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Life Coaching Basics: How to Seek Help to Create Positive Change

Insights & Ideas Team •  July 27, 2015 | Home and Family

Want more out of life? A growing number of people are turning to life coaches to help them reach their personal and professional goals.

Life coaching began to emerge as a profession in the mid-1990s, and today there are an estimated 47,500 professional coaches worldwide generating close to $2 billion in annual revenue, according to the International Coach Federation.1

What exactly is a life coach? “The simplest way to explain it is that a life coach is someone who helps you get from where you are today to where you want to be in the future,” said Darcy Luoma, life coach and lead instructor of the Professional Life Coaching Certificate (PLCC) program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Most life coaches fall into one of two categories—personal coaches or professional coaches—though there is considerable crossover. Some life coaches also focus on specific niches, such as parenting, leadership skills, relationships, finances, spirituality, executive development or nutrition. And unlike consultants or mentors, life coaches don’t offer advice. “Life coaching is based on the idea that our clients are the experts in their own lives, so we don’t tell them what to do,” said Luoma. “Instead, our goal is to listen and ask powerful questions to help them achieve greater clarity and focus, and then challenge and motivate them to take action.”

If you think hiring a coach may be something you want to consider, prepare in advance for what it’ll take to make the partnership successful.

1. Be clear on what you want to accomplish. People seek the help of a life coach for many different reasons, although Luoma says many of her clients find themselves in one of three circumstances:

  • They’re in transition. They may be changing jobs, moving to a new city or preparing for retirement, and they want to get clarity about “What’s next in my life?”
  • They want to pursue a passion. They have a vision for their future and are excited about it, but they don’t know where to start; they know they’ll need an action plan and accountability to make it happen.
  • They’re unhappy. They may be frustrated at work or with their marriage, or their level of stress is unmanageable.

Regardless of why you may want to work with a life coach, it’s important to clarify your goals before you start your search so you can find a coach whose background and skills match your specific objectives.

2. Ask for credentials. The life coaching industry is largely unregulated. Anybody can call him- or herself a life coach regardless of a lack of any formal training or professional credentials, so buyer beware.

The Kentucky-based International Coach Federation (ICF) has emerged as the leading professional association for coaches. Since its inception in 1995, ICF has developed a set of standard core competencies for life coaches and established a code of ethics for the industry. Today, it accredits or approves coach-training programs offered by hundreds of organizations worldwide and at institutions like Duke, Georgetown, Rutgers and the Universities of California, Texas and Wisconsin. So when hiring a life coach, you may want to look for coaches who have achieved IFC certification after completing one of these programs. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, interview potential coaches and get references.

3. Be willing to invest your time and effort (and money). Most life coaches charge by the hour. Rates vary depending on the coach’s level of experience and training and generally range from $75 to $250 or more per hour.2  Typically, coaching sessions are held weekly, bi-weekly or monthly and run over a period of about three to six months. But the sessions themselves represent just a fraction of the time and effort needed to succeed. “With coaching, there’s homework,” said Luoma. “After every session, there’s homework and designed accountability and forward momentum. It’s about creating specific action items and taking action.”

What’s the payoff? A study conducted by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers and commissioned by ICF found that professional coaching resulted in:

  • 80 percent improved self-confidence.
  • 70 percent improved work performance.
  • 67 percent improved life/work balance.3

Whatever area of your life you’d like to improve, an effective coach can help you make intelligent decisions and plan for success. But before you think about hiring someone, make sure you’ve done your due diligence: Know what you want to accomplish, find a credentialed coach and prepare yourself to put forth the effort to change.

1International Coach Foundation, ICF 2012 Global Coaching Study, retrieved 3-31-2015 from, How much does life coaching usually cost?, retrieved 3-31-2015 from

3International Coach Foundation, ICF Global Coaching Client Study, retrieved 3-31-2015 from

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