What Does a Life Coach Do?

by | Last updated Oct 2, 2021 | Executive Women

Life coaching is something that people are often skeptical about. They wonder about the differences between life coaching vs. therapy, the cost of life coaching, and what is involved in the coaching process. If you have ever wondered, “What does a life coach do?”, this article will provide you with some insight.

What Is a Life Coach?

Plenty of people have dreams, and many have goals in mind to reach their dreams. However, plenty of people also stumble, fall down, and quit on the pathway towards achieving their goals. Others know what their goals are but need help figuring out how to achieve them. A life coach helps people bridge the gap between identifying goals and actually achieving them. 

The International Coaching Federation (ICF), established in 1995, defines life coaching as, “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” The ICF has created standards for coaching by providing a certification standard for coaching diplomas. Certified life coaches adhere to stringent industry standards for professionalism, client confidentiality, and ethics. 

A life coach helps clients set themselves on a track that leads to them bringing their best selves to the spheres in which they orbit, whether that’s at home, at work, or both.

What Does a Life Coach Do? 

Life coaches work with clients to set a goal and identify obstacles towards achieving that goal, then develop a plan to help them overcome obstacles. The obstacles may be modest but pernicious, or monumental yet surmountable. Some clients struggle to find or maintain motivation; others need help pinpointing resistance to change. No matter the challenge, a life coach helps her client make the shifts necessary to achieve her goals. 


A life coach does not give the client advice; the answers that clients seek already exist within themselves. Rather, a life coach partners with a client to help the client surface her inner wisdom and reconnect with her values and motivations. It is from that posture of connection with one’s true self that a client is able to make choices about their actions and next steps necessary for her to create the changes necessary to accomplish her goals. 


Life coaches challenge, support, and celebrate clients. They partner with their clients to create a detailed, step-by-step action plan and accountability agreement that will support the client’s goals. 

Women talking at a table

What Happens In a Life Coaching Session?


A coaching relationship is organic, allowing room for creativity and customization based on the client’s goals and the coach’s approach. A life coach approaches a coaching session with the perspective that the client herself has the ability to determine and achieve her goals; it is the coach’s task to help her client do so. Generally speaking, however, a coaching relationship may unfold through sessions that include the following: 


  • Formulation of a designed alliance – an understanding between coach and client that the relationship being built is one of transparency, honesty, and vulnerability. Both coach and client need to feel safe bringing their full selves to the relationship, including the courage to take risks and the grace to forgive mistakes or missteps. 
  • Clarity around the client’s goals – the client’s goals and timeline must be established up front. This provides the scaffolding for the work between the coach and client. 
  • Design a customized action plan – the coach and client work together to customize a plan based on issues and goals that are surfaced during the initial session(s). 
  • Execution of action plan – the coach adapts her skills, methods, and behaviors to meet the client where she is, providing her with the insight, guidance, and encouragement necessary to help the client advance her plan and reach her goals.
  • Accountability loop – the life coach nurtures the client and stimulates productivity through accountability feedback loops. 


A life coach will use a variety of skills and techniques during a life coaching session, such as observation, active listening, asking powerful questions, challenging limiting beliefs, and reminding clients of their inner motivations and values. The focus is on the present and the client’s desires for the future. 


The client will serve herself best, and will best position herself to achieve her goals, by showing up as her true self, warts and all. The life coach will ask her powerful questions that will make her pause and think – they may even be frustrating at times. However, the goal is for the client to consider her situation from a new perspective so that she may think differently about whatever it is that is making her feel “stuck”.

Is A Life Coach a Therapist?

Life coaching sessions can be therapeutic in the sense that reconnecting with one’s innermost dreams for the future, and making a plan to accomplish those dreams, relieves the pain of knowing what one wants but not knowing how to get it. However, life coaching is not the same as therapy. 


In therapy, a counselor helps a client examine their past so they can better manage their present. A therapist helps her client understand why a particular behavioral pattern is occurring. 


In contrast, a coach helps a client examine their present so they can create the future they desire. A coach helps her client understand how to work towards the achievement of her goal. 


Therapy offers the client insights into their past whereas coaching offers the client action steps towards their future. Therapy sessions are often open-ended, wrapping up when the time expires, whereas coaching sessions are more focused, structured, and action-oriented. While therapy sessions are focused on a client’s feelings – both in the moment and between sessions- coaching sessions are focused on the action steps a client has or has not taken between sessions and the steps they need to take next to stay on plan.


If sessions meander into areas where a diagnosis is needed, or trauma or short-term behavioral modifications need to be addressed, a life coach will refer a client to a therapist.

What's Your Career Fulfillment Score?

Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “I’m working too hard to be miserable”, or “I never intended for this to be my career – now I feel stuck!”, or “I’m bored to tears – I want to invest my time in something I actually care about!”?

If so, it’s time to find out your career fulfillment score – and what you can do right now to move into a career that lights you up!

Types of Life Coaches

People who seek the assistance of a life coach include business leaders, people returning to the workforce, entrepreneurs, people changing careers, managers, and everyone in between. Accordingly, many life coaches specialize in a certain area, such as careers, career change, communication, family and parenting, health/wellness/fitness, entrepreneur/small business, personal finance, spiritual, and executive coaches. 


The type of life coach that is right for you depends on the goals you are seeking to accomplish. If you are looking to make wholesale improvements in more than one area of your life, a generalist (“life coach” or “personal coach”) may be right for you.

Do I Need a Life Coach? 

If you are looking for someone to tell you what to do, life coaching is not for you. A life coach guides her clients so that they can make the best decisions for themselves that will advance them towards their goals. Just as an athletic coach stands on the sidelines while the players on the court try to score and win the game, the life coach stands on the sidelines of the client’s life, helping them put a game plan together that will help them achieve their version of success.


Benefits of Coaching


Some of the benefits of coaching include: 



If you are ready to make positive changes in your life, it may be time to hire a coach. People who are open-minded to new ways of thinking and being, of dreaming and doing, will value the investment they make in a life coach.