More and more we hear about the Life Coach, a figure as widespread as little understood and accepted in many countries. While in the Anglo-Saxon world it is now a profession at the level of the counsellor, in other countries, there is a tendency not to know its existence or to label and judge it as something useless, exotic, harmful, fashionable and absolutely unprofessional. Especially in the psychology field, it is seen as a watered-down version of the figure of the therapist, when in reality it has to do with something else. Let’s see below what this is and what the differences are with other similar professions.
The word “coach” derives from the French coche which means carriage or chariot, or a horse-drawn vehicle driven by a pilot, called a coachman. In the nineteenth century, English university students used the term coach to refer to the best tutors who had accompanied them in the last year. In the USA the coach was born mainly in the sports field, to increase and improve the performance in the competition. The coach is not limited to the purely physical aspect of the performance but also works on the emotional, psychological level, stimulating the athletes, creating team spirit thus motivating it to face the opponents with greater charge and safety.
Life Coach: origin and definition
“We need men who can dream of things that never were”
J. F. Kennedy
The first to make a significant written contribution about coaching was W. Timothy Gallwey who, with his book The Inner Game of Tennis released in 1974, laid the first foundations of the basic principles of coaching: “There is always an inner game being played in your mind no matter what outer game you are playing. How aware you are of this game can make the difference between success and failure in the outer game“. Timothy proposes his approach not only to tennis, of course, but to many other fields, such as music, work, education, personal life. However, it was only in the 1990s that the first coaches appeared in the companies, a role initially played by managers who, in order to improve their human, empathic and professional abilities, relied on real coaches. In a few years, this figure becomes increasingly present and predominant in the world of work, in the spiritual one, personal life, relationships. Ending up to the creation of specialized figures, each with its own niche and related training courses.
Following the words of one of the fathers of modern coaching, John Whitmore, we could define life coaching in this way: “Supporting people to grow themselves and their performance, clarify their purpose and vision, achieve their goals, and reach their potential”. The coach is, therefore, a motivator, someone who helps the coachee (the person who is coached) to make their gifts flourish in order to achieve a goal, in general, to reach their own happiness. The coach is not a problem solver, a consultant, a mentor, an expert, a teacher or even a counsellor. The coach is a facilitator, a motivator, someone with whom we can let our ideas come out, an elevator of consciousness. Not being an expert is actually a strong point of the coach: his/her role is to bring out the answers from within the coachee and not to pass on his knowledge, which could lead to undermine self-confidence and create a relationship of subjection to the coach himself.
Differences between coach, counsellor, mentor, psychologist or psychotherapist
The differences between these figures may seem minimal, but in fact, they are substantial. Let’s start with psychology.
The psychologist and the psychotherapist are recognized professional figures, who have the habilitation to psychological therapy, something that the life coach does not have. These figures aim at patients who have pathological problems, such as personality disorders, which the life coach cannot face by not having the preparation or the right tools. Ultimately, everything that falls under psychological therapy is the exclusive domain of psychologists and psychotherapists.
Counsellor or counselor (depending on whether you write it in English or American). This is an unrecognized figure, at least in many countries, similar to the life coach. His field of action is, however, different. It mainly deals with facing a person’s past, always in relation to the present, from an emotional point of view. Counselling is the art of knowing how to help: it helps to find new possibilities regarding moments of crisis, emotional hardships, difficult relationships, periods of change, choices to make. The counselling, therefore, promotes processes of change by identifying new feasible ways and modes of action not considered up to that point. The main characteristic of the counsellor is listening, mixed with compassion, the ability to identify oneself with the other and to understand him/her, giving emotional and psychological support.
Mentor: is an expert in a given field. He/she transmits his knowledge to those directly involved so that they become experts in that particular field. It is a guide for the less experienced, a reference figure to imitate in its daily realising its achievement in its field. He/she opens the door of the knowledge of culture, values, rituals, techniques, methodologies, networks of relationships and other elements often not codified in documents, procedures or manuals but fundamental to be successful. It is a reference point, more or less temporary, of the one who learns, to whom he/she offers experience and knowledge of the context to favour its growth and integration in the organizational context.
