What is a life coach and how can they help you

The relatively new emergence of the "life coach" profession, let's be honest, sounds like a cheesy American import.

But perhaps there's an uncomfortable truth here: this is symptomatic of a society where every last task or challenge is packaged up and sold back to us by a bot or a new service industry. Have we seriously become too lazy to just figure it out ourselves?

The training

Qualification methods are questionable, at best, with some courses that are online only and others that are just two to four days long. They allow people to call themselves life coaches in less than a week. Even the longer courses only ask that you're educated to Year 10 – so in theory, anyone above 14 can jump online and do it, with no face to face time.

Then there's the lack of industry standard for coaching training and regulation – something even the life coaches I interviewed confessed was a problem.

The ambiguity of the role itself leads life coaches to tread into territory that is alarming psychotherapists. Far from the time management, career coaching and life vision techniques you might imagine, life coaches have been known to encourage people to end romantic relationships and counselling them about deeply personal and traumatic issues – all at prices that'll make your eyes water.

We have fitness coaches, why not life coaches?

Daniel Battaglia, 35, is the CEO of ParkingMadeEasy.com.au and says, just like a personal trainer, it takes three to five sessions before life coaching feels effective. His life coach helped him "break down mental barriers and improve confidence."

"It's just like using a PT" he tells me. "The PT coaches you based on your goals and existing framework, but it's you that does the exercises and follows the meal plan. You need to do the follow up tasks to get results with a life coach. It might include further reading, affirmations or other relevant tasks related to your goals."

But, perhaps unlike a PT, the older the life coach, the better, in Battaglia's view: "It's important to choose a life coach with some type of reliable related qualification (from a school TAFE college uni - not an online course) and with years of experience with relevant testimonials. Mine were aged in their 50-60s who had life experience and had coached many others. They had a much better perspective of what works and what doesn't."

Potentially unqualified advice

Whether you compare this new professional breed to personal trainers or shrinks, it's important to understand what they can and can't do. Professional counsellors have to pass stringent training and exams. Where is the line drawn, to protect people from getting mental health advice from charlatans?


It's something that alarms Dan Auerbach, Director & Psychotherapist with Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney. He warns that life coaches may not be professionally trained to deal with bigger mental health issues if they emerge:

"While life coaches often draw on a great performance 'tool kit', some may not be trained to understand the underlying psychology of the person they're working with. Without a strong framework of personality, mind and relationships it can be hard to assess who will and who won't respond to a given intervention. This can make it hard to assist when clients get stuck, or to help those who resist a given strategy. Life coaches may chalk this up to poor motivation – unless they have a framework for understanding behaviour and motivation."

"It helped me deal with infertility"

For Jacob Aldridge, who spends $15,000 a year on his "personal coach," it's much deeper than mentoring: "I've invested in joint coaching sessions alongside my beautiful wife, giving us common tools we can use in our relationship to improve our mutual happiness. This included one coach who specifically helped us through the challenges of infertility and IVF."

For those like Aldridge, a life coach has become much more than a trendy personal motivator. They've become a replacement shrink.

But Aldridge says he is discerning where he'll spend the $15k a year he reserves for life coaches, and feels the Australian industry needs a clean up: "There are some terrible life coaches out there and their limitations give the industry the poor reputation I feel it has in Australia. In the past decade I've worked with four different life coaches. As I've grown, so too have my needs and the specific coach I've found valuable."

A life purpose alchemist

The lack of industry regulation perhaps accounts for some of the intriguing job titles life coaches use. Lauren Trlin describes herself as a "life purpose alchemist" while her website promises to help you "live an EPIC life". Video footage of group coaching sessions on her site reveals adults gluing colourful pictures and magazine clippings to personal vision boards, and plenty of hugging.

Trlin describes life coaching as having "a cheerleader on your journey to uncovering your full personal and professional potential." She came to it after being a litigation lawyer in "a toxic law firm where I encountered many struggling with anxiety, depression and unresourceful coping mechanisms."

Industry standards

The industry's lack of standardisation is, Trlin says, "because it's in it's infancy." She admits this is happening "slowly" but adds: "Industry recognition bodies have been established in Australia and around the world that set out their own guidelines around quality standards and code of ethics."

But her clients see intriguing results. She cites one who "let go of a romantic relationship once they realised that their partner didn't share their vision and values."

She has an interesting perspective on the recent rise of this new profession: "Access to information means we're becoming very self-aware at a young age. We've learnt the mistakes of our parents. We don't want to be miserable and stuck in a career or a relationship that doesn't lead us to true happiness and success."

Have you worked with a life coach? Share your results in the comments section below.