main benefits of working with a life coach is the ability to gain a fresh, informed perspective on problems that you face. In addition to offering new insight into challenges, a life coach can help you to zero in on negative patterns that could be standing in the way of your success.

Many people view working with a life coach as a means of bridging the gap between your current circumstances and the life you’d like to lead. The following are some of the positive outcomes that could result from joining forces with a life coach:

  • Better work/life balance
  • Elimination of long-held fears and anxieties
  • Enhanced creativity
  • Greater financial security
  • Improved communication skills
  • More satisfying work life
  • Stronger relationships with friends and family

Additionally, people frequently pair up with life coaches in order to work through barriers that may interfere with finding a partner/mate. Many people also look to life coaches for help in identifying their passion and carving out their ideal career path.

Since sessions typically take place on a regular basis over a prolonged period of time, life coaches can ensure that their clients are implementing what is necessary to experience significant change.

For a great number of clients, accountability is one of the prime advantages of working with a life coach.

Along with providing the support and motivation essential for maintaining momentum, coaches can observe when a client is stuck or needs to recalibrate their goals. As a result, clients often achieve those goals more quickly and efficiently than they would if working on their own.

Impact of Life Coaches

While people may report subjective benefits after seeing a life coach, there have also been studies that have shown that life coaching can be beneficial in a number of areas:

  • One study found that both individual and group coaching was helpful in reducing procrastination and improving goal attainment.
  • One review of studies found that health and wellness coaching showed promise for improving self-efficacy and self-empowerment.
  • A 2020 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that coaching-based leadership interventions could be effective for enhancing well-being and improving functioning withing organizations.

Research also suggests that life coaching can have a range of other positive effects, including improvements in personal insight and improve self-reflection. It may also help improve overall mental health and quality of life.

Tips

Life coaching sessions can take many different forms. For example, some life coaches meet with their clients in person, while others conduct their sessions over the phone or by Skype.

If you’re thinking of working with a life coach, keep in mind that it’s up to you to decide what you’d like to focus on in your coaching sessions. Each session should leave you feeling empowered and uplifted, so it’s critical to find a coach whose style and philosophy resonate with you.

For help in finding a qualified life coach, try consulting an organization such as the International Coach Federation.

Potential Pitfalls

Before you see a life coach, there are a few potential pitfalls that you should watch for:

  • Don't expect immediate results. Your life coach can help you make plans, address problems, and work toward achieving your goals, but it is important to remember that these things take time. If may be helpful if you set some short-term and long-term goals to work toward.
  • Consider if your coach is suited to your needs. Not all life coaches take the same approach to a problem, so what you get out of the process may have a lot to do with the type of relationship you have with your coach. Look for a coach that is suited to working with your personality type and approach to solving problems.
  • Don't see a life coach to address serious mental health issues. If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety, you should talk to your doctor or therapist to discuss your treatment options. Life coaches can offer advice that can improve your well-being, but that does not mean they can provide mental health treatment.

History of Life Coaching

As a formal field, coaching is relatively young, but it has roots in many older disciplines. It draws on areas that include the human potential movement of the 1960s, leadership training, adult education, personal development, and numerous areas of psychology.

Life coaching formally emerged during the 1980s and grew in popularity throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Some of the earliest life coaches focused on life planning, but the field eventually grew to encompass other life areas including relationships, finances, careers, health, and overall well-being.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Losch S, Traut-Mattausch E, Mühlberger MD, Jonas E. Comparing the effectiveness of individual coaching, self-coaching, and group training: How leadership makes the differenceFront Psychol. 2016;7:629. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00629

  2. Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews [Internet]. York (UK): Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (UK); 1995-. Can life coaching improve health outcomes? A systematic review of intervention studies. 2013.

  3. Peláez Zuberbuhler MJ, Salanova M, Martínez IM. Coaching-based leadership intervention program: A controlled trial studyFront Psychol. 2020;10:3066. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.03066

  4. Grant AM. The impact of life coaching on goal attainment, metacognition, and mental health. Social Behavior and Personality. 2003;31(3):253-264. doi:10.2224/sbp.2003.31.3.253

  5. Lines D, Evans C. The Global Business of Coaching: A Meta-Analytical Perspective. Routledge; 2020.

Additional Reading
  • Ammentorp J, Uhrenfeldt L, Angel F, Ehrensvärd M, Carlsen EB, Kofoed PE. Can life coaching improve health outcomes? A systematic review of intervention studies. BMC Health Serv Res. 2013 Oct 22;13:428.
  • Hawksley B. Work-related stress, work/life balance, and personal life coaching. Br J Community Nurs. 2007 Jan;12(1):34-6.