3 Reasons to Steer Clear of Life Coaches

Atul Gawande (surgeon, writer, and public health researcher) suggests if you want to get great at something, get a coach (watch the TED talk here). Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt go as far as to say everyone needs a coach.

Coaching isn't just for athletes. People across the globe are partnering with coaches to get help overcoming barriers and bridging the gap from where they are right now to where they really want to be - personally and professionally.

The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as, "Partnering in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires a person to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity, and leadership."

There are an estimated 71,000 coaches globally working across a wide variety of coaching specialties including executive coaching, leadership coaching, career coaching, health coaching, and life coaching to name a few.

In this article, I'll tell you why you should steer clear of life coaches.

A Life Coach? Really?

When some people hear the term 'life coach' they are, at best, skeptical and dismissive of the concept. Doubt breeds questions such as, "How can anyone truly believe they are an expert at someone else's life?" and "Do self-proclaimed life coaches think they are the authority on how everyone should live their life?"

I was one of those doubters. Before I became a coach and had a coach, I snubbed the idea that anyone (aside from myself) was capable of 'coaching' my life. Even though there were so many times when I felt stuck and found it difficult to move forward, I never thought of working with a life coach. Paradoxically, I didn't feel the same skepticism about health coaches, executive coaches, or business coaches. I thought they were bonafide and could help people break through barriers to accomplish their goals. It was the notion of life coaching that I found hard to grasp.

But, as the saying goes, don't knock it 'til you try it.

A Change of Heart

My attitude changed when my husband, who is usually more dubious than I am, was working for a company that offered executive and leadership coach training programs as part of their core business. He went through the coach training and was, surprisingly, impressed. He told me he thought I would benefit from hiring a coach and perhaps becoming one myself (I had been grappling with wanting to be a solopreneur in a field where I could continue to help others in a meaningful way but I was stuck).

I was still hesitant but very curious. I started doing some research instead of relying on my unfounded assumptions about life coaching. I educated myself about what coaching is and what coaches do. I discovered that while the coaching industry is largely unregulated, there is a peak body, the International Coaching Federation, that sets ethical and professional standards in coaching, vets and accredits coach training institutes, and credentials coaches at various levels.

After I gained more clarity around coaching, I understood why my husband thought I would be a good fit. On a whim during one of the many COVID lockdowns I endured in my country, I decided to enroll in an ICF-accredited coach training institute and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Can't Anyone Call Themselves a Life Coach?

Yes, they can.

Because the coaching industry is unregulated and ungoverned, absolutely anyone can hang up a shingle and call themselves a coach - life, business, executive, health, or otherwise. To some degree, this delegitimizes the coaching industry and is a source of mistrust among the public when it comes to coaches. Especially for those who don't know what coaching is or wouldn't know how to find a legitimate, qualified coach.

For me personally, it was imperative to receive coach-specific education and training from an accredited program and aim to be credentialed by the ICF. I wanted to achieve the highest standards in coaching so I could provide the best possible service to my clients.

Coaching is not alone in their plight. Take, for example, mental health counselling in Australia (where I live). Anyone (truly, anyone) can call themselves a counsellor or psychotherapist. There is no law in Australia that requires a person who provides counselling services to have any specific education, qualifications, or experience.

However, two peak bodies, the Australian Counselling Association and the Psychotherapy and Counselling Foundation of Australia stepped up, just like the ICF, to provide some oversight in the industry and set professional and ethical standards for counsellors. And while not mandatory, many counsellors opt to be credentialed by one of these two bodies, and education programs can apply to be accredited by one or both.

I'll wrap up this section by saying I get it. I understand why some people are skeptical about coaching. I was too. I appreciate that a lot of folks would be hesitant to spend their hard-earned money to receive services from someone who isn't "legit."

To this, I can say with confidence and conviction that there are exemplary coaches out there who are helping people make significant changes in their lives -personally and professionally. I've seen, firsthand, how powerful coaching can be.

Coaches don't have to be experts on life - theirs or yours - to be great coaches. Coaches are adept at knowing the right questions to ask to help you:

  • Gain clarity around your vision and values (what do you really want to be doing?)​

  • Figure out what's holding you back​

  • Overcome obstacles - real and perceived​

  • Identify and manage self-limiting thoughts & beliefs (you know the ones)​

  • Move faster from where you are right now to where you really want to be.

So, if some coaches are so great, why should you steer clear of them?

3 Reasons to Steer Clear of Life Coaches

1. You're not ready to make changes. Sometimes, we think we're ready to make changes in our life, but really, we're not there yet. And that's OK. Before you decide to work with any type of coach, you need to make sure you're mentally and emotionally prepared. Change is damn hard. It takes courage, resilience, perseverance, and resourcefulness. You have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone to make progress and move forward faster. You need to want to aim for self-actualization and live the life you imagined. If you're not prepared to do the heavy lifting, even the best coach can't help you.

2. You want someone to tell you what to do. A great coach doesn't tell you how to live your life or declare what they would do in your situation. Instead, coaches ask powerful questions and provide reflections to help you gain clarity, overcome obstacles and manage self-limiting beliefs. Coaches appreciate and leverage the fact that you are the expert on you. Coaches may ask more of you than you ask of yourself. That's because they can sometimes recognize your potential even before you see it in yourself. So if you're looking for someone to listen to your predicament and then tell you what to do, definitely don't get a coach.

3. You need to deal with significant emotional/psychological issues. Some people confuse coaching with mental health therapy or counseling. While there are some overlapping aspects, coaching is not therapy. If you're dealing with issues such as significant depression, anxiety, or mental illness, you need a qualified therapist or counselor. This is not to say that some folks can't work with a therapist and coach at the same time. Just be sure you understand the difference in how a coach can help vs. a mental health professional.

So there you have it. Three good reasons you should steer clear of life coaches (or any coach for that matter!).

But if you are ready to partner with a coach, be sure to find a coach that is the right fit for you and be ready to commit to making lasting changes in your life.