In order to fully understand what life coaching is, it helps to have a working definition. It turns out this is not quite as straightforward as it sounds; many references seem to describe the coaching process rather than defining it. For example, Curly Martin offers the following description of life coaching in the book The Life Coaching Handbook: Everything You Need to be an Effective Life Coach (2001):
“So what is a life coach? Some life coaches believe that it is about advising clients. Some believe that it involves guiding clients to find their own answers. A few claim that you must have expertise within the fields where you coach. Spiritually-focused life coaches say that it is all about ‘connection.’ Life coaches with therapy backgrounds believe that the process includes counseling or therapy.
“In reality, life coaching can be all of the above. It depends on the needs of each individual client and the skills of the coach.”
Similarly, Julia Starr tends to describe coaching rather than defining it. Here is her brief synopsis from The Coaching Manual: The Definitive Guide to the Process, Principles and Skills of Personal Coaching (2003), “Put simply, coaching is a conversation, or series of conversations, one person has with another. The person who is the coach intends to produce a conversation that will benefit the other person, the coachee, in a way that relates to the coachee’s learning and progress. Coaching conversation might happen in many different ways, and in many different environments.” Starr adds to this by pointing out that “the person who decides whether a conversation was a coaching conversation or not is normally the person who is being coached.”
In the book, Evidence Based Coaching Handbook: Putting Best Practices to Work for Your Clients (2006), Stober and Grant describe a coach as “a person who facilitates experiential learning that results in future-oriented abilities.” While this approaches the idea of a definition, it seems somewhat vague and limited in its scope. Author Teri-E. Belf takes this a little further in her book, Coaching with Spirit: Allowing Success to Emerge (2002). To her, coaching “is an inquiry process of helping people master the ability to consistently obtain the results they want in all life areas with a sense of well-being.”
Some practicing coaches and writers on the subject of life coaching begin by declaring what coaching is not—and, in particular, by stating emphatically that “coaching is not therapy”. However, this does little in the mind of a client to help create understanding about what coaching actually is. Martin quotes Bruce Peltier in The Life Coaching Handbook (2001), providing a description of executive coaching that more closely approximates a definition stating, “Someone from outside an organization uses psychological skills to help a person develop into a more effective leader. These skills are applied to specific present-moment work problems in a way that enables this person to incorporate them into his or her permanent management or leadership repertoire.”
Of course, executive coaching is a particular branch of life coaching that focuses attention on improving qualities of leadership and management; however, the same ideas can easily apply to life coaching or holistic coaching. For the purposes of this course, let us agree on a general definition of holistic life coaching that seems to capture its essence, as follows.
Holistic life coaching is a collaborative, empowering process—taking into account physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional needs—for helping clients to identify and articulate goals and desires, determine blockages and limitations that prevent or hinder achievement of those objectives, discover tenable ways to work through blockages and limitations, and to create viable action plans that lead to ultimate achievement and success.