Chapter 1 : Introduction

Core Competencies

To be a coach you need to master a number of core competencies that are essential to knowing how to coach effective and competently. These competencies were developed to support the skills and approaches that are used within the coaching profession today. These competencies will help support you in becoming a coach with superb training, an excellent grasp of key concepts that it takes to be a coach, and an understanding of the concepts necessary to pass the life coaching certification examination. Each skill is important in your journey to becoming a coach. Each skill will help transition you to learning more about coaching and more about how to help your clients excel and transform in their lives and careers. This study guide delves in depth into each of these core competencies to give you all the tools you need to become a successful Life Coach.

Life Coaching Defined

Coaching is defined as the partnership between a client and coach. The coach and client create an environment where the client is safe to explore what has been holding them back in their life and work toward goals which the coach and client mutually decide are important.

The coaching partnership is creative and stimulates a deep inspiring internal dialogue that helps clients maximize their potential both professionally and personally. Coaches can focus on a variety of topics including motivation, living a more satisfied life, increasing happiness and satisfaction, positive thinking, and improving life skills. It’s important for clients and coaches to understand the difference between coaching and other professions such as consulting, advocacy, and psychotherapy.


History and Evolution of Life Coaching

It is believed that life coaching originated in the 1970s and 1980s from a football coach turned motivational speaker, Benjamin Karter. But Thomas J. Leonard, a financial planner, is considered to be the one who made life coaching into what it is in this day and age. As a financial planner, Leonard had clients who sought his advice on not just financial matters, but personal and professional matters as well. This caused Leonard to create “personal coaching” which is also called “life coaching”. Leonard is the originator of the International Coach Federation which is the seminal organization that credentials and maintains coaching certification.

Life coaching is one of the fastest growing professions in the world. There are more than 50,000 coaches in the world as of 2012, with more coaches joining the field every day. There are a number of subspecialties in the field of coaching such as Business Coaching, Spiritual Coaching, Health and Wellness Coaching, Personal Development Coaching, Relationship Coaching, Career Coaching, and Executive Coaching. Each of these types of coaching will be explored later in the course.

Theoretical Influences on Life Coaching     

Life coaching has integrated ideas from many different fields including sports coaching, organizational psychology, psychotherapy, and different world philosophies. There are generally considered to be four primary influences on coaching: Constructivism, Buddhism, Existentialism, Humanistic Psychotherapy, and Positive Psychology.


Each individual constructs a unique reality based upon their experiences, beliefs, and perceptions. Helps to empower people to increase their awareness of their choices, constructs, and how they live their life.


Brings together the ideas of Mindfulness, that we can choose our thoughts and behaviors, and that we already have internal wisdom on which we can rely.


Jean-Paul Sartre created existentialism. There are three main existential crises of who am I, why am I here, and what is my purpose in life.

Humanistic Psychotherapy:

Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow created Humanism. The core concepts are growth and self-actualization. The Humanistic viewpoint values the individual and their unique perspective over material things.

Positive Psychology:

Focus on what it takes to live a happy life rather than a focus on problems. Integrates gratitude, positive prevention of problems, flourishing, and flows. Looks into courage, insight, optimism, pleasure, perseverance, interpersonal skills, and finding one’s life purpose.

Comparison between Life Coaching and Other Related Fields


Life Coaching verses Psychotherapy/Counseling

Psychotherapy can only be practiced by a licensed and credentialed professional therapist. Psychotherapy is a legal term and is protected by law. Coaches do not provide psychotherapy unless they are credentialed to do so outside of the scope of being a life coach. Coaching is a term that is not defined by law in most jurisdictions. Coaches do not diagnose or treat mental illness, which is the primary focus of psychotherapy. And coaches cannot and should not try to act as therapists in their relationship with their clients. Coaches tend to be focused on helping people become the best that they can be whereas psychotherapists are more focused on healing wounds and fixing individual mindsets that are broken. Coaching is not considered to have a stigma attached with it whereas psychotherapy is often considered to have a stigma attached.

Both psychotherapists and coaches help clients work through specific issues. They both help client’s explore beliefs, thoughts, values, goals, and aspirations. Both psychotherapy and coaching use powerful counseling techniques such as questioning and active listening. Both fields are focused on cultivating client insight and knowledge and helping them with growth, problem solving, and adjustment. 

Life Coaching verses Consulting 

Consulting is when an expert comes in, examines the issues that the client presents the consultant with, and the consultant gives the client instructions about how they should proceed. Consulting is not focused on co-creation. It is more of a situation of teacher and student where the client comes to the consultant to increase knowledge and effectiveness in a certain area under the direct guidance of the consultant. Consultants are directive and prescriptive and their job is done once they diagnose the problems. A life coach, on the other hand, is more involved with helping the client explore problems as well as solutions and refrains from being directive or prescriptive. Consultants aren’t as concerned with the relationship or the client’s perspectives. They are more interested in efficiency and powerful solutions to problems. And consulting does not delve into the personal side of the problem and instead focuses on problems and solutions. An example of a consultant is someone who comes into an organization, examines the gaps in the efficiency of the organization, and tells them specifically how they can improve. Consultancy is different from coaching because consultants give specific instructions to the client rather than helping the client find their direction and own wisdom as a coach would do.

Life Coaching verses Advocacy

An advocate is a person who stands up for a client and speaks for them. They come and attempt to get the client more rights in whatever realm they are advocating. An example of an advocate is a court advocate who speaks for a client in a court of law or an officer in a child protective agency. This is different from coaching because the advocate speaks for the client and does not work to empower the client to speak for themselves. And advocacy generally has a legal and social justice component that is not normally present in coaching. Coaches may teach their clients how to advocate for themselves, but they are generally not advocates.

Life Coaching verses Mentoring

Life coaching and mentoring are both concerned with helping people to achieve goals and making a positive impact on their lives. But mentoring focuses on the relationship whereas life coaching is more focused on the coach being a catalyst for change. Mentors are more open to whatever a mentee wants to talk about and whatever goals they may be open to and are not as involved with helping the client set goals as a coach. Furthermore, mentorship tends to be informal, the mentor isn’t formally trained for the position, and the meetings are unstructured.

Chapter Review Questions

Descriptive Questions

  • What are two similarities and differences between Life Coaching and Psychotherapy?
  • How is Coaching different from Consulting?

Multiple Choice Questions

1. Coaching is a ______________________ process. 

  1. directive
  2. co-creative
  3. co-active
  4. conjoined
  5. undiscovered 

2. Which of the statements about Life Coaching are true?

  1. In a coaching relationship, the coach is the expert who shares his/her wisdom based on experience with the client.
  2. Coaching is only focused on actions.
  3. Coaches tell clients how to solve problems and how to improve their lives.
  4. Coaches focus on client perspectives and help them come to their own conclusions about what’s best for them and their lives.  

3. Leondard Vissta is the creator of the International Coach Federation.

  1. True
  2. False 

Answer Key:

1-b, 2-d, 3-b 

Further Reading

  1. “Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others” by James Flaherty. Taylor and Francis, Inc., 2010.
  2. “Distinctions between Coaching and Therapy” by C. J. Hayden and Laura Whitworth. International Association of Personal and Professional Coaches Newsletter, October 1995.