Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Life Coach

Created by careersinpsychology

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Change is inevitable in life. It's what moves us forward toward bigger and better things. Many people adjust to and welcome change, but others may have a hard time coping and need extra support to get them to the next level in their lives.

That’s where life coaching comes in. Life coaching is excellent for anyone looking to get past the bumps along the path of life. A life coach is a person who understands the basic principles to success, how to apply these principles, and teaches others how to effectively put these principles to use in their own lives.

If helping people reach their highest potential sounds like a good fit for you, we’ll walk you through how to become a life coach and start an incredibly rewarding career.

What Is Life Coaching?

Life coaching is a type of coaching, or counseling, that helps people who are in major transition phases in their lives or are looking to maximize their potential in becoming the best version of themselves. Life coaches often try to help people make goals and take steps to realize those goals. These goals may be very specific, such as weight loss, or much broader, such as helping define a greater vision for a client’s life and seek ways to improve overall. Simply put, becoming a life coach means offering your clients advice and guidance that will put them on a path to success.

What Does a Life Coach Do?

Simply put, a life coach empowers their clients to be the best they can be. Some life coaches might focus solely on certain types of situations, like advancing careers, while others may be willing to help with nearly any life transition.

There are several reasons why a person might seek the guidance of a professional life coach. They might be stuck in a rut in their lives and looking for a way to move forward, or they may be at a specific turning point in their lives where an outside, objective perspective may be incredibly helpful. Some examples include:

  • Coping with divorce
  • Buying a home
  • Reorganizing financial goals

Typically, the coaching process begins with an in-depth interview, where the client will share their wants, needs, and goals for which they’re looking for coaching support. Helping each client is a very individualized process, and methods that work for one client may not work for another. Because of this, a life coach must then develop plans based on each client's strengths, weaknesses, abilities, limitations, and values. These action plans may include specific tasks to complete, literature to read, and regular progress check-ins.

Life coaches are also responsible for tracking clients' progress and adjusting their action plan accordingly. They often give action-oriented homework assignments designed to help clients move toward their goals. This accountability is often what clients lack when trying to achieve their objectives on their own.

Featured Life Coaching Degree Programs

Where Does a Life Coach Work?

Because their skills are applicable to so many fields and industries, life coaches are employed by a wide variety of organizations. Some life coaches may be able to find employment with a few select universities and corporations. You can build a life coach career within an HR department or as part of an executive organizational development team. There are also a handful of large life coaching firms that hire life coaches as well.

Most life coaches, however, typically work for themselves, opening their own life coaching practices. In some cases, two or more life coaches may be able to team up together, bringing a wider range of services and areas of expertise together.

How to Become a Certified Life Coach

Unlike the majority of counseling careers, becoming a life coach doesn’t have a straightforward path, which means you can tailor your journey to your own career interests and goals. Here’s a step-by-step rundown of how to become a life coach:

  1. Choose an area of focus: Maybe you’re passionate about helping people reach their wellness goals. Or perhaps you have a lot of experience and advice when it comes to pursuing career goals. In any case, it’s helpful to identify what it is that drives you personally, so you can be that much more motivated to help your clients through their own journeys.
  2. Earn a life coach degree: Another benefit of becoming a life coach is that there isn’t a specific degree you need to earn (unlike, say, a licensed social worker or mental health counselor, both of which require specific master’s degrees). That said, earning one of many various psychology degrees will give you the foundation you need to properly understand the psychological basis of your clients’ issues.
  3. Undergo life coach training and certification: Though not a prerequisite to earning any kind of state license, getting a life coach certification shows your dedication and expertise in counseling clients to achieve success. There are various nationally recognized training and certification programs, such as the International Coaching Federation or the Association for Coaching, where you can get certified in the skills and techniques required for life coaching.
  4. Set up your life coaching business: Start your life coach career by either seeking out organizations in need of a motivational presence, connecting with a coaching firm, or branching out on your own. If you’re setting up your own coaching business, make sure you follow all of your state’s guidelines, including registering your business with the appropriate agency.

When assessing how to become a life coach, there are certain traits and skills that make for an even more successful career. Life coaches should be energetic, inspirational, motivational, and organizational. Excellent listening and communication skills are a must. A life coach will often act as a sounding board for clients, listening closely to their concerns and problems with an unbiased eye and offering fresh perspectives and solutions. Essentially, a life coach career is being an expert counselor and confidante with the objectivity that your clients can’t provide for themselves.

What Are the Education Requirements for a Career as a Life Coach?

Unlike other psychology, counseling, or social work fields, there are no specific educational life coach requirements. However, positioning yourself as a specialist in the field is imperative to your success in becoming a life coach—and that often means earning a degree in a field appropriate to the type of coaching you want to engage in. For example, if you’re interested in coaching within businesses or for executives, becoming an expert in the area of finance, financial markets, and taxes would be wise. There are many areas to specialize in, from career coaching to substance abuse to interpersonal relationships.

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Your life coaching degree can be as simple as an associate’s or as pedigreed as a doctorate. The more education you have, the more respect and serious attention you’ll be able to harness as a true expert in your chosen coaching field. If you’re wondering what to major in to be a life coach, it’s often recommended to pursue a psychology degree, so that you are equipped with the theories, research, skills, and tools necessary to help your clients enact significant change from a psychological level and maintain that progress throughout their lives.

Do you need certification to be a life coach?

As mentioned above, there are no specific licensing or certification requirements to start a life coach career. However, a major issue in the life coaching industry is that it’s not regulated—meaning anyone can call themselves a life/professional/personal coach and as a result, the quality of coaching can vary.

Earning a life coach certification sets you apart and gives you credibility as a life coach who is worthy of your clients’ trust. the International Association of Coaching (IAC) and the International Coach Federation (ICF) are the two best-known organizations that provide certification to professional life coaches. To obtain certification, you must complete both an oral and written exam, which consists of submitting recorded coaching sessions that demonstrate knowledge and practical application. The ICF certification takes longer to achieve, as you must complete a certain number of paid coaching hours prior to obtaining certification.

Even though it’s extra time and effort in becoming a life coach, taking an ICF- or IAC-accredited coaching course tells your clients that you’ve put in the work necessary to help them achieve and maintain their goals.

How Much Do Life Coaches Make?

It can be difficult to forecast your salary as a life coach, because publicly available sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics do not record specific salary data for areas of specialization like life coaching. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does record salary data for school, career, and guidance counselors, which are considered similar professions to life coaching. These professionals earned a median annual salary of $60,140 as of May 2022.

Experience, clientele attraction, and time on the job are the biggest factors affecting a life coach’s pay, followed by geographic location. Note, though, that because they often start their own businesses, most life coaches must personally finance their benefits and retirement funds. That said, work satisfaction is high, with most life coaches liking their jobs, the flexible hours, the opportunity to work with many different clients from all areas of life.

Start Your Life Coach Career

Among the various psychology careers, life coaching gives you perhaps the most variety and flexibility in the people you work with and the problems you help to solve. Learning how to become a life coach sets you on the path to a rewarding career of helping people become their best selves and achieving more than they thought possible. Find an accredited training program to get started today.

2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics job market trends and salary figures for guidance counselors are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed June 2023.