The more than 50,000 life coaches in practice worldwide will tell you that money can, in fact, buy happiness — if you’re willing to do the work. Critics see them as unqualified, amateur psychotherapists, who might do more harm than good. Although there are training programs for coaches, it is an unregulated industry, and most coaches are not certified. So, can life coaches really deliver what they promise?
Why would you work with a life coach?
If you are going through a transition, want to manage your time better or have specific goals you want to accomplish, a life coach might be the answer. Coaches offer a new perspective on your challenges, and they will point out if your own perspective is limiting or defeatist. You also benefit from guided goal-setting, practicing commitment and being accountable for your time and choices. A great coach encourages you to get out of your comfort zone and take risks. If you are going through an identity transition (think stay-at-home parent turned small business owner, or academic turned corporate), pushing you out of your comfort zone may be the most valuable contribution your coach makes.
What to expect
Most coaches do their work by phone. Here’s a typical thirty-minute coach call:
- You relate how you did on the action steps you committed to during the previous call.
- The coach listens and offers suggestions. If you’ve flaked, a coach might offer a healthy dose of tough love.
- You discuss any new challenges you face and approaches to overcoming them. The coach listens and offers input.
- You and your coach design a realistic action plan for the next week.
Issues to consider
Life coaches don’t research or make contacts. They don’t tell you what to do, set your goals or provide instant enlightenment. A coach is a guide, your biggest fan and toughest teacher, but not your therapist. People struggling with addiction, severe depression or mental illness need to seek out the appropriate care. A life coach is also not a financial planner or a couple’s counselor. They may offer advice on money and relationships, but they are not specifically certified to do so. In short: a coach keeps you accountable, but YOU do the work.
Skeptics say hiring a coach is an overpriced substitute for personal discipline. However, for many people, being disciplined and achieving goals is a lot easier with support from a team, including a coach. Coaching is not cheap, with typical fees ranging from $200-500 a month, but, for many people, paying the monthly fee is a motivator to stick to their commitments.
Real pitfalls do exist in the coaching world, particularly because it is unregulated. Anyone can decide they’re a life coach and start to market their business. They may lack organization skills, or they may have poor listening skills. They may have no tools to offer you and no training to know how to help you. Certification does not guarantee a coach’s effectiveness, but it at least shows that they’ve done the work required to reach their own goals. A referral from a friend may outweigh whether or not the coach is certified, but it is important that you interview any coach to find a match.
So, should you hire a life coach?
Given the preceding warnings, if you are ready to do the work to make some real changes in the way you live and you have some concrete goals to achieve, a life coach could be a great option for you. The key is to find the right one. By doing a little legwork, asking your friends for referrals and interviewing possible coaches, you should have no trouble finding one who meets your needs. Here are some questions to ask anyone you interview:
- How long have you been a coach and how many clients have you worked with?
- Are you certified? If not, why?
- What is your most dramatic success story?
- What is a more typical client experience?
- Do you have a specific approach, philosophy or tool set that you use when working with clients?
- Do you have expertise in any specific areas?
- What is accomplished in each coaching session?
- How long are the sessions and how many per month?
There is no right formula. You need to decide which criteria are most important and gauge how comfortable you feel with each coach. And remember that, above all, this is much more about you and how committed you will be to reaching your goals than it is about which coach you’ve chosen.