What is life coaching? Critiquing definitions from multiple sources

I believe there is some confusion over life coaching definitions and what life coaches do. Indeed, different coaches use the term “life coach” to mean different things. As a result, I’ve compiled a list of different definitions to help people get a better of idea of what I think proper life coaching is and how it might differ from other types of coaching. Additionally, I’ve added my comments on what points I agree with, disagree with and otherwise.

Different definitions of Life Coaching

Coaching (Life) – Wikipedia

“Life coaching is the process of helping people identify and achieve personal goals. Although life coaches may have studied counseling psychology or related subjects, a life coach does not act as a therapist, counselor, or health care provider, and psychological intervention lies outside the scope of life coaching.” (See source)

My comments

I certainly agree that a coach does not act in a way that is normally therapeutic, like a counsellor or psychologist would. In circumstances where I find that a particular client may be better served by such a trained person, then I bring this topic up with the client. Indeed, I believe this to be an ethical obligation for life coaches, something which is supported in the ICF Code of Ethics.

Coaching – International Coach Federation

“ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment.” (See source)

My thoughts

I find this definition a little lengthy, but agree that the process is usually thought-provoking and creative. Additionally, “maximising potential” sounds a little too new-age to me and implies that “potential” is one-dimensional. Rather, I think that coaching can help people to achieve goals which are meaningful to them. This might mean working less and earning less, but being more satisfied with life.

Life Coach – Google

“A person employed to help people attain their goals in life.” (See source)

My thoughts

Short, sharp and straight to the point. I like this definition a lot. However, a psychologist could also fit this role, or a person’s goal in life may be to get over a mental health issue. These are two instances where the definition is weak.

Life Coach – WebMD

“These professionals provide the drive and guidance their clients need to improve their careers, relationships, and lives. They help clients to:

  • Recognize their skills and dreams
  • Refocus their life’s goals
  • Move past challenges that stand in the way of those goals”

(See source)

My thoughts

I entirely disagree with life coaches being the ones who provide drive and/or guidance. Coaches can’t wave a magic wand and make motivation appear, nor do we advise on choices. Rather, we work with the client to help them find their own motivation. We talk clients through the options that they have and support them in making a decision that suits themselves. However, I do agree that we can help people to recognize their skills and dreams, focus on goals and move past challenges.

Life Coach – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

“An advisor who helps people make decisions, set and reach goals, or deal with problems” (See source)

My thoughts

Whilst a life coach does help people to make decisions, set goals or deal with issues in their lives, they do not provide advice. This is something that is commonly asked of life coaches – people want advice, they want solutions that will definitely work. However, as a coach, it is usually unethical of me to provide this kind of advice. There is no way I will ever know what it is like to be my client, nor will I ever have all of the information that they have about their life and their issue. Providing advice also undermines a client’s personal agency and prevents them from building self-efficacy that usually results from solving one’s own problems.

Life Coach – Oxford Dictionaries

“A person employed to help people attain their goals in life.” (See source)

My thoughts

Identical to Google’s definition. Whilst Google doesn’t specify where its definition came from, this Oxford Dictionaries source may have been it.

Summary of life coach definitions critique

As can be seen from the above, there are differing definitions on what a life coach is. This may be, in part, as a result of the difference between people who have simply started offering a “life coaching” service, versus those who have been trained by reputable organisations. Whilst I don’t have a favourite definition or one of my own, I do think of a life coach generally as someone who is contracted to facilitate the achievement of one’s goals in life, in a way that does not conflict with therapy.

Further information about life coaching


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