In previous years, coaching and particularly life coaching, has gained a lot of popularity. Along with popularity, there is also some sort of controversy about what life coaching is and whether it is effective.
In this article, we will shortly summarize what life coaching is, what are potential benefits, and what you can expect during the coaching process.
What is a Life Coach?
One of the most used definitions of life coaching in literature was provided by Grant (2003, pp. 254), who defines it as: "a collaborative solution-focused, result-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of life experience and goal attainment in the personal and/or professional life of normal, nonclinical clients."
Stemming from this, a life coach is an expert specializing in helping people to achieve certain goals in their life.
Typically, in the domain of life coaching, there are different areas of focus. The most frequent topics are work-life balance, improving relationships, managing stress, managing finances, improving the quality of life, etc. Some life coaches are specialized in helping people throw major life transitions, searching for life purpose and direction (Grant & Cavanagh, 2018).
Life coaching is based on several assumptions about human nature (Grant & Cavanagh, 2018):
- People have latent potential and resources, although they might not be aware of it
- People could change
- The change could happen fast
- The client involved in the life coaching process is willing to work and change themselves
- The client is not dealing with serious mental health problems
- Life coaching is a goal-focused process, and it doesn't aim to repair psychopathology
Benefits of Working with a Life Coach
Critics of life coaching often emphasize how the potential benefits of various life coach programs are only anecdotal and not empirically confirmed. Although further research is indeed required, there are also empirical studies that indicate that life coaching (at least some of its form) could be effective for improving goal setting, mental health, and quality of life.
One study (Grant, 2003) showed multiple benefits of life coaching. In this study, the effectiveness of a solution-focused, cognitive-behavioral model of coaching was tested. First of all, it was shown that the experienced levels of depression, anxiety, and stress significantly decreased for people involved in the life coaching programs. Not just the reduction in negative symptomatology but also positive changes were observed. Namely, participants reported a higher quality of life and levels of insight. Finally, the increase in goal attainment was also shown.
In other words, this study has shown that life coaching, when relying on science-based intervention, is indeed effective in improving mental health and quality of life.
Another study (Green et al., 2005) based on the same life coaching program also confirmed its effectiveness. Namely group of people that were included in a coaching program showed an increase in goal-striving. More importantly, this study reports a significant positive impact of life coaching on the mental health of participants. Results showed an increase in positive affect, personal growth, the purpose of life, positive relation with others, and self-acceptance.
Even short life coaching interventions could bring significant improvements across various domains. Lefdahl-Davis and colleagues (2018) investigated the effect of life coaching on the population of undergraduate students. Students attended at least three sessions, and different aspects of their functioning were compared in pre and post-test. The result showed significant improvements regarding self-confidence, life purpose, goal setting, and attainment. Additionally, students were also more confident regarding their choice of major and satisfaction with it.
The benefits of life coaching for improving physical health are not fully known yet. However, one review (Ammentorp et al., 2013) showed that life coaching could be beneficial for some patients.
The Coaching Process
Although each life coach might slightly differ in their approach and methodology, several steps are common, and you can expect them during your coaching process.
During this phase, both the client and coach are making evaluations of whether they are a good fit. This is a good moment to reflect on expectations and what someone hopes to get from the coaching process.
Sometimes clients have unrealistic expectations (especially in the sense that they are hoping that coaching or therapy will bring change in people around them). In some cases, clients are hoping that they can be passive during the process and that the coach will somehow do all the hard work for them (because, after all, they are paying them for the services).
Also, the coach may realize that his skills and expertise or, sometimes, his own biases are obstacles to working with particular clients. In that case, they will usually redirect the client to someone else, more suitable.
The initial consultation is essential for developing trust, and a bond between client and coach and could greatly determine the outcome of the coaching process. Therefore, honesty and complete transparency are required. Don't be afraid to ask (whether you are coming from the position of client or coach) and listen actively.
During the initial consultation also, some more technical aspects are discussed, such as the responsibilities of the coach and client but also confidentiality issues. Finally, the cost is also discussed, as well as cancellation fees (Grant & Cavanagh, 2018).
For coaching to be successful, it is crucial to establish clear and realistic goals. It helps both client and the coach to measure the results. It is possible to change or expand initial goals during the coaching process, and in that case, it is necessary to again reestablish what the desired outcome is.
Some life coaches recommend setting and focusing only on one or two goals, while others encourage setting more goals and focusing on all life issues (Grant & Cavanagh, 2018).
Different life coaches will use various techniques for setting goals. Also, sometimes, clients come up with a clear idea of what an issue is (which could speed up this step)
Grant and Cavanagh (2018) recommended using the Quality of Life Inventory (QOLI) as a precursor to setting goals. This questionnaire serves as a good starting point because it estimates life satisfaction in 16 domains, such as health, relationships, work, money, etc.
Of course, some life coaches will use their questionnaires or other technique, and that is perfectly fine as long as they help the client to correctly identify and set their goals.
