When Is A Client Done With Coaching?

In this episode, John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux discuss indicators that help coaches determine when a coaching engagement is complete.

The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, featuring Lumia Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux, is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. In this episode, we discuss how we determine when a coaching relationship is complete, and the feelings that come along with it. Subscribe to get new episodes weekly!

When Is A Client Done With Coaching?

“In therapy, a lot of clients have insurance and as a result they may see you for a long time. In coaching, because there is no insurance, people are more likely to come and go.” - John Kim

A client is done with coaching when they say that they are. And while it should be as simple as that, the reality can sometimes feel more complicated!

The notion that the client decides when they are complete with coaching can be a tricky pill to swallow, especially when we’re just getting started as life coaches. And here's why. The majority of us have been conditioned to hierarchical systems whereby outside “experts” grade us on our efforts.

In so many areas, an external evaluator determines important outcomes for our lives. Want a few examples of what we mean by this?

  • Teachers grade our work
  • Managers grade our performance
  • Hired consultants tell companies what they think we should do
  • Friend and family groups often enforce beliefs and standards for behavior that you must adhere to in order to remain a part of the group

Not so in the coaching profession!

One of the things about the coaching relationship that is truly radical is that it turns the normative standard of hierarchy on its head. At every turn, coaches defer to their client as the expert. 

We do this by:

  • Asking questions about the path forward for the client
  • Asking permission to give feedback before delivering it
  • Having the client set self-directed goals

Professional coaches enact a process that conditions the client to be in the driver's seat of their own life. Given this outcome, it stands to reason that a coaching client is the person who is best qualified to determine what they need, when they need it, and what the conclusion of their own growth process might look like.

Life coaches invite the client to co-create the boundaries of a coaching relationship - including when it ends. - Noelle Cordeaux

Client Accountability

At this point, you might be inclined to ask, “But what about accountability?” And if you are, excellent! It means you know that helping a client stay accountable to their own goals is an important part of your role as a professional coach.

Yes, life coaching services involve helping our clients to be accountable for learning, action steps, or even just imagining what it might look like to do things differently. It is also the job of life coaches to respect the will and pace of the coaching client. 

What does this look like in practice? It means honoring:

  • When a client is just not ready to act
  • When a client decides to change direction mid-session
  • When a client decides to change their goals for coaching entirely
  • When a client needs to take a break from coaching
  • When a client wishes to terminate their coaching relationship. 

On that last point, the International Coaching Federation holds that a best practice is to have a clear refund policy in place so that the client knows what the parameters are should they wish to discontinue the coaching relationship.

While your policy doesn’t require that you return all fees in the event of cancellation, the right to terminate itself lies with the client. If you'd like more more guidance on how to approach refunds, check out our blog Legal 101 for Life Coaches and the ICF Code of Ethics.

Indicators of Completion

In addition to the theoretical, there are also some practical guidelines for how life coaches can assess when a client may be nearing the end of their coaching engagement. Those distinctions often depend on the type of coaching you are doing, and the type of goals your client is working on.

Measurable Goals

The International Coaching Federation favors SMART goals, ones that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable (within your client’s control)
  • Realistic 
  • Time-bound

This goal setting framework can be helpful because it cuts down on ambiguity. When life coaches help to establish clear goals at the start of the relationship, it makes the job of both coach and client fairly straightforward thereafter.

Common issues that lend themselves well to SMART goals include: 

  • Financial goals, like saving or paying off debt
  • Health goals, like increasing measurable fitness indicators
  • Career goals, like getting a new job 

If your client is working toward a very specific, measurable outcome in coaching, then it is fairly easy to see when they are close to achieving it.

For example, if you are a career coach and a client hires you to help them make a career transition, the coaching engagement is often complete once that goal is achieved. If the client decides there is still work to be done, or chooses to set a new goal after the initial one is accomplished, the coaching relationship continues.

Intangible Goals

In the coaching profession, not all goals are SMART, or easily measured. Sometimes the goal of coaching is seeking a future state that is fuzzy or unknown in the beginning. In such cases, a coach and client work together to catalog learning as it unfolds in order to create a state of contentment, joy, engagement or ease.  

Examples of self-directed goals include:

  • Wanting to experience confidence, self-love, or genuine excitement in work or play.  
  • Cultivating more intimacy and connection in relationships
  • Developing personal spiritual practices

If a client has this kind of goal, the “end point” is not usually defined ahead of time. That’s because our idea of how a new state of being will feel rarely matches the reality when we get there! 

When it comes to self-directed goals, the job of life coaches is to notice and build and notice and build… until the client feels satisfied. It’s the role of the client to then call the coaching process complete, or formulate a new goal based on their learnings.  

How to Wrap it Up!

It’s important that when a client decides their coaching is complete - as all eventually will! - that life coaches honor and celebrate them in the process.

Here’s a few things you might touch upon in the final session:

  • Additional goals they’d like to explore
  • Any unfinished business they’d like to put on a vision board for the future
  • Reviewing and celebrating their achievements!

You can also support your own reflection and growth as a coach by asking for feedback when coaching ends. Some questions for your client might include:

  • What were your takeaways from coaching?
  • What exercises and techniques were most helpful to you?
  • What suggestions do you have for my continuous improvement as a coach?

If the client valued the process, don't forget to ask for a testimonial!

The lives of our clients are constantly evolving, and it is fair to say that none of us are ever “done” with the process of growth and change. Coaching, however, is subjective and clients are “done,” when they say they are.

Ready to Become A Coach?

One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our 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 a partner in the process, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our International Coaching Federation (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.

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