What is life coaching?

Good morning, Readers!

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while may be wondering why on earth I chose to become a life coach. Perhaps you are wondering if coaching is contradictory to my usual position. Actually, it isn’t! In fact, it is complimentary to what I believe. Coaching makes use of all my skills, education, and life experience.

Unfortunately there are some misunderstandings about life coaching among the Psychiatric Survivor community. Some survivors, understandably, lump life coaching together with the “helping” professions of the Mental “Health” System. Perhaps untrained coaches follow the “diagnose and fix” model similar to what you find in the System, but actually, doing that goes against coaching ethics.

A life coach does not identify “problems.” This was reiterated throughout my training. I found it easy to identify when this was happening in the class.

Oddly, here I found that the previous traumatic reaction I had to my last few years in the System helped me tremendously! Why? Many survivors become sensitive or even touchy when they sense any sort of diagnosing. So I was easily able to identify when this was happening. A trained coach will never call you dysfunctional nor use any DSM diagnosis.

Many times we are tempted to give advice (especially when we think we “know better”). I’m sure many of you have been in the position of giving helpful suggestions now and then. Some of these may very well be well-intentioned, such as, “I’m so happy you’ve decided to quit smoking. The best way to quit is cold turkey.”

While this suggestion may seem helpful at first, coaches don’t go this far. What happens when we give advice? For one thing, we are asserting superiority or even putting ourselves on the “expert” pedestal. While many coaches have specific expertise of their own, the coaching model involves a more collaborative and supportive approach. When I think about it, every time a practitioner from the System (such as a therapist) gave advice in the past I felt demoralized.

Another thing coaches do not do is to jump on the “me too” bandwagon. While we may be tempted, doing so is presumptuous and often unhelpful An example might include, “Oh yes, I also had a C-section so I understand what you are going through.” In this case, while the speaker may appear empathetic, isn’t she assuming a bit too much? Are all C-section experiences alike? Has the speaker even lived one day in the body of the listener?

Here’s another example: “I quit smoking too. So I know how it is.” Really?

I had no trouble quitting smoking, which was actually unusual.  Most truly struggle with the experience. While I did in fact quit ages ago, I have not necessarily gone through the same thing. I think it would drive people crazy if I said something like, “I quit, so you can, too!” The implication is that a smoker who struggles is somehow weak or inferior. Coaches don’t do that!

Coaches don’t prevent a client from making mistakes because mistakes are learning experiences.

Think of all the mistakes I have made in my life. Here’s an example: Falling for a scam publisher.  I ended up with a lot of fallout from that bad decision, including alienating my fellow alums and faculty from grad school. I was aware of the snickering and commentary that I had sold myself short, which was demeaning to me, but I chose to shove all that aside. I kept excusing the bad handling of my book by Chipmunka, rationalizing that they were a “charity publisher.” I stayed with Chipmunka far too long, actually in denial.

Admitting you made a mistake involves grieving and sometimes, embarrassment. Humans tend to avoid discomfort, which is why many delay admitting they made a bad choice, often for years or decades (are we reminded of something here?).

Eventually I figured it out. Ending my contract was the right thing to do. Despite the many losses, I know in my heart that the learning experience I gained from this error made it all worth it.

Remembering this helps me as a coach. Mistakes are a part of life. If I were to prevent a mistake I’d be playing the “fixer,” the exact thing we were trained not to do.

Those of you who experienced the psychotherapy model might recall the term “treatment” as one person, the treator, acting upon the disordered person. We have one person, the therapist acting upon another. So then, the therapy patient is becomes an object while the therapist is the subject (think of sentence structure). In diagnosing, the psychotherapist makes the statement, “You are.” Here again, the therapist is acting upon the therapy patient by putting him/her into a category.

So what do coaches do? Maybe the question should be, what do coaching clients do?

Here I should explain the use of the term “client.” I realize that many of you who survived the System might have bad memories of being called a “client.” However, the term is standard in the coaching field. At least you aren’t called a “patient” or…geez…”consumer.”

In coaching, the client makes the decisions. The coach will follow the client’s lead. The client decides on goals and works out a solid plan to reach these goals. Coaching holds the client accountable.

In the coaching relationship, the client is in the driver’s seat. The client is the protagonist of the story, the main actor. We might consider the coach as the sidekick.  On a ship, the Captain makes decisions and the First Mate, the sidekick, supports the Captain’s decisions. The First Mate wouldn’t go over the Captain’s head.

Thanks to the many friends who have supported and encouraged me! If you want to learn more about the specific focus of my practice, check out my site (in progress) here:



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