Developing an action plan
After the agreement about goals is met, the next step is to make an elaborated action plan. Depending on the nature of the client's goals, the action plan could be less or more complex.
One of the frequently used methods is SMART which emphasizes that goals should be:
Defining particular steps and timelines will increase the chance for positive change and maintain motivation. Previous studies (e.g., Grant, 2003; Green et al., 2005) showed that life coaching programs with a clear structure is efficient.
Monitoring and Evaluation
This step helps the coach and client to estimate the progress and make some changes if it is necessary. In this phase, actions that bring clients nearer to wanted change are encouraged, while actions that do the opposite should be eliminated or at least minimized.
The progress in coaching, usually, is not linear, and each of us has our own speed. Additionally, sometimes new issues occur during the coaching process that initially were not considered and which solving is required for attaining the goals. Therefore, goals and ways how to achieve them could change.
Monitoring and evaluation in life coaching include the evaluation of between-session action steps. Clients usually get specific homework between sessions. Evaluation could occur in pre-session as a reflection on what happened in the meantime and in post-session, where clients share insights or learnings that occurred during the current session (Grant & Cavanagh, 2018).
Again, each life coach will choose their own evaluation method. However, it is important to make it easy to follow and objective as possible.
Ending the coaching process
The final step in the coaching process is its termination. Some people might argue that the learning process never stops. Therefore, there is no need for end cooperation. However, the goal of life coaching is to help people to find and use their resources and not passively rely on someone else.
Sometimes the ending of the coaching process came naturally - the client accomplished the initial goals and didn't feel the need for additional support and guidance. However, often both the client and coach feel like there is something more that can be done.
Grant and Cavanagh (2018) offered several practical pieces of advice regarding the ending of the coaching process. First of all, during the initial consultation, it is good to also define, at least broadly, how long the coaching process will be, how many sessions, etc. After that, it should be discussed whether to continue or not.
Ending the coaching process, especially in the case of good cooperation, could be hard both for the client and the coach. However, the coach has the responsibility to recognize the moment when coaching is not beneficial anymore. That happens when "coaching sessions become less about goal attainment and more like supportive counseling, or even friends having a nice chat." Grant & Cavanagh, 2018; pp. 305).
It is not rare that after some time, the same clients show up with new domains and topics they want to work on it. The coach and client should also define whether this option is available.
The Importance of Trust and Confidentiality in the Coaching Relationship
One of the most important factors in the success of the coaching process is mutual trust between the coach and the client. Regardless of the coach's qualifications and expertise, if you don't feel like that person can help you and genuinely care - the results will most likely be modest or nonexistent. The same will happen if the coach doesn't believe that their client has the capacity for positive change. Initial consultation and the first few sessions are crucial for developing the trust and bond between the client and the coach.
One study (Wasylyshyn, 2003) analyzed the characteristics of effective coaches and their tools and found out that the top 3 highest rating tools were: coaching sessions, 360 feedback, and relationship with the coach.
Mutual respect, trust, and likeness will ensure a strong coach-client relationship in the coaching process which is required for getting good results. During life coaching, clients share personal and the most vulnerable information; therefore, it is important to obtain confidentiality. If there is a chance that information could be leaked, the client will not be willing to share thoughts and emotions, and as a result, coaching will be focused only on trivial issues.
Further, clients need to feel that the coach will be transparent and honestly admit if their capacity and knowledge are not sufficient for dealing with some particular topic or issue.
Finally, the coach is also responsible for informing the client in which situation they are obliged to share information with others (usually authorities when the safety of clients or other people is jeopardized).
In this article, we tried to clarify what life coaching is, what the steps you can expect in the life coaching process are, and what type of issues can be tackled. If you want to improve the quality of your life or to work on specific goals, you can consider working with a life coach who will support you during that process.
When you are choosing your life coach, make sure that they have relevant knowledge and experience but also pay attention to whether you feel comfortable and safe around them.
Ammentorp, J., Uhrenfeldt, L., Angel, F., Ehrensvärd, M., Carlsen, E. B., & Kofoed, P. E. (2013). Can life coaching improve health outcomes?–A systematic review of intervention studies. BMC health services research, 13(1), 1-11.
Grant, A. M. (2003). The impact of life coaching on goal attainment, metacognition and mental health. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 31(3), 253-263.
Grant, A. M., & Cavanagh, M. J. (2018). The solution-focused approach to coaching. The complete handbook of coaching, 35-51.
Green, S., Oades, L. G., & Grant, A. M. (2005). An evaluation of a life-coaching group program: Initial findings from a waitlist control study. The complete handbook of coaching, 127-1411.
Lefdahl-Davis, E. M., Huffman, L., Stancil, J., & Alayan, A. J. (2018). The impact of life coaching on undergraduate students: A multiyear analysis of coaching outcomes. International journal of evidence based coaching and mentoring, 16(2), 69-83.
Wasylyshyn, K.M. (2003). Executive coaching: An outcome study. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 55, 94–106.