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What does a Life Coach do?

When you hear the word "coach", you probably think of someone with a whistle and a loud voice standing on a sideline - and you'd be pretty close to the mark. Athletic coaches help athletes develop their skills and train them to be better at their sport. A life coach might not throw a baseball or tell you to "take a lap" but they also support, develop and encourage clients.

Life coaches use a variety of methods to help individuals develop the necessary skills to achieve their personal and professional goals.

Coaching specifics

Coaching is not counseling or therapy, although there is significant overlap. Rather than focusing on training or supervision, coaching uses communication skills and motivation techniques to help individuals identify their skills and use them to their fullest potential.

Credentialed coaches assist clients in reframing their perspective and discover alternate solutions or paths to their goals. Life coaching challenges individuals to identify and set goals and teaches them the habits and best practices to achieve those goals. This relatively new profession embraces a wide variety of disciplines including psychology, career development, sociology, human development and counseling.

There are a number of coaching specializations:
  • Business coaches provide feedback and some advice to improve the productivity or effectiveness of business practices.
  • A career coach will focus on the professional aspirations of an individual.
  • Art coaching develops the creative instinct and professional skills of performers and visual artists.
  • Executive coaches help management professionals develop team building skills and organizational effectiveness.
  • Relationship coaching is concerned with self-confidence and strategies for developing intimate relationships.
Life coaches, or personal coaches, combine many of these elements, embracing an individual's lifestyle. They help people acquire effective life skills, like time management and critical thinking.

Coaching the coach

At present, there is no official accrediting body for life coaches in the U.S., although there are private certification agencies. The International Coach Federation (ICF) and the International Association of Coaching (IAC) are two preeminent organizations that offer life coach certifications. They both also offer accreditation for schools and programs although neither is universally recognized.

Certification requirements include a specified number of paid coaching hours and completion of a training program. The IAC recognizes and accepts prior training or experience in a field in lieu of hours; the ICF does not recognize non-specific coaching training. Although neither body requires a degree, certification could enhance or compliment an existing degree.

Life coaches often are self-employed or work in a freelance capacity. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies life coaches and professional coaches as life skills counselors or social and human service assistants.

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