What is life coaching?
The International Coach Federation says: “Coaching is an ongoing partnership that helps clients produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives. Through the process of coaching, clients deepen their learning, improve their performance and enhance their quality of life.”
Myles Downey, in his book Effective Coaching defines it on page 15 like this: “Coaching is the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another.”
Fiona Harrold‟s alternative (from her website) says: “[life coaching] is a no-nonsense, down-to-earth, practical set of techniques and strategies to achieve success, fast!”
What does a life coach do?
Basically, coaching is a conversation between a coach and a client, usually undertaken face to face or by telephone. That conversation helps the client to explore, and then navigate through, some aspect or aspects of the client’s life. With the coach’s help, the client explores the terrain, which includes both the external world of buildings, people, cars, money, etc. as well as the client’s internal world, from where beliefs, fears, self-image and emotion exert their powerful, and often negative, influences.
Coaching may also involve the client in assignments, which allow them to enhance their learning in some way. These might be to write a reflective essay, to keep a diary, to read a book, or join a club, etc. Through coached exploration of their terrain, the client finds both familiar and unfamiliar landmarks. Some will be obstacles, mountains to climb or rivers to cross. Others will be sources of strength and joy.
As coaching proceeds, the client becomes increasingly familiar with the terrain and develops clarity on how he or she wants to change it and where they want to be within it. Movement to that new and better place is encouraged and supported by the coach.
So–coaching is a practical tool for personal exploration and development. A Life Coach can unlock and release the potential within clients, to bring about major positive improvements in their lives.
Life coaches provide support, structure and encouragement to help clients fulfil their potential, make the most of their lives and move forward in the areas which they want to change such as in their relationships, careers, fitness, work-life balance or self-confidence.
By observation, listening and questioning, life coaches explore with clients their situation, values and beliefs. They work with clients to find ways in which they might achieve their aims and help them to set appropriate goals.
By remaining supportive and non-judgmental, life coaches encourage clients to maintain motivation and commitment and to find ways of overcoming barriers and setbacks. They may challenge assumptions through constructive feedback, but do not tell clients what to do or what to think. Their main aim is to empower clients to take control of their life by finding answers for themselves.
History of Life Coaching.
Life Coaching began in California in the early 1980s, when an accountant called Thomas Leonard found that many of his clients, in theory coming to him for financial advice, were in fact looking for broader direction. Though not strictly speaking unhappy, and so not suitable for conventional psychotherapy, they did want impartial advice to help them solve more practical problems in their lives. Leonard eventually set up the International Coach Federation (ICF) in Houston, Texas, which now has 20,000 members and helps clients to find coaches.
Life Coaching emerged in Britain in the late 1990’s and is now growing steadily. In 1998 there were five members of the ICF in the United Kingdom, now there are over 400. BBC’s Life Laundry has proved popular, and although Carole Caplin has caused them to be rebranded “lifestyle gurus” the profile of coaches has been raised over the debacle with Cherie Booth’s Bristol flats. A lot of people are more open to it now. In 10 years time it’ll be as common to have a lifestyle coach in a gym as a personal trainer.
What Life Coaching is not.
There are many ways to personal improvement, and not all of them are coaching. Coaching has a few characteristics that set it apart. Unlike therapy or counselling, coaching is primarily present-oriented. A coach will have a good general understanding of how past events can shape a person and their performance in the present (typically through the effects of inherited self-esteem and negative beliefs). A coach may work with the client to relieve these problems, through affirmations, for example, or other exercises. But fundamentally, coaching deals with what is happening now and in the immediate future. It does not reflect on the client’s past to unravel complex elements within the psyche.
Unlike mentoring, coaching is not instructional. It does not bestow new vocational skills or provide “answers” through the teachings of an expert, though coaches may provide some learning experiences that equip the client with some new tools. Coaches help the client to find their own way; they do not give directions.
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