What is Life Coaching (and how does it compare to other people-helping services)

Published January 03, 2022 by Sheila Anne Murray

When you hear the term “life coach” what comes to mind?

Is it…

  • A personal trainer-type who is assisting with workouts, self-care, and nutrition?
  • A woman in an office-setting, coaching an entrepreneur on their latest business venture? 
  • Two people meeting virtually, across the country from one another, discussing the meaning of life, success, fulfillment, and courage?
  • An entrepreneur with online courses, helping new college grads find their career path?

Something else?

The reality is that “life coaching” can be all of those things… and more! 

I recognize that the label “life coach” can be a bit abstract, so I’m breaking it down for you here. We’ll explore the basics of what a life coach is, and how it may differ from the other people-helping services. Perhaps this will simply increase your awareness, or perhaps it will help you make the decision on the kind of resource you need in your life right now.

Either way, I’m happy you’re here - let’s jump in!

What is Life Coaching?

Life coaching first emerged from the business world as executive coaching. Similar to executive coaching, life coaches can help you clarify your goals, uncover obstacles, and strategize a path toward success. THEN reorder - With a quick search online, you will find coaches that help you solve just about any problem under the sun! Each coach will do so in their own unique way.

How Do Life Coaches Become Coaches?

There are a multitude of coaching programs out there that provide aspiring coaches with a strong foundation to serve their clients. Some coaching schools are accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) which offers the only globally-recognized, independent credentialing program for coach practitioners. I earned my coach training through Coach Training World, which is accredited by the ICF. This allowed me to go on and become an ICF Associate Certified Coach (and a soon-to-be Professionally Certified Coach 🎉)

Finding the right person for your needs

We are lucky to live in a time with easy access to a range of people that can help us develop personally and professionally! For this article I highlighted three relationships that I often hear grouped with coaching: Therapy; Mentoring; Consulting. That said, there are certainly others as well as blended approaches.

Coaching may be for you if…

  • You like leading the way! 

    • A coach is like a construction supervisor who comes onsite and takes inventory of what tools you already have available, acknowledges blind spots in your plan, and encourages you to do the building yourself.
    • Consider that you and a coach are on one path and come to a fork in the road. The coach asks “Which way?” and supports you in whatever path you choose, while offering objective observations. Coaches are trained to be unattached to your outcome, so that you can lead the way and become more resourced, empowered, and resilient
  • You are looking for a professional that will share their specific toolkit and life experience

    • Some coaches will offer a blend of coaching / mentoring, coaching / consulting, coaching / teaching, etc. 
    • Take extra care in researching a coach’s background to see if they have formal training (and the associated accreditation) such as the ICF Certification, if formal training is important to you.
  • You are motivated by metrics and fieldwork

    • Often I see clients transition from therapy to coaching because therapy did not offer the direction, action, and accountability they craved.

Therapy may be for you if… 

  • The problem you’re facing is interfering with your everyday functioning or is extremely distressing

    • In this case, you will likely benefit from a professional that is trained to assist with significant mental mental health difficulties, trauma processing, diagnosis, and assessment.
    • Note that therapy can be delivered by psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or licensed counselors. There is also a wide range of therapy modalities to suit different needs and learning styles.
  • You are looking for treatment to engage in alongside medication

    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is often employed simultaneously with medication management, yielding positive results.
  • You are looking for a government-regulated professional 

    • Therapy is regulated -  therapists are bound by a code of ethics and state and federal law. They also need to be licensed in their state.

For more information on if therapy is right for you, visit The National Institute of Mental Health 

Mentoring may be for you if… 

  • You would like to be lead and supported down a industry-specific path

    • Think of mentors as path walkers who say: “Here let me show you the way!” They have likely been in the mentee shoes before, and their aim is to help their mentee by resourcing them with skills and experience.
  • You want to work with someone in your same company

    • It’s becoming increasingly common that organizations have mentor / mentee programs, to support new employees during onboarding or to promote professional development
  • You’re not looking for a specific process

    • Mentors typically do not have formal training nor a specific process with which they help their mentee. An effective relationship can certainly be built informally. For example, catching up once a month over coffee.

Consulting may be for you if… 

  • You want to hire a professional that will do the work for you

    • Think of consultants as specialized builders that come onsite with their own tools to help you repair, maintain, or scale a project using their resources and methodology. 
  • You need to solve a specific business problem

    • Consults are hired for their ability to provide solutions. They focus on solving a specific challenge or offering a specific skill set. Examples include increasing customer retention, building out a platform, or branding your new business. The focus is on the problem, not the client
  • You have a one-time or time-bound need

    • Instead of hiring a full time employee, you may hire a consultant that will work for a set timeline or a single project. Often there will be a detailed contract that outlines resources, objectives, and tasks to accomplish. For a one-time need, consultants can save you/your company money while providing external expertise. 

I hope that you found this article helpful! I often get questions about how coaching differs from these other developmental relationships, and I wanted to create a single document highlighting those key distinctions. If you think coaching may be right for you, don’t hesitate to book a free call with me right here!


Sheila Anne