How to Become a Life Coach: A Step-by-Step Success Guide

How to become a life coachI vividly remember my first sessions with two life coaches.

Mostly because they were as different as could be.

In the first one, I had barely explained the problem when the coach told me to close my eyes to take me through a meditation. She prided herself on being intuitive and spent most of the session freestyling me through a meditation I didn’t want, leaving me frustrated.

In the second session, I felt heard from the moment I walked into her office. She reflected my thought processes, challenged my assumptions, and guided me through different perspectives to a clear conclusion.

I was the only person to blame for my unpleasant experience; I had not done my research, and the major difference lay in their training.

There are many paths and approaches to being a life coach. Here is a step-by-step guide if you want to become a great one.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients create actionable goals and master techniques to create lasting behavior change.

Life Coaching: A Job Description

Any time you sincerely want to make a change, the first thing you must do is to raise your standards.

Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within

Tony Robbins is probably the most famous life coach to date. But selling millions of book copies, speaking in front of thousands of people at any one event, and getting around in a helicopter are not accurate reflections of the life of a life coach.

Whether a life coach is working for themselves or contracting with other businesses, a typical workday comprises a couple of coaching sessions with clients and completing the associated administrative tasks.

Administrative tasks include preparing for sessions and taking notes thereafter, preparing contracts and legal documents, bookkeeping, marketing activities, and further education and training.

Life coaching clients can be of (nearly) all ages and walks of life. They may approach a coach when seeking guidance to work through a complex problem or looking for clarity about important life decisions and direction.

Relevant life areas can span across all domains including relationships, career, health, finance, personal development, and leisure.

In their work with clients, life coaches can be real lifesavers. Through active listening, paraphrasing, asking powerful life coaching questions, and using coaching tools, they guide their clients through mental roadblocks and help them explore opportunities to realize their goals.

Life coaching sessions are usually based on a coaching model, such as the GROW model, and have a firm structure. They begin with a brief description of the problem, determine the desired session outcome, and then work through the individual steps of the chosen model.

The coach guides the conversation accordingly and ensures it concludes with actionable (e.g., SMART) goals for the client, including establishing accountability.

 

Who Can Become a Life Coach?

Anyone can be a life coachThe short answer is ‘anyone.’ There is no regulatory authority for the coaching profession.

That means that you can literally print yourself a business card with the title ‘life coach’ and coach away.

However, apart from a questionable ethical code of conduct, because of the lack of authoritative regulation, the coaching market is becoming increasingly flooded. This means that prospective clients increasingly compare coaches’ training and experience and opt for higher quality professionals – a demand that is further reflected in the unwillingness to pay for unqualified services.

Besides that, coaching sessions with a coach who lacks fundamental training and experience will likely be as frustrating as my first coaching experience for both the coach and coachee alike. Even worse, unqualified coaches can do harm when practicing with others.

Becoming a great life coach requires a number of personal qualities and extensive training, supervision, and experience.

Appropriate qualities include openness, approachability, curiosity, and empathy. The quality and price of training differ as much as those of operating coaches.

 

How to Become a Life Coach: Step-by-Step Guide

There are basically two major pathways to becoming a life coach, each with its own educational requirements and resulting qualifications: the traditional route and through pursuing a graduate psychology degree.

 

1. The traditional training route

Through a coaching course, you can attain the relevant knowledge and competencies involved in coaching. There are numerous training bodies to choose from, so it is important to compare them closely.

The better quality training options are often more expensive as they include more training hours and often mentoring and supervision. They are worth the extra investment.

There are several coaching bodies that govern the standards of coach training. The most widely known and highly recognized is the International Coaching Federation (ICF; 2021). The Association for Coaching (2021) and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (2021) are two others.

Together, they offer several directories and databases of accredited training institutions (ICF, 2021). The ICF’s Approved Coach Specific Training Hours (ACSTH) program categorizes training courses by the number of equivalent student contact hours.

If you are looking for a good-quality training provider, ensure they are accredited by one of these governing bodies first.

Coaching courses are provided in-person or online and typically include theoretical foundations, practical exercises, accreditation, supervision, and mentoring.

Depending on the amount of training and number of hours of experience, coaches can obtain different levels of accreditation. For example, the levels of credentialing at the ICF (2021), in ascending order, are:

  • Associate Certified Coach (60+ hours of training and 100+ hours of experience)
  • Professional Certified Coach (125+ hours of training and 500+ hours of experience)
  • Master Certified Coach (200+ hours of training and 2,500+ hours of experience)

Many coach training providers offer courses that are accredited by the ICF. This means that their training is of a good standard but does not qualify the depth of training, experience, or supervision that an individual coach has completed.

