This is a post originally published on Oprah Daily.
We all need a little help sometimes, especially when it comes to journeys of self-discovery. Whether your goal is to be more confident or to find fulfillment in a passion project, it can be pretty tough to figure out how to get from point A (identifying a goal) to point B (actually going after and achieving that goal). That’s where a life coach comes in.
A 2019 study done by the International Coaching Federation found that there were roughly 71,000 coach practitioners globally. Like a therapist, a life coach is someone who can help you identify strengths and weaknesses and overcome obstacles holding you back. But who you should see depends on your issues and what you’re hoping to achieve. So here’s what you need to know before you reach out.
What Does a Life Coach Do?
Well, you know what a sports coach does: They help an individual or team identify a goal (i.e. winning) and then they develop a plan for that person or group. It’s pretty straightforward—and the same holds true for life coaching.
“Life coaching focuses on what’s happening right now, what a person wants next, and how that gap can be bridged,” explains Jane Scudder, certified coach and founder of leadership development firm The New Exec.
Coaching is about helping people identify the obstacles that keep getting in their way, assisting them with finding motivation, and pinpointing any resistance to change. Life coach is a broad term—you can also find business coaches, executive coaches, leadership coaches, and health coaches, but a life coach is typically most helpful when you’re thinking about your overall future.
“My work is really centered on four things,” says Scudder. “Helping someone expand an idea; helping someone understand what their present experience is with mindfulness, exploring mindsets to help someone ‘see’ options differently; and helping someone understand personal value and belief systems and how these show up in all areas of our lives.”
A common misconception is that life coaches provide advice, says Kate Bathras, a certified professional coach and member of the ICF. “It’s not a coach’s role to impart wisdom but rather to facilitate the client’s own process of connecting to their inner wisdom, and making choices about their actions and next steps from that place of connection,” she explains. In that sense, a coach is an unbiased brainstorming partner—you’re still the one doing the heavy lifting.
How Is a Life Coach Different from a Therapist?
Coaching can be therapeutic, but there are some major differences between life coaching and therapy. “A coach looks at your present to help you create the future you desire, while a therapist looks at your past to help you manage your present,” explains Tess Brigham, a licensed therapist and board-certified coach (BCC). “So while coaching is action-oriented, therapy is insight-oriented.”