If you're itching for a change, but want some guidance, a life coach could be the perfect support system.
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It's common to turn to friends for advice — whether to solve a problem, deal with drama, flesh out a career plan, or navigate life's expected changes. No matter how good the friend, though, they typically aren't equipped to solve any of these problems, nor do they necessarily have the life experience or knowledge to help coach you through major decisions. Sure, they can lend an empathetic ear to listen, but if you seek more than just someone to complain to — someone who can perhaps offer tangible insight and sound advice — you may benefit from seeing a life coach.

Yeah, it might sound like the butt of a joke or a fake job title you've seen in someone's Tinder bio, but life coaches are actually legit, and you just might be able to benefit from speaking with one.

What Is a Life Coach, Exactly?

A life coach is generally defined as a professional trained to help you maximize your full potential and be the best version of yourself, according to Maura Farragher, certified life coach (as well as an energy healer, herbalist, licensed acupuncturist, and registered general nurse and midwife) based in Galway, Ireland. They "take the role of being your supportive advisor and encourage you on your journey," whether that be to achieve your desired results in your career, relationships, health, or beyond.

What do life coaches do, though? "Generally, life coaches help you improve your overall day-to-day life in a judgment-free space," emphasizes Farragher. That said, many individuals seek out a life coach for guidance during a significant life change; navigating a divorce, new job, new career, new relationship, etc., she says. Some coaches even specialize in building confidence, spirituality, or gaining clarity on your life purpose, says Lynya Floyd, integrative health coach. "It's helpful to think about the type of change you're trying to create in your life," to find a life coach who will align with your goals, says Floyd, who says she's guided clients through things such as figuring out the next chapter in their life, creating boundaries (around, say, work-life balance), losing weight, building a realistic meditation practice to reduce stress, and being able to communicate with a loved one without it ending in an argument.

What Does It Take to Become a Life Coach?

Life coaching officially emerged in the '80s before it grew in popularity throughout the '90s and 2000s. The concept tapped into how the lessons taught by sports, school, and music coaches could transcend to all walks of life, and how advantageous it can be for people to have the support of a coach to bring them to their full potential, according to Life Coaching Professionally, a career resource created by life coach Wendy Buckman.

The vocation began receiving media attention, growing in popularity from TV shows — such as Starting Over (2003-2004), a series that followed women facing various obstacles in their life who turned to life coaches — to modern-day memes (see: #lifecoach). As the field evolved, it quickly grew from focusing on life and career planning to encompass all aspects of life, including relationships, health goals, self-image, and more. The COVID pandemic has only supported this growing industry; of course, well-being became of increasing importance, but thanks to the pandemic, a number of people also felt called to make major life changes, which has only fueled the resurgence of life coaches.

"With any profession, there are life coaches who specialize in certain areas, so you'll need to do their own research into the practitioner's credentials, their experience, reputation, and recommendations as they relate to their own situation," says Farragher. While life coaches aren't required to pass any certifications, "most successful life coaches do have some sort of certification in coaching or mentoring and are perhaps qualified in another complementary area such as education, business, or healthcare as well," she says. The International Coaching Federation is one of the most well-known coaching programs for life coaches, as is the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, says Farragher, as is the National Board where Floyd says she received her certifications.

Working with a Life Coach vs. Other Professional

The beauty of consulting a life coach is that they can help you with nearly anything — "think of a life coach as your cheerleader; someone to support you and your choices," says Simone De La Rue, certified health coach, personal trainer, and life coach; However, it pays to know when you should see a more specialized and qualified professional for more specific needs.

For example, when it comes to seeing a life coach versus a therapist, think of a life coach as a support system to help you navigate your choices, whereas a therapist is qualified to give more specific mental health advice. "Life coaches do not diagnose people," explains Farragher. "It's not my place to express opinions or judgment on a client, but rather help them understand what is best for themselves, recognizing unhealthy old patterns and guide them to living a happier, more fulfilled life." (See: Why Everyone Should Try Therapy At Least Once)

Floyd adds that a life coach looks at your past, but is focused on changes you can make in the present to impact your future; whereas, a therapist tends to focus on unpacking your past. Therefore, if it's possible and relevant to your needs, consider seeing both a therapist and life coach, as they're complementary, says Farragher. However, if you think you may need to work on overcoming trauma or another specific mental health issue such as anxiety or depression, you should first seek a therapist prior to investing in a life coach, says Farragher. And if you need the most help with your relationship, a relationship therapist might be the first person you call.

On that note, if you're looking for specific workout or nutrition advice, consider hiring a life coach with that type of expertise or training. For example, De La Rue's additional certifications mean she generally works specifically with those who are looking to improve their physical and mental health. (More here: What Is a Health Coach, Really?)

How to Hire and Benefit from a Life Coach

If you're looking for a life coach, ask around — Farragher says most of her clients come from word-of-mouth, so start with your inner circle. She also suggests searching MindBodySoulMarket.com, a site for specific healers, therapists, and life coaches. If that turns up with empty results, try consuming articles (like this one!) and podcasts where life coach professionals contribute, suggests Floyd. Usually, coaches offer free consultations to better understand a client's specific circumstances, so that can help you decide whether a coach is a good fit for you and worth your investment, says Farragher.

When it comes to actually meeting with a life coach, know that sessions will vary from person to person and coach to coach. Some coaches do in-person sessions and many offer virtual appointments; some have things like intensive one-day sessions and others spread their coaching over weeks or months — there's no "one size fits all," says Floyd. And for this reason, treatment costs typically vary, too. Sometimes clients pay a one-time fee for a day program or up to $75-$200 for a single session, says Farragher. (Related: The Best Therapy and Mental Health Apps)

Regardless of the coach you seek, remember that in order for your sessions to be beneficial, you need to remain open to the process, says Floyd. "Individuals who have a growth mindset and believe they have the capability to grow, evolve, and improve their situation — that they're not stuck with the skills they have — they're the ones who will benefit."