There’s nothing like the feeling of having someone in our corner, cheering us on and letting us know we’ve “got this.” Coaches are often associated with athletes, but why can’t an accountant, homemaker, mechanic or grocery clerk have someone in their corner, too?
Parents and best friends can wave pompoms, but that might just be considered part of their job description. For the most part, a person’s inner circle lacks the skills to transform someone from a dreamer to a doer.
That’s where a life coach comes in. Life Coach Spotter, an online resource for life coaches, defines a life coach as “a professional who helps you reach a goal or make a change in your life.” Life coaching takes its cue from athletic coaches, whose job is to motivate, keep people accountable and provide the tools necessary to help them become the best versions of themselves. Instead of fixing weaknesses, life coaching focuses on developing a person’s strengths; it addresses the future instead of dissecting the past.
Why do people work with life coaches? Life Coach Spotter points to many reasons, but the most popular are: achieving one’s goals (64%), happiness (51%), finding one’s purpose (48%), doing what one loves (44%), career (43%), confidence (39%) and to help improve relationships (38%).
Who can benefit from a life coach? Prime candidates are people who are in a funk and can’t figure out how to get out of it. Also, those who know what they want—in life, in relationships or in work—but have no idea how to get it.
“Everyone deserves the best life they can give themselves. Everyone deserves to be happy and waking up to a life they love every day,” says Tatiana Franklin, owner of Atlanta-based Tatiana Franklin Healing and Coaching.
Most life coaches won’t tell their clients what to do, nor will they do the work for them. They are there to ask the uncomfortable questions friends would never dare ask because they don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings. Through those thought-provoking questions and various other modalities, coaches help clients figure out how to get where they want to go.
“It’s not me asking you to change. It’s you discovering you need to change,” says life coach Tracy Lefebvre, owner of Ready for Reboot in Marietta. Lefebvre says life coaching is like having someone hold up a mirror for you to help you discover what’s getting in your way.
Life coaching is not therapy; coaches don’t treat depression, anxiety or mental illness. That doesn’t mean people can’t have a life coach and a therapist, only that they need to expect different outcomes from each expert.
FINDING A LIFE COACH
According to neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, the human brain has seven core instincts: anger, fear, maternal care, play, pleasure/lust and seeking. Seeking is the most important of the seven, says Panksepp.
“The innate human desire to seek means that we can never truly feel that every desire and wish has been met,” according to Quartz, a news organization that analyzes the global economy.
The human need to continually search out something more has spawned an $11 billion self-help industry in the U.S., according to The Institute for Life Coach Training. Of that $11 billion, the life coaching industry is estimated to be valued between $1 and $2 billion; second to information technology, it is the second-fastest-growing industry in the country.
While life coaching is not officially designated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is listed on its career pages. As of 2020, there were more than 17,000 life coaches in the United States, according to IBISWorld, a company that provides research on thousands of worldwide industries.
Life coaches are not required to have any specific degrees or certifications. However, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) is among the first to create and publish standards and ethics for the industry. The ICF now has more than 44,000 members worldwide, including Lefebvre. Franklin is certified by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, which is accredited by the ICF.
Terri Kozlowski, a Woodstock-based life coach, is accredited through Achology Ltd. but admits, if she had to do it all over, she wouldn’t obtain a certification. “The only person who has asked me [if I was certified] was my dad.”
Vince Bellitto received his certification through The Recovery Coaching Center. He has since created his own training methodologies and teaches them through his Atlanta-based company, Inner Coach Academy, because, he says, the ICF standards don’t fit well with his methodologies.
According to The Coach Connection, Bellitto’s academy is among the more than 600 training schools and almost 20 coaching-related associations that connect people and coaches. Methodologies, specialties, ethics and backgrounds are as varied as the number of life coaches out there.
“I really think, for most people, if I want to learn how to be a better business person, I go to a successful business person,” says Kozlowski.
Like most life coaches, Bellitto and Kozlowski put into play a unique variety of modalities to help people clear obstacles of fear and procrastination and to help create a roadmap to success.
Kozlowski is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. After years of telling her story, she wrote Raven Transcending Fear, a book that is part memoir and part self-help guide. Two years ago, she became a certified life coach, specializing in helping others escape fear in their daily lives. She utilizes the same approaches with her clients as she used to transform her own life.
Kozlowski says that some people who have suffered a childhood trauma fail to emotionally evolve and, as they age, they get stuck in a world fraught with fear. She helps clients uncover where the fear stems from and how it affects their current way of thinking. She then helps them reframe their story, which helps them shift from feeling like a victim to becoming a thriver and survivor.
Lefebvre says that the ways people emotionally react to situations, people and even things are set in place by the age of two, and behavioral habits are ingrained by age seven. By the time we reach 35 years old, 95% of what we do is subconscious and stays that way unless the process gets disrupted.
“That’s why it’s hard to change—because we don’t even know why we’re doing what we’re doing,” says Lefevre.
Bellitto spent his formative years doing everything he could to escape the fear, shame and powerlessness he felt at age 10 when his soon-to-be stepfather beat his mother. He joined a gang, turned to drugs and alcohol and escaped a near-death experience. He is now a trauma-informed performance coach, specializing in addiction, trauma, mental and emotional freedom, communication and relationship coaching.
“If you want to alter your behavior, you need to alter your perception,” says Bellitto.
Unlike most life coaches who only work one-on-one with their clients, Bellitto prefers a group model, which he says is more effective. Having one’s pain acknowledged by a handful of people is more affirming than just one person, he says. The group model can also be more challenging because it can stir up triggers that a one-on-one session might not tap into.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Like psychotherapists, life coaches do want to know about their clients’ family histories, but they don’t use it to drive the sessions. Clients set the agenda.
“I’m coaching the person, not the problem,” says Lefevre, who describes herself as her clients’ “thinking partner.”
Sessions are typically 45 to 60 minutes long, occur weekly and last a number of months. They can be conducted in person, over the phone or via Zoom. “We just have a conversation. People like to talk about themselves,” says Kozlowski.
Prior to the first appointment, Frank requires prospective clients to complete an online Energy Leadership Index (ELI) assessment. She utilizes the responses she gets to obtain an in-depth analysis of a person’s energy level. For example, Level 1 is feeling lost, and Level 7 reflects a deep passion. The ELI is performed again a year later with the goal of the client being at a higher emotional level than when they started.
The coach-client relationship ends when the client, not the coach, feels they have achieved their version of success.
No matter the life coach’s modalities, clients are most likely to achieve success when they’re clear about what they want. “It’s not up to me what they want,” says Franklin. “Who am I to say they can’t? If they really want it, I say, ‘Go get it.’ I would never discourage anyone from their goals.”
Staff writer Sandra Bolan is an award-winning journalist who has been writing for more than 25 years and has contributed to publications in the U.S., Canada and Bermuda. Contact her at [email protected]
More Articles on Life Coaching
This article is one of four in a special section on life coaching. Here are the other three stories.