Maybe you follow a bunch of “life coaches” on Instagram, or maybe you think “life coach” sounds like the punchline to a joke. Either way, life coaches are kind of peak contemporary entrepreneur — sometimes "location-independent", but usually social media dependent. Unlike therapy, there's no medical substance (or even veneer) to life coaching. Life coaching is just straight-up talking to people for money.
The "life coaching" gatekeepers and professional powers-that-be have established various truths about the profession. For instance, these tenets allegedly separate life coaching from therapy:
- Life coaching is about strengths, while therapy is about weaknesses.
- Life coaching is about the future, while therapy is about the past.
- Life coaches see people as authors of their lives, not victims.
- Life coaches are neutral facilitators of goals, not advice-givers.
- Life coaches provide more accountability than you can expect from a therapist.
I understand the pragmatic reasons for lines in the sand. Professional fields can benefit from refusing to step on each other’s toes. Also, life coaches don’t want to run afoul of legal regulations regarding mental health licensing. Life coaches don't want to get sued.
But none of these truths about life coaching strike me as especially true.
Strengths and weaknesses are often deeply intertwined, and determined contextually. A person’s past cannot in any meaningful way be walled off from her future. People don’t exist in pure archetypes like “victim” and “self-author,” and would it help to think of them specifically in those terms even if they did?
Individuals often harbor misguided or even harmful goals, and professionals (of any stripe) are not morally obligated to help clients achieve those. Some therapists offer no accountability but, in my opinion, they suck. The cognitive-behavioral therapist who changed my life was an extremely mild-mannered hardass.
Worst of all, life coaches seem primarily to sell a version of their own lives. They seem to want to turn you into them (and their clients want that, too). This is kinda twisted. You don’t really know what someone’s life is really like. And different kinds of lives are appropriate for different kinds of people. My life is pretty weird, I don’t know that you’d want it, and I couldn’t give it to you anyways.
In fact, the whole “coaching” metaphor just seems off.Paradigmatic “coaches’ are sports coaches. They provide a special sauce of technical expertise and motivation to their players. But life coaches only want to own the motivational component, offering happiness or success while disclaiming being able to help you make decisions. Experts on life, but with no expertise - only open-ended questions and a willingness to "hold space" for clients. Puzzling.
The alternative title of “philosophical counseling” does appeal to me. However, I never technically finished a master’s degree in philosophy (though I came close - twice, oops!) so I’m ineligible for further training and certification via either of the professional organizations for philosophical counseling.
So here I am, a "life coach" who's not paid her dues in the profession as it exists, who's jumping straight into criticism. I realize it's a little gauche. So thanks for joining me on this exploration into a dysfunctional field.
Pamela J. Hobart - Philosophical Life Coaching Newsletter
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