Coaches who seek accreditation from the ICF have to provide detailed documentation of their training and experience and may then be required to complement these until a certain level of ICF standard is reached.

 

2. Becoming a coaching psychologist

The other route to become a life coach is via a psychology degree. This pathway has been established more recently and is not yet offered widely across universities. It is also a longer and possibly more expensive option as it is obtained through graduate education, such as a master’s of coaching psychology.

Technically, the frameworks, practices, and techniques used are similar or the same as those used by coaches. However, some argue that coaching psychologists, because of their comparatively more extensive training, may provide coaching of better quality and adhere more closely to ethical standards (Lai, Stopforth, & Passmore, 2018).

 

Education Requirements & Qualifications

QualificationsFor the traditional training pathway to become a life coach and because of the non-regulation of the coaching profession, there are no education requirements to enter a training program or practice.

Interestingly, when choosing the academic career pathway, the education requirements can be quite the opposite. Entry into a master’s degree in coaching psychology usually requires a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, often in psychology or psychological science.

 

Do You Need a Certification or License?

You can probably guess the answer to this question by now. In general, you do not need a certification or license to be a practicing life coach. However, this also depends on who you want to work for and how competitive you are hoping to be.

With the increasing knowledge about the unregulated nature of the coaching profession, many businesses contracting to external coaches will request accreditation by one of the above-mentioned coaching bodies.

On the other side, if you would like to practice under the title of ‘coaching psychologist,’ you need to hold the corresponding degree from an academic institution.

 

How Long Does It Take?

Life Coach contemplationsThis also depends on the type of training and level of accreditation you are aiming for.

As a general rule, you can expect an accredited training course to take 12 months.

Often, the training hours are provided over the course of a few weekends throughout that year, with the accumulation of coaching practice hours being self-paced by the students in between.

Non-accredited courses can be a lot shorter (and cheaper), but this is generally reflected in lower quality, too. There are also accredited courses that can be short, such as this three-day level-1 life coaching course by the Certified Life Coach Institute (2021), but it is only equivalent to 32.8 ACSTH.

In other words, it only provides about half the training hours required and none of the experience to get credentials from ICF as an Associate Certified Coach.

An academic route to becoming a coaching psychologist is more time intensive and takes roughly five years (three years for the prerequisite bachelor’s degree + two years to complete a master’s degree in coaching psychology or equivalent).

 

Training in Life Coaching: 100+ Programs, Courses, and Degrees

There is a wealth of training programs and courses that can support you to become a trained life coach. Expectedly, they differ in intensity, duration, quality, and price. I recommend using the training program search service of the ICF (2021) or a directory of a similar governing body to find an accredited provider.

The ICF lists over 60 training courses worldwide that use a combination of in-person and virtual training and over 50 for in-person training.

These results appear from searches for coach training specializing in life vision and enhancement, with many other training options available.

 

100+ Online Training Opportunities

Online training opportunitiesWith the ever-increasing presence of online learning programs, massive open online courses are a convenient option.

Learning platforms such as Udemy (2021) offer several very affordable life coaching courses.

However, if you do not have any coaching experience and are looking to become a qualified life coach, I would only recommend these courses to get an insight into some relevant topics in life coaching. Short and unaccredited courses like these are not substantial enough to provide you with the knowledge, coaching skills, or experience necessary to provide effective coaching.

ICF lists 95 English-language virtual life coaching classes.

We also offer several evidence-based specialized coaching masterclasses including:

 

A Note on Starting a Coaching Business

If you are looking to start your own coaching business, there are a few things you may want to consider.

 

How to remain competitive

Because of the unregulated nature of the coaching profession and associated short pathways into the career, the competition in the coaching market is high. When working for yourself, consider strategies to be competitive and stand out.

Possibly the best way to do this is to establish solid credentials. This starts with the quality of your training and the extent of your experience. While the path to becoming a coaching psychologist is the longest and most expensive, it can instantly set you apart from most coaches on the market.

However, having an accredited training background together with many hours of experience, supervision, and client testimonials will give you strong credibility.

You may also want to consider identifying your own niche in the life coaching industry. Can you provide services for a particular target group, in a particular setting, or with a focus on one particular life domain? If you enjoy working with children, you might consider coaching kids as your focus.

