From Social Work to Life Coaching: Making the Transition Smoothly
For many people, social work is more than just a job – it’s a calling. It requires compassion, empathy, and an above-and-beyond commitment to helping the people in society who need it most.
However, being a social worker, while fulfilling and rewarding, can also be demanding, emotionally taxing and underpaid. There’s just as many downsides as upsides – insufficient resources, high caseloads, bureaucracy and safety concerns, a lack of support or recognition – the list goes on.
Perhaps you're a social worker considering a pivot into a new profession, one that still allows you to tap into your strengths and passion for helping others while also gaining and using new skills and abilities. If that sounds all too familiar, becoming a life coach might just be the next right step for you.
Ready to find out what that can look like in real life? Lumia graduate Abi Mallick sat down with us to share her experience. Here’s what she had to say.
Personal Reflections on Making the Jump from Social Work to Coaching from Lumia Alumni Abi Mallick
“I loved so many aspects of being a social worker, but I was also frustrated by the long hours, low pay, and having to jump through hoops to meet grant requirements that weren’t always best for my clients. For example, when I worked with teens in drug recovery, we had to work with governmental organizations that were using outdated research that wasn’t relevant to our specific client population.
After having a baby, my priorities shifted, and I decided it was time to try something new. I wanted to work directly with clients in a way that felt aligned with my values, but I was afraid that if I stayed in social work I would get completely burnt out.
With my Lumia coaching certification, I learned new skills, but also strengthened all the skills I had developed as a social worker, such as active listening and using questioning techniques to help clients help themselves.
Now that I’m a coach, I can set my own hours, and work in a way that’s truly client-centered, instead of having to jump through the bureaucratic hoops I experienced in government and non-profit social work.
The client-centered coaching tools I learned at Lumia are powerful, and working for myself I can tailor my approach to each individual client. I love seeing clients make huge shifts in their priorities, motivation, and self concept in a short period of time. It's exciting every time.
I’m grateful that I pivoted my career when I did, especially to a path that has so many similarities to what I was already doing. I gained new skills in my new career, but I also gained confidence understanding that I’m not stuck in one space. Both social work skills and life coaching skills are transferable to many different career paths.” - Abi Mallick
What are the similarities between coaching and social work?
At first glance, life coaching might seem fairly different from the daily workload of social work. However, both are professional roles that are focused on helping people lead more fulfilling lives. Similar to social work, life coaching requires active listening, a lot of empathy, and the ability to guide clients towards finding solutions to their challenges.
- Client-Centered: Both professions prioritize the person being served – keeping in mind their well being, autonomy and goals for their own life.
- Empathy and Active Listening: Both roles involve truly understanding and empathizing with a whole host of different feelings and perspectives.
- Ethics: Both coaching (when accredited by organizations like the International Coaching Federation) and social work are governed by specific professional codes of ethics to protect everyone and hold a high level of professional integrity.
- Strong Relationships: Establishing trust and rapport is the foundation of a successful outcome in both roles.
- Goal Focused: Both coaches and social workers help clients in setting and working toward specific personal or professional goals.
- Whole Person Approach: Each profession often considers the whole person, including their environment, relationships, and lived experiences.
- Confidentiality: Client information is handled with respect in both fields.
What are the differences between coaching and social work?
While there are many similarities between life coaching and social work, the two fields also have some pretty distinctive differences that set them apart. Both roles prioritize the well-being and progress of the individual, but their methodologies, scopes of practice, and sometimes even their foundational principles can be very different.
Primary Focus: While coaches primarily focus on helping clients set and achieve future goals, social workers might also address past and current issues, including trauma or crisis intervention as needed. Social workers may also deal more with helping with concrete, immediate solutions to physical issues such as safety or housing insecurity.
Training: Though there are some skills and abilities overlap, the educational and certification or credentialing processes differ. Social workers often require formal, advanced university degrees in social work, while coaches might attend specialized training programs and obtain certifications (such as Lumia’s ICF-accredited coach training program).
Scope of Work: Social workers may have a broader scope that attends to more immediate physical needs… addressing social, psychological, safety and sometimes even financial or legal issues. Coaches typically focus on topics that are selected by the client, such as specific personal or professional goals.
Setting: Social work often happens within agencies, hospitals, schools, or government institutions – often not at the choice of the client. While coaching can be more flexible, occurring in corporate settings, private practices, or even remotely – at a space and time of the client’s choosing.
Interventions: Social workers might use therapeutic interventions or connect clients with resources, while coaches use powerful questions, tools and various evidence-based techniques to promote self-awareness and action.
