“What, exactly, is a life coach?” I get asked this question all the time. Sometimes I don’t actually get asked this… but rather receive a curious look when people hear of my new career path.
Many people think it is synonymous with a therapist. Others think that it’s a cheerleader. Still others think a coach resembles a tutor or teacher of sorts, hired to impart wisdom or tools on an area of expertise. But, in fact, it is all of those things, and also none.
I think first and foremost, people who hire a life coach are looking to empower themselves or enrich their lives. They are self-aware and are seeking to strengthen a behavior or eliminate a habit such as overeating, hoarding or overspending. They are trying to cope with a challenging mother-in-law or wayward teenager. They might be struggling through a failing marriage and in need of someone to strengthen their personal beliefs of saving it. They might be single and unable to get past three dates with a partner, and not know why. Or maybe they are looking to earn more money each month, and don’t know how to go about doing so. The common underlying thread is that these are all people who are motivated to make changes in order to effect growth and happiness. These are people who are willing to invest in themselves in order to gain.
A life coach is similar to a therapist in that it is a trusted person in whom you can confide and hope to receive empathy and understanding. Both professionals are committed to helping you overcome a challenge. But coaching differs in that we focus less on the problem and understanding why you are there, and we tend to spend the most time visualizing where a client wants to be and strategizing on how to get there. In therapy, you can sit and dwell on an issue for a long time and hash it out. But in coaching, we are all about constant forward motion. Both are useful in different scenarios.
For example, a client might come to me and say she is struggling with procrastination and can’t seem to get certain long-term projects done. Together, we would discuss what success in this area looks like, and we would break it down into small, workable goals, in order for her to become more efficient with her time.
Along the way, a life coach can occasionally be a cheerleader. If an individual is hoping to reduce stress in his life, during follow-up sessions, the coach might check in to see which goals were met, and how the client is doing in terms of long-term results. The tools would be reevaluated, and sometimes tweaks would be made. The coach would also be able to listen and fully share in the burden of the struggle.
Life coaches are not supposed to “give out advice.” We are not trained across all disciplines to be able to preach expertise on all topics. But we are able to help a client uncover his own solutions to a problem, using dialogue and questions to arrive at these conclusions. Occasionally, a coach may offer advice in a particular area that he or she has studied extensively. For example, a nutritional coach or fitness coach may be able to offer programs and plans to meet health goals. This varies from the traditional “coaching model,” as it is the sharing of information in an educational way. But sometimes life coaches take on a niche, and specialize in helping certain groups of people, like those struggling with addiction, or those in the dating scene, or even kids going through a difficult time in school. In my studies, I focused heavily on relationships, as I feel this is the backbone of life, and an area most people can strive to improve, even though they may not always be aware.
A teen looking to lose weight might go to a health coach to learn a diet plan. But a regular life coach might help the teen figure out his or her own method of weight loss, or maybe even help develop strategies for self-love and body acceptance. What works for one person doesn’t work for everyone else.
It is my hope that with this new year, you stop to give yourself the time you deserve. To evaluate your life and ask yourself what can be improved and what can be released? And what steps do you need to take to get there? And if you are not sure, I am always here for you.
I hope you will enjoy my new column, and find motivation and inspiration to live your best life.
Sarah Abenaim is an AAPC-certified life coach, author and freelance writer living in Teaneck, New Jersey. For more information, please visit www.SarahAbenaim.com.