How do I explain what a life coach is to someone else?
Imagine it: you’ve discovered the wide world of coaching as a professional field and you couldn’t be more excited. It’s exactly what you’ve been looking for – a way to translate your existing skills and abilities into a whole new skillset that you can use in both your personal and professional life.
Yet when someone asks, "What is life coaching exactly?" many of us struggle to provide a satisfying explanation – either fumbling with too many specifics or straining to convey the essentials.
Here’s the good news: the more times you explain it, the easier it gets. It’s just a matter of practice.
To get you started, here’s a few different ways to describe what life coaching is, what it isn't, and how it differentiates itself from related practices like therapy and consulting.
What IS life coaching?
Life coaching is a collaborative relationship between a coach and a client designed to help the client tap into their full potential.
A life coach, especially one who has gotten training and credentialing in the field, is a professional who assists people in identifying goals, making plans to achieve them, and then navigating through various challenges or obstacles that may arise along the way.
Coaching is about creativity, collaboration, hope, nurturing and flourishing. Coaching as a process can help clients in a number of fields – such as career development, relationships, and personal growth.
Life coaching is a broad term for the professional field. There are many niches and areas of coaching specialization within that umbrella. Coaches assist people in tackling goals across a broad spectrum of areas, including:
- And many more!
Simple analogies to help explain life coaching
An effective, simple way to disarm people who might have a strong reaction to the phrase “life coach” is to use an analogy that people can easily relate to.
- The GPS: Just like a GPS provides you with the best route to your destination, a life coach helps you find the most effective way to reach your life goals. But you’re still the one driving the car, and you get to choose the route that serves you best!
- The Sports Coach: Similar to how a sports coach helps an athlete improve performance, a life coach assists you in performing at your best in your personal and professional life.
- The Co-pilot: While you're the one flying the plane of your life, a life coach sits beside you as a co-pilot, helping you read the instruments, make changes to your plan, and stay on course during your journey.
- The Gardener: A life coach is like a gardener who helps you cultivate your personal growth. Your coach can't plant the seeds for you or make them grow, but they can help you prepare the soil, remove the weeds, and help you identify the tools you need to flourish.
- The Mirror: A life coach can reflect back to you what they see from an objective standpoint. This helps you gain new perspectives on your own thoughts and actions, just like looking in a mirror helps you see yourself and the world from a new angle.
What is life coaching NOT?
Sometimes it can be easier to explain what coaching isn’t, so let’s take a look at it from that angle next.
Life coaching is not about giving advice, telling the client what to do, shaming them, judging them, forcing them into a decision or making them follow a predetermined course of action. Coaching is never punitive, or directive.
It’s not about cult of personality or following some guru’s guide for living. Life coaching is not a quick fix or a bandaid – it takes time to see results from a course of action. It’s also not a friendship or mentorship.
Many people have a mistaken idea of what coaching is from misrepresentation in pop culture, or unqualified people calling themselves coaches. Make no mistake – the field of professional coaching is established, serious and legitimate.
Explain what coaching is using the Four C’s
To keep the key differences of life coaching clear in your own mind, you can refer to the following four points that differentiate coaching from other similar partnerships.
- Clarification: Through asking powerful questions, a coach helps the client get clear on what they want in various aspects of their life.
- Client-led: The client sets their own goals and direction, creates their own action steps and is ultimately responsible (and capable!) of attaining their goals.
- Confidence: Through regular sessions and seeing incremental wins as they follow through with a plan, the client builds self-confidence to pursue their goals.
- Commitment: A life coach holds their client accountable in a positive and motivating way, ensuring that they follow through and stay the course.
How is life coaching different from therapy or counseling?
Because life coaching is a relatively new field, it often gets confused with other helping professions. However, even though it may seem similar, coaching is really different and distinctive.
What is Life Coaching vs. Therapy?
While both life coaches and therapists offer services that will help improve your life, they approach it in different ways and through different lenses.
Therapy is a form of medical treatment that focuses more on understanding and resolving past issues. Therapists are equipped to handle trauma and help clients work through things that have previously happened that are affecting their ability to flourish.
Life coaching is generally forward-focused and action-oriented. A client decides what they’d like to work towards, with the coach alongside them in developing a plan to achieve specific goals.
Want more information on managing a dual practice as a therapist and coach? Check out our blog From Therapist to Life Coach: How to Make the Move Successfully.
What is Life Coaching vs. Consulting?
Consulting typically involves providing expert advice or solutions to specific problems.
A consultant is an expert in a particular field who takes a look at the issues at hand and uses their knowledge and skillset to advise you on what to do to solve your problems.
In contrast, a life coach helps you discover your own solutions through guided introspection and action plans – and life coaches never give advice! Coaches acknowledge that clients are the experts on their own life, and can provide all their own answers.
For a more detailed explanation, listen in as Lumia founder John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux discuss the differences between coaching, therapy, and consulting:
Coaching vs. Therapy vs. Consulting: What’s the Difference?
The next time someone asks you about life coaching, you'll have the tools to explain it in a way that feels authentic to you. After all, life coaching isn’t some new trend – it's a professional relationship designed to empower people to live the lives they desire. And what’s more important than that?
Feeling the pull to become a coach?
One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our life coaches ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power and you’d like some partners in the process, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.
Lumia Coaching: Vibrant community. Evidence-based life coach training. Lifetime support.