What Life Coaches do… and How the Internet has Failed to Deliver the Right Information.

On Tuesday, I was listening to a therapist run podcast when the discussion of life coaching and therapy came up.   “I wouldn’t mind being a life coach,” one of the therapists said. “That way I could tell people what to do instead of listening and helping others their problems.”   Later that week, I ran into more misconceptions about who coaches are and what they do.  I was part of a Facebook group run by a moderator who began to promote the benefits of transitioning from clinical therapist to life coach, and encouraging other therapists to follow.  After responding to a number of therapists eager to attain information on how to begin, the organizer of the group provided misleading information on how to ensure an ethical practice as a coach.  There was no discussion or information about ethical standards, legal practices, or even the differences in the approaches with professional coaching.  Simply a “just decide who you want to work with and there you go: you’re a coach now.” Knowing there are so many people who hold similar beliefs of Life Coaches being self-professed gurus doling out advice, it’s no wonder the field of coaching does not get the recognition or respect it deserves.  As someone who was certified as a life coach long before becoming an LCSW, I operated my own practice as a coach and was later offered a position as an instructor for JRNI’s Coaching Intensive and came to understand and respect the world of coaching. Come Wednesday, I ended up unsubscribing to the podcast, removing myself from the Facebook, and writing this article to provide some useful information for both potential clients and professionals.


Coaching is a partnership between a client and coach, where clients seek out assistance with goal attainment.  Coaches do not give advice nor are they to provide any counseling-based techniques or clinical work.  They take their clients from a point of acknowledging where they are now, where they’d like to be or what goals they’d like to achieve, and create strategies to remove or move through any major roadblocks getting in the way. There are no psychosocial assessments in coaching.  Instead, coaches engage a process of supportive self-discovery using Appreciative Inquiry—a process where clients uncover the full extent of their strengths, resources, capabilities, dreams, hopes, and motivations. A good coach helps their clients create an action plan to achieve their goals. A well-trained coach actively engages their clients in the process of increasing their level of optimism, ability to create change in their lives, and implement their own goal attainment strategies after the coaching relationship has ended.


Some clients make the mistake of life coaching being similar to therapy where the primary focus of the work is centered in the past.  Many therapists make the mistake of thinking coaching is centered towards focusing solely on identifying the cause of internal and external conflicts and providing guidance based on their own level of expertise and knowledge. And while there is coaching in therapy, there’s absolutely NO therapy in coaching. Even if a life coach is trained as a mental health professional, they are required to maintain their scope of practice and assert their professional opinion that certain barriers be best addressed in therapy. Coaches are less interested in how a client ended up feeling stuck in a rut.  They focus less on understanding the past events that created a misalignment in their cognitive thoughts and work towards calibrating a client’s to be more oriented towards their future visions.  Through a strengths-based perspective, coaches help their clients create, recreate, adjust, or adapt their current behavioral patterns, habits, organizational systems, and lifestyle structures to be supportive of their goals.  Should the major barrier be an unresolved event from the past, Coaches are required to assert their professional opinion to recommend therapy. Life coaches are not trained to provide any clinically developed evidence-based practices typically used in psychotherapy sessions such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Internal Family Systems, Acceptance Commitment Therapy, etc.  Some exceptions include certain practices such as EMDR and Gottman trained professions who have adapted the techniques to be more appropriate for coaching by using the models to be more future oriented and working on enhancing performance levels. Also, coaches do not take insurance nor are their services considered to be medically necessary as there are no diagnoses involved in coaching.  Coaches are not to be the first line of defense during crisis situations. Unlike their clinical counterparts, Coaches are able to practice across state and country lines.  Most coaches are remote, providing phone or video sessions to their clients.  Coaching sessions also differ from therapy sessions as they can be as short as 15 minutes and can meet less frequently.


Technically, anyone can become a coach due to the field being unregulated.  However, coaching associations like the International Coach Federation (ICF) highlight the importance of coaches upholding ethical and legal standards, as well as core competencies for the coaching profession.  ICF additionally provides a list of Professional Coach credentialing programs where they recognize graduates of such programs to achieve a certain level of mastery. Although the number of hours and the additional letters may be important to some consumers, some of the best coaches exhibit expertise in the form of life experience.  Divorce Recovery Coaches typically hold their “masters’ degree” from life after surviving and thriving after a divorce.  Some of the best self-empowerment coaches were the ones who spent decades living in a state of powerlessness.  Coupled with training, coaches who have undergone their own transformation are some of the most skilled professionals in the field.


 Whenever I consult with someone interested in coaching, I typically ask what they’re looking for and hoping to achieve.  If someone is looking to gain insight on themselves due to needing to heal or recover from a previous event they’re currently preoccupying their thoughts, I encourage starting with therapy first.  If they are either currently in therapy, graduated from therapy, or are generally looking to level up their lives, I recommend coaching. A therapist helps you resolve the past self. A coach helps you evolve into your future self. Coaching is a great supplement to therapy.  You can be in therapy to understand your emotional attachments and motivations behind behaving certain ways in relationships, AND you can work with a relationship coach to develop and execute boundaries in between those sessions.  You can work with a therapist to uncover the root causes behind your imposter syndrome WHILE checking in with your business coach on helping you gain traction on developing your business strategies.  You can be in treatment for Anxiety, Trauma Recovery, and Co-occurring Disorders and have a Mental Health or Sober Coach supporting you as well.


Clients are encouraged to ask where their coaches were trained and how they were trained.  Ask about what techniques they use and how their coaching process can help you achieve your goals.  Find a coach who is real—someone who is genuine, warm, and creates an environment where you feel accepted for who you are.  If your coach gives you the vibe they might shame you for not meeting your goals, move on. Also, ask your coach about their own experiences with coaching. A coach who is currently being coached or has worked with a coach before.  Coaches with experience understand the client experience as well as their professional duty.  A sign of a strong professional coach is additionally someone who can give you a clear definition of what a coach is, what they do, and how they differ from therapy. For more information on how to become a coach, visit: Become A Coach Aileen is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and JRNI Certified Life Coach based in Los Angeles.  As a therapist she holds a specialty in working with first generation Asian Americans and with trauma recovery.  As a life coach, she is a therapy-informed coach with signature approaches on improving communication, executing emotional regulation action plans, and self-development.  Serving as an instructor for the JRNI Coaching Intensive, she knows the ins and outs of coaching versus therapy.  For more information, please visit her at www.autherapy.life