Life coaching is a practice of helping clients determine and achieve personal goals. A coach uses multiple methods to help clients with the process of setting and reaching goals. Coaching is not targeted at psychological illness, and coaches are not therapists.

Origins and History

With roots ...Life coaching is a practice of helping clients determine and achieve personal goals. A coach uses multiple methods to help clients with the process of setting and reaching goals. Coaching is not targeted at psychological illness, and coaches are not therapists.

Origins and History

With roots in executive coaching, which itself drew on techniques developed in management consulting and leadership training, life coaching also draws from a wide range of disciplines, including sociology, psychology, positive adult development, career counseling, mentoring, and numerous other types of counseling. The coach applies mentoring, values assessment, behavior modification, behavior modeling, goal-setting, and other techniques in assisting clients. Coaches are to be distinguished from counselors.

Writing for the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations, Patrick Williams states:

It is helpful to understand that both coaching and therapy have the same roots. Coaching evolved from three main streams that have flowed together:

1. The helping professions such as psychotherapy and counseling.
2. Business consulting and organizational development.
3. Personal development training, such as EST, Landmark Education, Tony Robbins, Stephen Covey seminars, Eric Edmeades, and others.

Williams further states that the movement toward Client-centered therapy in the 1940s and 1950s by psychologists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow helped shift the emphasis in therapy toward the client becoming an active agent in their progress and growth. He credits Maslow's 1968 treatise “Toward a Psychology of Being” with providing the framework for modern life coaching as it is practiced today.


Since there is no official regulatory standard for life coaching, and no governed education or training standard for the life coaching industry, anyone can call themselves a coach and take on clients. Multiple coaching schools and training programs are available, causing confusion around the terms "certification" and "credentials" as they apply to the coaching industry. Multiple certificates and credential designations are available within the industry. The status of most of these are in flux.

Three standards and self-appointed accreditation bodies are internationally recognized: the International Coach Federation, the International Association of Coaching (IAC) and the European Coaching Institute (ECI). No independent supervisory board evaluates these programs, and they are all privately owned.

The ICF is the self-proclaimed largest worldwide not-for-profit professional association of coaches. They try to self-regulate the coaching industry, and have developed a system of credentialing coaches that includes a specified number of hours of coach-specific training, number of hours of coaching experience, and proof of ability to coach at or above defined standards for each credentialing level. The credentialing levels defined by the International Coach Federation are Associate Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC), and Master Certified Coach (MCC). Coaches credentialed by the ICF and members of the ICF, regardless of whether they are credentialed, agree to abide by a code of ethics.

The ICF also provides approval, per their independently developed standards, of coach training programs, when they are deemed to meet the professional standards of the ICF organization, and agree to continuing oversight by the ICF.

The IAC identifies itself as an independent, global coach certifying body. The IAC states that "coaches who hold the IAC certified coach (IAC-CC) designation are coaching at the most advanced level the coaching profession has to offer." The IAC claims to have a subscriber list that is as large as the ICF's.

The variety of groups and associations coupled with no licensing or governmental standards of accreditation has created an environment where anyone can hang out a shingle and practice as a life coach. Consumers should proceed with caution if choosing this form of counseling.


Coaches tend to specialize in one or more of several areas: career coaching, transition coaching, life or personal coaching, health and wellness coaching, parenting coaching, executive coaching, small business coaching, systemic coaching, and organizational or corporate coaching. Coaching for women writers, coaching for entrepreneurs with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), and even coaching for mothers are examples of some of the newer, specialty niches now seen in coaching.

Coaching vs therapy

Coaching and therapy may be considered similar, but they are not the same thing. Each focuses on helping one to discover solutions on their own. There are many different types of therapy, some of which may be, in content, quite similar to life coaching. However, some locales require a therapist to have obtained a Masters or Doctorate degree in Psychology, therefore undergoing some formal training in the workings of the mind and therapeutic methodology. Similar requirements for coaches do not exist. Some kinds of therapy, such as those aimed at dealing with a phobia, tend to be problem-focused. Treatment ceases when the symptoms disappear or become manageable for the client.

Analysis is another type of therapy. It is long-term and works at uncovering the roots of issues—understanding the client's emotional history and possible past psychological trauma—in order to enable the client to move forward. Thus, there are a wide variety of therapeutic options, ranging from quick and narrowly focused to long and broad-scoped and everything in between, but all are regulated.

The evidenced-based coaching movement supports the use of coaching techniques based on proven concepts in clinical psychology/counseling. Coaching techniques, like based on the work of Alfred Adler, Gestalt Coaching is based on Gestalt psychology and Reality Coaching based on the work of William Glasser, are emerging based on traditional counselling approaches.

Author's Bio: 

This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Life Coaching. The Official Guide to Life Coaching is Bruce D Schneider. Schneider is the founder of the world renowned iPEC Coach Training School, the author of Relax, You're Already Perfect and upcoming book Energy Leadership. He is the innovator of a groundbreaking theory of consciousness levels, the much-talked-about Energy Leadership Index assessment, and the creator of the transformational Core Energy Coaching Process(TM).