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Feel stuck, but not sure what to do about it? A coach might be able to help you, but what type of coach should you look for?’s FIT FOR PURPOSE blog series explores the main types of coaching out there to help you choose the best coach for your needs.

What is a life coach?

As the most general of the coaching types, life coaching can be difficult to define. And with more life coaches out there than any other type of coach, trying to choose the right one can feel daunting. But a good life coach has the power to unlock a whole new way of being for her client. If you feel you are at a turning point in your life but don’t know how to proceed, if you feel like you’ve lost your identity, if you’re failing to manage the overwhelm of modern living, if you’re dealing with significant change, or if you’re just feeling stuck, a life coach can help. This is done through a series of conversational sessions in which the client shares the area of his life in which he is struggling or looking for change. The coach and client then work with this material in a progressive way, usually over the course of a programme, until the client is empowered to move beyond the block or negotiate the world in a new way.

If this sounds similar to therapy it’s because it is. Life coaching has its roots in psychotherapy and there is significant overlap, but this is not therapy. A therapist is qualified to diagnose mental health conditions or help clients resolve issues from their past, while for some clients a therapist is just someone to listen. A life coach also does a lot of listening, but with the specific purpose of helping the client shift patterns of being and behaviour that are preventing her from achieving her personal or professional goals. How the coach does this will vary from coach to coach and will usually depend on the type of training the coach has received, or the school of coaching that he follows.

A life coach reflects back to you, supports you, challenges you, motivates you and guides you, but the process is always yours. What is almost always revealed in a successful coaching programme is that you had the answers all along, the life coach just helped you access them.

What should I look for when choosing a life coach?


More and more people are calling themselves coaches, many without any formal training or accreditation. While there are some amazing uncertified coaches, there are unfortunately many more average to poor ‘coaches’ who are making the most of a boom in the growth of coaching worldwide. The best way to make sure you are getting a quality professional is to look for qualification through one of the major coaching bodies. The best known and widely recognized is the International Coach Federation (ICF) – the Gold Standard of coaching. ICF-credentialed coaches practice at one of three levels – Associate, Professional or Master – with rigorous training and professional requirements, such as hours coached, required to become certified at each level.


While some life coaches are generalists and capable of working with broadly disparate areas of human experience, other specialize in a specific niche. If you are clear on the topic you are struggling with it can be beneficial to work with a coach who focuses on your area. As life coaching is such a broad definition, other primary areas of coaching like career coaching or health coaching are often considered to fall under this umbrella, which is why one will commonly find coaches wearing more than one title.


Regardless of what a coach’s qualifications and client testimonials say, if you don’t feel connection and trust working with them your programme is unlikely to see much success. Look for coaches that offer a free introductory session that allows you to get a feel for the coach and your potential fit.


Does your coach only meet face-to-face, virtually, or both? With today’s technology you are able to choose your coach from anywhere in the world and connect online. Though this format of coaching is growing quickly in popularity for its convenience and choice it’s not for everyone. If you prefer being in the same room as your coach, search internet coaching platforms like for coaches in your area.

A life coach is not…

A therapist

We’ve said it before but it’s an important point. And coaches certified by the ICF are ethically-bound to refer current or potential clients to a therapist if necessary or appropriate.

A mentor

A mentor provides expert guidance and advice based on his experience in a specific field or area. A life coach does not necessarily have experience with your specific topic – she is equipped with the tools to help you overcome those unique challenges using your own resources.