Duration: Coaching relationships can be short-term and specific to achieving a particular goal, while social work engagements might be longer-term, addressing complex, chronic and ongoing issues.
Regulation: Social work is typically a licensed and regulated profession in many countries, with strict requirements for practice. Coaching, while having its own accrediting bodies (such as the ICF or ACTO), has no governing board or licensure and is not as tightly regulated – yet.
What is the difference in salary for a social worker vs. a life coach?
Average pay for a Social Worker
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for social workers was about $61,420 in May 2022. However, this can vary widely depending on the area of specialization. For example, healthcare social workers might earn more than child and family social workers.
The big factors that influence pay are education, licensure status (e.g., LCSW - Licensed Clinical Social Worker vs. a non-licensed social worker), years of experience, location, and sector (e.g., government, hospitals, residential care facilities).
Average pay for a Life Coach
The coaching and wellness market is growing rapidly, which means that data and reporting on income potential varies widely. Our recommended go-to resource for industry data is The Global Coaching Study, conducted once every five years by the International Coaching Federation.
In the most recent results, published in 2023, the ICF reported the average pay for a life coach as $67,800 – but many coaches are making well over six figures.
Additionally, in 2022 coach practitioners generated an estimated annual revenue/income from coaching of $4.564 billion dollars.
In North America, coaches with more than 10 years in practice are charging, on average, $300 an hour.
When it comes to income potential, who you serve also makes a difference. Business coaches who work primarily with executive clients command $330 per session. In contrast, life coaches serving individual clients are earning an average of $130 per hour.
The factors that play a role here are the niche or specialty of coaching (e.g., executive coaching, relationship coaching), years of experience, geographic location, clientele base, and whether they work for an organization or have their own private practice can influence earnings. Certification (from institutions like the International Coaching Federation) also play a role in earning potential.
Using your existing social work skills in new ways
As a social worker, you've developed a keen ability for understanding human behavior, emotions, and the social dynamics that influence the lived experiences of people in many different layers of society.
These skills – especially the foundational skills of empathy, listening and noticing – are highly transferable to life coaching. Life coaching is most effective when it is used to move a client from baseline wellness to a state of thriving. That’s done by helping clients identify their goals, break down barriers, and craft actionable plans to achieve their dreams.
Building new responses and frameworks
Making the leap from social work to life coaching means moving from a primarily reactive role and support system for your clients to a more proactive one.
Instead of responding to crises, you'll be a guiding force, empowering individuals to create change in their lives under their own power and on their own terms.
This can look like:
- Goal-setting: Work with clients to set clear, achievable goals.
- Accountability: Keep clients on track and celebrate their successes.
- Perspective-shifting: Help clients see challenges as opportunities.
Training and certification
Though your background in social work provides a solid foundation, and certainly puts you ahead of the game, it's important to invest in life coaching-specific training to give you the necessary tools and frameworks to work effectively with coaching clients.
An accredited coaching program will provide you with the tools and methodologies unique to this profession, and a certification will lend credibility to your new role as a coach.
Balancing empathy and detachment
While empathy remains central to your role as a life coach, it’s essential to balance this with a certain level of detachment.
Unlike social work, where your involvement might be deeper and more hands-on due to the often critical nature of the situations your clients are facing, life coaching takes a different stance. In life coaching, the client is ultimately responsible for effecting change in their own life. As a coach, you serve as champion and guide, but the end result lays with your client.
Continual education and research
Just as the field of social work constantly evolves, so does life coaching. Stay updated with the latest techniques, attend workshops, and always be on the lookout for new ways to enhance your coaching skills.
Making the move from social work to life coaching is not only possible but also a highly rewarding undertaking that honors your unique skills and passion.
Your experience as a social worker equips you in a different capacity to touch lives and make a lasting difference. If you approach life coaching with the same dedication, you'll quickly find that your future life coaching clients have been waiting for someone just like you.
Ready to Increase Your Impact?
Coaching is a rapidly growing field that is continuously evolving – and your existing skill as a social worker is in high demand. Even for those who have been in the industry for a long time, there’s always more to discover. If you’ve not yet earned your ICF coaching certification, there’s no better time than now to get started!
Come check out Lumia Life Coach Training - a program that's every bit as unique as you are. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, business and entrepreneurship instruction, and fellow students dedicated to becoming a collective force for good.
Lumia Coaching: Vibrant community. Evidence-based life coach training. Lifetime support.