In this previous post, we took a look at life coaching – what it is, what it isn’t, and how it might be useful. In this post, though, we’ll take a look at the other side of the coin: is life coaching worth it and the circumstances in which life coaching might actually do more harm than good. If you’re not very familiar with what life coaching is, then take a moment to read the previous post; a lot of people have some vague idea of what life coaches do but also have some misconceptions about them. Once you’ve given that post a read, come back and take a look at these things you should consider before deciding whether you want to pursue a working relationship with a life coach.
First and foremost, keep in mind that there’s a big difference between life coaching and therapy.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby works as both a psychologist and a life coach, so she has a unique ability to explain this difference. She uses a helpful analogy to help her clients understand what they really need: the “hole and mountain” metaphor.
Dr. Bobby explains that some people are in a “hole” period of their lives; they can’t seem to manage to get themselves up onto firm ground, emotionally. “They may be struggling with self-doubt, anxiety, depression, negative core beliefs, trauma, unfinished business with the past, intense emotions, painful relationships, or addictive behaviors,” Dr. Bobby says. Other people, on the other hand, are in more of a “mountain” period in their lives; they’re already on firm ground, not necessarily facing any mental/emotional struggles that they can’t seem to get past on their own, but they want to challenge themselves to keep achieving more in life.
The “hole” people really need to talk to a therapist, not a life coach, while the “mountain” people would probably benefit quite a lot from consulting a life coach. The problem comes when “hole” people consult a life coach and the life coach ends up offering therapeutic advice that they’re really not qualified to give. Dr. Bobby explains, “Unfortunately, lots of life coaches may only have a few weeks or months of training before being certified. You can decide being a realtor just isn’t for you any more, become a life coach in a weekend seminar (or online), hang a shingle, and start seeing clients the next week.” Therapists have to go through years of training in Master’s and Doctoral programs, however, and are much more likely to be able to give qualified advice to people struggling with issues like depression, anxiety, addictions, and more.
So, the big message in bright neon letters here is to avoid engaging the services of a life coach if you’re actually in need of a therapist; you don’t want to end up in a situation where you’re confessing your deepest psychological issues to a life coach and they’re making up answers for you on the spot with no formal training whatsoever. And if you’re not sure which is right for you, most therapists offer free consultations where you can chat with them for 15 or 20 minutes to get an idea if you’d want to work with them, and most of them would be happy to talk through your uncertainty and offer some guidance.
Second, if you’re a person who’s highly influenced by others, you run the risk of letting your life coach turn your life into theirs.
A lot – not all, but a lot – of people who become life coaches do so because they feel that they’ve had enough experience to be able to offer some wisdom and guidance to others. While this is usually well-intentioned, some life coaches can, consciously or unconsciously, wind up giving you advice and action items for your life that really just makes it more like theirs. This is not what a life coach is supposed to do, ideally; they’re supposed to listen to your goals and give you the extra professional support you need to achieve them.
If you see a life coach advertising their own life in such a way that makes it seem perfect, be a little bit cautious of working with them. They shouldn’t be trying to sell you their lives, as author and coach Smiley Poswolsky explains: “Depicting an idealized life that others should aspire to is dangerous. It misleads clients into thinking that their goal should be to emulate and idolize their all-knowing coach.” You can try to avoid this by really doing your homework on the coach you choose and finding out if they’re trying to sell you a too-good-to-be-true version of their own lives on social media and personal websites. But if you’re a person who has a track record of being too influenced by others, then you’d probably be better off without a coach.
Third, if you’re a perfectionist, then life coaching might make your problems worse rather than better. If you’re just a bit of a perfectionist, then this might not be the case. But if you’re a perfectionist on a level that interferes with your everyday life, then it probably will be.
Perfectionists suffer from procrastination because they’re paralyzed by the fear that what they create won’t be as good as they think it should be. One of the things a life coach often does is help you come up with individual tasks you can do to get to your goals and then hold you accountable for those tasks with regular check-ups. Most perfectionists have no problem beating themselves up for not accomplishing tasks; they’re already experts at that. Adding another person to their lives that’s going to hold them accountable might seem like the perfect idea, but often just makes them feel like their tasks are even more high pressure, which paralyzes them even further. The root of their problem is usually something that needs to be addressed in a deeper way than simply adding an accountability partner.
Ultimately, like many things in life, you are the best person to decide if a life coach would be helpful or harmful for you. They’re not a guarantee for success, but they’re also not an unqualified recipe for disaster. It all depends on your goals, expectations, and state of mind. But if you do decide to get in touch with one, do your homework and research their credentials! Not all life coaches are created equal.
If you’re trying to figure out whether you’d benefit more from a therapist or a life coach (or both), you can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult .