Thursday, March 21, 2013

What Is A Life Coach?

     This topic interests me because I actually really struggled with what to call myself when I started my business, Wisdom Life Coaching. I had my M.S. in counseling, but for reasons I'll explain below, I no longer wanted to be called a “Counselor”. What I really wanted to call myself was a “Three Principles Facilitator” but this would not make sense to most people. You see, I teach three psychological principles which explain how we create our own experience of life. The insights and personal growth that come naturally out of this understanding are truly endless, but the difficulty I was having was how to find a title that does justice to what I teach.
      As I mentioned above, the term “Counselor” did not fit anymore. I spent over three years interning as a counselor in California. I worked at a high school, a middle school and a family clinic. I worked hard. I was learning a lot in graduate school about being a counselor. I was learning about diagnosis, symptoms & how to unravel the past with a client. I was learning a lot about mental illness. I was starting to have uncomfortable, heartbreaking moments with my clients when I was realizing that I didn't always know how to help. Sometimes I didn't know where to find the answers. I began to feel a bit hopeless. I loved my clients and I loved the field of mental health. It seemed, though, that what I had become an expert on was mental illness.
      Luckily it was at this time that I met Dr. Roger Mills at San Francisco State University. It really was a lucky day for me when I ended up in his class. He began to teach us about mental health...resiliency. I was learning for the first time how change happens naturally, and I knew that I wasn't going to have to feel hopeless anymore. The answers I was seeking had been found. My work life changed & I've been teaching these “Three Principles” ever since.
      The problem was that this understanding did not fit neatly into the medical model of psychology/counseling I was working under. My supervisors wanted me diagnosing and focus on behaviors. The success I was having with ALL of my clients did not translate for them. It was at this time that we decided to move to Oregon...and I decided to start my own business.
      When I began to research a proper title for myself I was at first resistant to the term “life coach” because it seems so overused. I was aware that there are no real standards or stipulations connected to being a life coach in the U.S. You need not have a specific degree or credential & anyone can call themselves a “life coach”. This did not fare well in my thinking.
      That was until I looked into how the term “life coach” is defined. These are the things I found; A life coach works with his/her client to further develop that which the client already possesses. A life coach focuses on the present and/or future rather than the past. A life coach does not see their client as ill (thus the term client, rather than patient). A life coach focuses on teaching rather than examination and diagnosis. A life coach establishes a warm rapport with his/her client rather than one based on hierarchy. Music to my ears!
      So to answer the question, “What is a life coach?” I refer back to these most basic definitions of the trade. A life coach knows that the client has a wealth of knowledge and wisdom...and more importantly their own answers. A life coach's work is to shine a light on this. This goes hand in hand with the fact that a life coach should see their client as healthy. A life coach listens for that health and uses it as a teachable moment so that the change that occurs for a client is sustainable. A life coach should be teaching an “inside out” approach rather than giving advice or assuming that they know better for their client than the client knows for themselves. It's an uncovering process in which a friendly tone is created. The process should not be painful, and instead should be informative and empowering. A life coach knows that the past need not be “cured” for a good today to occur.
      This is a far cry from most models of counseling, although I've yet to meet a counselor who did not have their heart in the right place. My definition of life coaching and what I teach is also a far cry from the services that many other “life coaches” are offering. As a consumer it is crucial to know what you're shopping for. If you're looking for a life coach rather than a counselor, than you should understand what the difference is.
      Likewise, once you begin your search for a life coach, you should know what you're hoping to learn. A life coach is actually a teacher. They teach on the subject of life. Your coach, therefore, should have something to teach you about life that you don't already know with clarity. A life coach is also a mentor and this speaks to the importance of feeling a connection to and an interest in the coach.
      Hopefully this definition (of sorts) has offered some clarity regarding the term “life coach” and all that it means...and doesn't mean. When a life coach truly has an understanding to offer you it can enhance your life and leave you with knowledge that you'll have long after your coaching sessions are over.

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