The life coach, as we have said, is a motivator. Unlike the counsellor, he focuses more on the future, always in relation to the present, and on the achievement of specific goals. Based on the present condition of the coachee, he/she does not dwell on past or try to solve emotional traumas, but rather tries to accompany the coachee towards the realization of a project agreed together. Active listening, the use of “powerful” questions, knowing how to dose the questioning with supporting and motivating, the suspension of judgment, giving the tools to find the answers within oneself are the main characteristics of a coach. He/she will never say what to do or what not to do, nor will he/she provide answers or solutions, but he/she will push the coachee to find the necessary resources within himself to reach the goal or, possibly, resize it or change it. In fact, coaching is a method that implies concrete action right from the start, it is a very fast and effective technique.
In conclusion, mentoring, coaching and counselling are unrecognized activities that CANNOT work at a therapeutic level and that deal with different areas, sharing the attempt to bring the level of well-being of the “client” to a higher degree. Psychology and psychotherapy, on the other hand, work in the therapeutic field and try to cure the patient’s pathologies to bring him back to the “normal” condition of well-being.
Usually, life coaching is based on simple executive models. Being a work of listening and continuous questioning, it must be flexible and free from rigid dynamics. Almost all coaching schools now teach this model developed by Whitmore, called GROW, which is none other than an acronym for Goal, Reality, Options and Will.
- OBJECTIVE (Goal): coach and client set the goal of coaching and of each session
- REALITY (Reality): the current situation in which the customer is located is analyzed in-depth, including the results of the actions taken previously and the possible internal and external blocks
- OPTIONS (Options): possible action alternatives are brought into focus
- ACTION (Will): it is decided exactly what alternative to follow, how and when.
There are many other models and approaches, but it can be said that this is the most widespread and followed. In fact, the models are mainly indicative because, in the end, the important thing is listening, empathy, knowing how to ask powerful questions, knowing when to support, when to challenge, when to listen, when to talk, and when bringing it to an end. It is a dance between the coach and the coachee, in which we alternate the guidance to reach the maximum with minimum effort. Fundamental is that each session, which usually lasts an hour and can be live, via video call or more rarely on the phone, ends with a concrete resolution, with the intent to put into practice immediately what has been achieved. How many sessions are necessary to reach your goal (or solve the problem) is absolutely personal and varies from case to case. I have had cases that had already reached their goal after the first session, others who needed three sessions, five or even ten.
Work areas: niches
“Changing the way you do routine things allows a new person to grow inside of you.“
Coach of life
Life coaching is a discipline that deals with every area of life. Taking up the techniques of sports and managerial coaching, applied to private life, and beyond. Based on the Socratic technique of maieutics, the coach does not have to be an expert, as he/she tries to bring out the answers from within the coachee him/herself. He/she must question, challenge, motivate, support at the same time, allowing the coachee to see other points of view, new possibilities, new resources so far left in the shade. Life being an extremely vast area, the life coach specializes in one or more areas, called niches.
The three macro niches
You can find about 3 macro niches that contain all the others: Fitness & Health, Work, Private life. The first part includes everything that has to do with sport, performance, diet, losing weight (or taking it), living and eating healthy, no waste, etc. The macro niche of the work field includes all those concerning career, investments, opening a new business, growing an existing business, marketing, time managing, leadership, sales, interviews, job search, etc. The last macro niche concerns aspects of private life: relationships (family, friends, love, parental, work, etc.), spiritual life, religion, meditation, seeking inner peace, love, self-esteem, communication, facing change, facing a crisis, seeking a new purpose in life, finding one’s own way, developing one’s creativity, art, music, sexuality, LGBTQ, bullying, personal growth, holistic techniques, etc. Within these niches, there are specific sub-niches that deal with education, adolescence, childhood and senility. We will focus on this last niche of private life.
I personally focus on private life aspects, I am not interested nor do I have experiences for the fitness and work sectors (although I can deal with aspects related to the personal life of these niches, as I have already done). Because, although, the coach does not have to be an expert, in specific areas such as sports, diet, work it is good that he/she has the skills (which does not mean being mentors, but being familiar with the environment in question, the dynamics, the basic concepts).
Being a former monk and still interested in the spiritual life in all its aspects and with full openness, it is certainly one of my main niches. Spirituality does not mean religion, although it includes it, but everything that has to do with the Spirit, as I explain well in this article and also in this one. The spiritual quest also includes creativity, self-expression, the pursuit of one’s own path, personal growth, the relationship with the invisible world that is the engine of the visible one, inner peace, happiness, integrity, the answer to the deepest questions of life such as love, suffering, death, loss.
Despite the technological progress that favours opportunities and communication methods, it has become increasingly difficult to understand and be understood. There is no subject at school dedicated to communication, in the family one does not care to teach it to the children, perhaps because we are the first not knowing how to master it, and we find an insurmountable obstacle when it comes to communicating with a person of the opposite sex, especially if there are feelings. Yet it is an ability that we can develop, improve, cultivate with the proper modalities.
