What Is a Life Coach?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A life coach partners with clients as they work toward a more ideal version of their life.

[Featured image] A life coach wearing jeans, a pink shirt, and a navy blue jacket sits on a bright red chair and meets with a client on her laptop.

If you're looking for someone to encourage you and help you strategize as you move toward your personal and professional goals, you may enjoy working with a life coach.

In this article, we'll discuss what a life coach is, the type of support they may offer, and how to find the right coach for you.

What is a life coach?

A life coach is a wellness professional who supports clients as they work toward their goals. Together, the coach and client may focus on bettering areas such as career, self-care, relationships, or anything else impacting the client’s daily well-being.

Coaching is typically a co-creative process led by the client’s wants and needs. The coach’s role in the process is to use various tools and techniques intended to help the client identify their goals, recognize obstacles, and draw from their motivations in order to work toward making those goals a reality.

What does a life coach do?

Many coaches aim to help their clients recognize their innate ability to independently navigate their paths toward long-term and sustainable growth. They’ll do this by using techniques that help the client identify their goals, and then figure out how to achieve those goals in a way that aligns with their natural tendencies and underlying values.

What to expect from a life coach

Some common techniques that life coaches may use include:

  • Powerful questions: Reflecting and asking questions that encourage deeper thinking

  • Active listening: Interpreting both your verbal and nonverbal communications for deeper understanding

  • Motivational interviewing: Uncovering the core values beneath your desires to encourage empowerment

  • Planning and goal setting: Developing a plan to move toward your goals

  • Establishing accountability: Checking in on your goal progress

Some coaches may also implement additional techniques into their sessions to further encourage the growth process, such as meditation, breathwork, movement, energy practices like reiki, or even astrology. These techniques tend to be outside of the typical life coach’s scope of practice and often require more specific training.

Life coaching vs. therapy

A life coach and a therapist may offer some similar services, however, the two professions are distinct in important ways. A life coach is going to be forward-thinking, working with you to move toward specific goals. A therapist may help you look forward, though they will also likely help you dig into your past and assess your experiences through a mental health lens.

Unlike coaching, therapy is a regulated industry. Therapists are licensed mental health professionals who are qualified to diagnose and treat mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression, and are obligated to adhere to certain ethical standards and privacy laws.

Life coachesTherapists
- No certification or licensing requirements
- Encourage and guide you as you work toward your goals
- Forward-thinking focus on personal and professional growth
- Trained and licensed mental health professionals
- Can diagnose and treat your mental health concerns
- Analyze your past behaviors and psychological state to inform and improve your future behaviors and choices

Types of life coaches

Life coaches may be generalists, offering support across any range of needs, or they may specialize in particular areas of need. Typically, the approach will be the same across all needs, however, a specialized coach will likely have worked with many clients or completed additional studies in their area of expertise.

Examples of specializations include:

  • Business and leadership coach

  • Career coach

  • Diet and nutrition coach

  • Family coach

  • Financial coach

  • Health and wellness coach

  • Meditation coach

  • Relationship coach

  • Sobriety and smoking cessation coach

  • Spiritual coach

Benefits of life coaching

Although they can’t help with mental health conditions or past trauma, life coaches can help people work through immediate blockages and current realities as they work toward their goals. Some potential benefits of working with a life coach include:

  • Enhanced work-life balance

  • Improved daily habits

  • Stronger self-awareness

  • More mental flexibility

  • Confident decision-making

How to find a life coach

There are a few ways to go about finding a coach near you, but first, it’s helpful to know what kind of support you’re looking for. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Location: Life coaches may work with clients in person, on the phone, or over video chat.

  • Cost: Price structures can vary greatly depending on the coach, from pro bono to hundreds of dollars per session.

  • Your goals: If you know what your goals are, you can try to find a coach that specializes in your area of interest.

  • Coaching style: If you want additional services, such as meditation or movement, you can seek out a coach that is also trained in those areas.

  • Qualifications: Although certification isn’t required, many coaches do choose to seek certification in order to legitimize their practice. You may want to consider their credentials as well as their experience before committing to a coach.

Life coach certifications

Coaching is an unregulated industry, meaning there are no laws governing who can or cannot start a coaching business. However, if you are looking to work with a coach, there are some widely recognized credentials you may look for:

  • International Coaching Federation (ICF): ICF is the most popular coaching credential, with over 44,000 coaches around the world holding the certification [1]. In order to become an ICF coach, individuals must go through training programs, complete a certain number of coaching hours, receive mentorship coaching, and pass an exam. There are three levels of ICF credentials, depending on experience. Across all levels, coaches are expected to participate in continued education and professional development to maintain their credentialed status.

  • National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC): NBHWC is a newer credentialing body in the coaching industry, and it collaborates with the National Board of Medical Examiners. In order to become certified by NBHWC, individuals must complete an approved training program, complete a certain number of coaching hours, and pass an exam.

  • Other coaching certifications: You may come across other forms of life coach certifications, often developed by individuals who have become influential in the coaching space. In order to determine whether a certification program fits your needs, consider the coaching methodologies.

One way to find a certified life coach is to search the ICF and NBHWC databases. Both organizations offer searchable directories of their member coaches. Once you find a coach who seems aligned with your needs, ask to schedule a consultation to get more information on their approach to coaching.

How to become a life coach

If you are interested in exploring a career as a life coach, start with the Goodwill Career Coach and Navigator Professional Certificate. Over the course of about two months, you'll learn about foundational coaching concepts, theories, models, and tools.

You can also research the various credentialing bodies and their training programs. Through their websites, you can learn more about the coaching approaches and guiding principles, as well as more specific information about their training requirements.

Learn more: Certified Life Coach: What It Means and How to Become One


Continue learning

As you consider how a life coach may help you reach your goals, you may be able to enhance your self-awareness with online courses such as Yale’s The Science of Well-Being, University of Michigan’s Finding Purpose and Meaning in Life, or Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential, all available on Coursera.

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Article sources

  1. International Coaching Federation. “Membership and Credentialing Fact Sheet, https://coachingfederation.org/app/uploads/2021/03/March2021_FactSheet.pdf." Accessed December 19, 2023.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.