 

Beware of your limits and risks

Remember to stay in your lane. A lot of your responsibility, professionalism, and ethical conduct surface in your first (introductory) chat with a new client. Take the time to understand their needs and decide whether this is something you can genuinely help them with or if you should redirect the client to another professional such as a psychotherapist.

Our article explaining how coaching, mentoring, and counseling differ also has practical examples of when a client should be redirected to a more appropriate channel.

Related to this is the importance of using a coaching contract to clarify the role you do (and do not) play as a coach. You will also need to insure yourself with professional indemnity and potentially public liability insurance.

 

Online versus offline

Many coaches report a better experience when coaching online or even just over the phone, due to being more concentrated on the conversation. Online coaching has become a lifesaving alternative when logistical challenges, time constraints, or a pandemic necessitate interactions online.

However, not every client will be willing or able to receive coaching online. The key is to find a modality that works for you and your clients. You could consider conducting the first few coaching sessions with a client in person and then move online.

Online coaching has certain requirements such as ensuring privacy and confidentiality. There are several applications that provide this, and one that stands out from the rest is Quenza. You can interact with your clients using any device, and the application also provides you with record keeping, so you can store your clients’ information securely.

In addition to the exercises you can assign to your clients while tracking their progress, video coaching is another vital feature of Quenza.

Although video coaching platforms can make it harder to read body language, a few simple steps can ensure that you have a productive session. Make sure your camera and lighting are set up optimally. Check and possibly upgrade your internet connection as lags due to slow bandwidth can cause audio delay, which can be frustrating and distracting.

Consider undertaking additional training in virtual service delivery, check your setup, and prepare your client similarly. Ask them to remain a fair distance from their camera and switch on their lights.

 

Leverage other companies

It can take a while to accumulate enough clients to make a living from a coaching business. In that case, it’s beneficial to look for opportunities within other businesses. Some medium-to-large enterprises employ a pool of external coaches.

While they often pay a lower hourly rate than you would usually charge on your own, you can benefit from a higher volume of commissioned coaching hours.

 

PositivePsychology.com’s Helpful Resources

In addition to our online coaching masterclasses, we also have the following helpful resources.

With over 350 exercises, assessments, and interventions, the Positive Psychology Toolkit© is the world’s largest positive psychology resource that you can use to support your coaching clients.

You may find the following blog articles interesting, too.

 

A Take-Home Message

As you can see, there are many options to get training in life coaching.

Whether you are ready to practice as a life coach is up to your own judgment, standards, and expectations. While cheaper and quicker training routes may be tempting, remember the profession comes with responsibilities and implications for your clients.

When done right, life coaching can be an incredibly rewarding career that can provide life-changing insights for clients.

Once you are skilled enough to guide your clients through mental roadblocks and get to witness a genuine ‘a-ha moment,’ you will appreciate your financial and time investment in good-quality training.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free.

If you’d like to help others succeed in life, our Motivation & Goal Achievement Masterclass© is a comprehensive training template for practitioners that contains everything you need to help your clients reach their goals and master motivation-enhancing techniques.

  • Association for Coaching (2021). We are the association for coaching. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.associationforcoaching.com
  • Certified Life Coach Institute (2021). Level 1: Certified life coach. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.certifiedlifecoachinstitute.com/level-1-reg
  • European Mentoring and Coaching Council (2021). EMCC GLOBAL. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.emccglobal.org
  • International Coaching Federation (2021). Credentialing paths. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://coachingfederation.org/credentials-and-standards
  • International Coaching Federation (2021). Empowering the world through coaching. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://coachingfederation.org
  • International Coaching Federation (2021). Tips for using the ICF Training Program Search Service (TPSS). Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://coachingfederation.org/credentials-and-standards/find-a-training-program
  • Lai, Y. L., Stopforth, M., & Passmore, J. (2018). Defining coaching psychology: Debating coaching and coaching psychology definitions. The Coaching Psychologist, 14(2), 120–123.
  • Robbins, A. (1992). Awaken the giant within. Simon & Schuster.
  • Udemy (2021). Life coach training courses. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.udemy.com/topic/life-coaching/

About the Author

Dr. Maike Neuhaus is an energetic and future-oriented Self-leadership Psychologist and behavior change expert, passionate about empowering others by sharing her knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for self-leadership. Having spent most of her career to date in behavior change science and science translation into real-world programs and services, she is now embarking on her own entrepreneurial journey as Co-Founder of Ducidium.

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