Self-esteem and self-confidence
More and more people are living a life of doubts and uncertainties, which makes it impossible for them to manage their lives in a free and total way. They are always looking for someone who can tell them what to do, when, how and why. They are influenced by the judgment of others and fail to express themselves except in rare cases and in extreme ways. Self-esteem and self-confidence are characteristics that we can always improve and are part of the baggage necessary to face the difficulties of every day: work, family, love, friends, sexuality, creativity. Being self-confident is the opposite of being full of oneself, which usually hides an insecure and weak character. Self-esteem and self-confidence are the direct consequences of self-love, which is often undermined by education, school, family, religion, society.
Everything that has to do with our growth. Many believe they stop growing after adolescence, but we know well that we never stop learning, getting to know each other, discovering the world. In my life path, I met people who, after retirement, continued to study languages, learned to dance, to paint, to massage, to enhance their skills, started a novel, improved their character, started travelling the world. We are called to grow, always, every day, but not for reasons imposed by religion, by morality or by society: it is the life that drives us to do so and we should simply support this natural impulse of our soul.
Human beings are beings in a relationship. We can’t avoid it. Even if we disappear from society by being hermits on a mountain, we continue to be in relationship with ourselves and the surrounding environment. People who call themselves antisocial but post every 5 minutes on Facebook or Instagram make me laugh: it is not being locked in the house attached to social networks that can be considered antisocial, they simply prefer different methods of socialization. The types of relationships are as endless as people and each is different from the others. Every relationship is like a living being in its own right that grows, changes, dies, transforms and is reborn. Like all things, they must be nourished, cared for, cultivated, whether they are friendship, family, couple, family, work or any other type.
Love is a word that today says everything and nothing. It is abused, we distort its meaning, we adapt it to our current mood. First of all, it is a word that comes from the Latin Amor, which refers mainly to the attraction aroused by external physical forms. With Christianity, then courtly love and finally romanticism acquires a different meaning: on one hand, love as a sacrifice, unconditional, that expects nothing in return, on the other romantic, passionate, adventurous love. As far as I am concerned, love is a constant dance of giving and receiving and one cannot, nor must it, as it is impossible, expect to be able to just give (or just receive). The best definition of love, in my opinion, is given by Massimo Troisi: “Love is that thing that you are on one side, he is on the other, and strangers realize that you love each other“.
Being a holistic operator and yoga teacher, I also dedicate myself to this sector which is by now so widespread and unfortunately badly treated, above all by professionals. The holistic world is vast and encompasses a myriad of techniques and disciplines, some very questionable, others quite valid. In this article, I cover the question partially. The techniques in which I am specialized are shiatsu, traditional Thai massage, tuina, Swedish massage, lomi lomi nui, deep tissue massage, Indian head massage, sports massage (I have also studied connective tissue and lymphatic drainage massage but I do not consider myself an expert). I am also a trainer and I teach massage classes. I practice and teach yoga and deep meditation, especially hatha yoga, and study the various spiritual currents that interest me most, such as Hinduism, tantra, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Sufism, and various pagan religions like Viking, Greek, Celtic, Egyptian and shamanism.
In a world in post-sexual revolution, in which libertinism seems to have done more damage than anything else, we find ourselves still living sexuality in an unbalanced way: often as a taboo, at other times as a perversion to be flaunted by the four winds. We can still see expressions of homophobia even at the extreme level with violence and murders, there are still cultures in which the woman has limitations in the expression of her sexuality. Living your sexuality in a natural and genuine way seems to have become a difficult task. There are many people who have sexual practices given by fashion, by social and cultural conditioning, by religion, by the family, by television, by youporn. Sex is a powerful, wonderful energy, a profound expression of the human soul that approaches the divine, with its ability to unify, give pleasure, create.
Coaching is an extremely effective methodology but like all things, it is not for everyone. The best way to find out is to try it. I personally, as well as many other life coaches, offer a free introductory session where you can experience coaching in a direct, simple and fast way so that you can understand if it is something that can work for you. Always entrust yourself to those who have certifications, but above all to those who have a significant experience, to those who have passed through the various phases of life and have been able to go out, to those who have travelled and known the variety of cultures and people who exist but above all to those who are always on the road to research, knowing that they are neither more nor better than others, to those who have done and continue to do a deep work on themselves.