Life coaching, in its simplest form, is coaching that helps a person improve certain aspects of their life. What this process entails depends on the coach and what training, if any, this person possesses.

Many life coaches borrow techniques from positive psychology and cognitive-behavioral therapies. However, the industry is completely unregulated, leading to significant doubt about the skills and effectiveness of life coaches.

Growth of Life Coaching

Life coaching — as most people currently recognize it — first rose to prominence in the 1990s and 2000s as executives and other employees needed help navigating their rapidly changing and more complex work environments. Most coaches were people with significant experience in the relevant industry who helped clients set and meet goals, in addition to performing leadership training, organizational improvement, and employee development.

Over the years, life coaching has grown into a billion-dollar industry that operates in many fields. Some coaches claim to be able to address nearly all of life’s problems, leading to the increased usage of the phrase “life coach.”

Senior woman with a pen and notebook talking to a younger woman izusek / Getty Images


Regulations and Protection

Life coaches are unregulated and require no formal training, education, or licensing. This allows nearly anyone to call his or herself a life coach. As a result, clients have no legal protection should a coach’s teachings cause harm.

However, trustworthy coaches have undergone extensive training from certification programs that are attempting to legitimize the field. Additionally, a person may choose to refer to themself as a life coach while also holding certifications and experience in regulated fields.

Regulations word on folder register of card index ESB Professional / Getty Images


Types of Life Coaches

Some life coaches are more general and focus on all aspects of a client’s life. Others are far more focused, specializing in specific areas, such as:

  • Addiction and sobriety
  • Business and leadership
  • Career
  • Diet and fitness
  • Family life and planning
  • Financial wellness
  • Mental or physical health and wellness
  • Life skills
  • Relationships and divorce
  • Spirituality

Senior woman talking to a younger woman KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty Images


Benefits of Life Coaches

Because of the nebulous nature of life coaching as a practice, it is difficult to study its effects. A systematic review of intervention studies involving life coaching found that specific self-efficacy and self-empowerment techniques can help improve a person’s overall health.

Some of the reviewed studies discovered that group and individual coaching can help reduce procrastination and improve functioning within businesses. Research also indicates that life coaches can provide much-needed peer support for tasks like weight loss.

A man holding hands behind head smiling while looking at his laptop fizkes / Getty Images


Life Coaching vs. Psychotherapy

In recent years, the line between life coaching and psychotherapy has become increasingly unclear. Therapists and other mental health professionals focus on treating mental health conditions and working through trauma. Unlike life coaches, therapists must have a degree, receive accreditation, follow an ethical code, and adhere to strict confidentiality and ongoing education regulations.

While working with a life coach may help with some mental health issues, no trustworthy life coach will attempt to fill a therapist or psychologist’s role without training and accreditation in those fields.

Close up of hand holding an education document Tero Vesalainen / Getty Images


When to Work With a Life Coach

Each life coach has a different approach, even if they are addressing the same topics. Some coaches claim that anyone can benefit from their help, while others feel that a person must already have a general goal in mind. Though there is a lack of evidence on this topic, positive affect life coaching appears to have beneficial effects on most populations.

In general, coaches with more targeted approaches have more quantifiable benefits, due to having more experience in those exclusive fields. Some experts recommend life coaching during moments where therapy is not yet necessary, but outside assistance would be beneficial. For example, life coaching helped medical students arrive at more accurate diagnoses while also improving symptoms of stress and burnout.

A man talking to another man holding a clipboard with card fizkes / Getty Images


Alternatives to Life Coaches

Depending on what topic a person is attempting to address, they may choose to seek alternatives to life coaches. Therapists and counselors are usually the most direct alternative, especially for support with addiction, relationships, and mental health.

Financial advisors and career counselors can be beneficial and are often available through larger enterprises, such as schools and businesses, rather than working independently.

Woman talking to her psychologist krisda Bisalyaputra / Getty Images


Effectively Utilizing Life Coaching

To maximize the effectiveness of life coaching, it is important to approach it in a certain manner. A life coach can help make plans and guide clients to more positive goals, but this takes time. Expecting immediate results is a major pitfall. Additionally, not all coaches are suitable for all topics and all clients.

Finding a compatible, skilled coach can be difficult but makes a significant difference. Remember that while life coaches can offer advice that may improve mental well-being, they are not therapists and are not qualified to address serious mental health conditions.

Hand circling a date in the calendar with the note: Small steps, big changes Ildo Frazao / Getty Images


Changes in the Field

In recent years, the explosive growth of the life coaching industry has led to many groups moving to legitimize the practice. One of the most prominent examples of this is the International Coaching Federation, which aims to develop core competencies, establish a professional code, and create a reliable, recognized certification program.

Additionally, a growing number of life coaches have requested lawmakers to enforce standards and regulations similar to those for psychotherapy. This serves to separate the skilled, trustworthy life coaches from those who are potentially dangerous.

A person signing a certificate Africa Studio / Shutterstock


The Bottom Line

Ultimately, life coaching is still too broad a field to truly define and study its effects. The tools and techniques that many life coaches employ are beneficial to a large number of people. Researching a life coach’s reputation, certifications, and training can enable a potential client to determine whether they are receiving reputable advice from a trustworthy source.

Though their fields may overlap, life coaches and therapists are separate professions. However, skilled life coaches can act as bridges, helping clients to seek qualified mental healthcare.

Man reading from his laptop and holding a pen and notepad on the side damircudic / Getty Images


Popular Now on Facty Health


This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.