“What Exactly Is a Life Coach?”

Photo by Jordan Madrid on Unsplash

I was sitting with a friend the other day and she asked me, “Heather, what exactly is a life coach? What do you do?” And I figured maybe she wasn’t the only one who was uncertain, so I thought I would take a few minutes and try to describe what I do and also why it’s a little bit different than some of the other options out there.

I Start Exactly Where You’re At

One of the reasons that it’s difficult to explain what I do is because what I do is different for everyone. I start where you are at.

  • What are you struggling with?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • What’s that crazy little thing you know you should do but for some reason you just can’t bring yourself to try?
  • What do you feel powerless against yet desperate to escape?
  • What situations do you keep finding yourself in that you’d rather not circle back to?
  • Do the issues seem to be mostly about parenting or about your relationships or about disability or finding out a loved one is LGBTQ+ or faith shifting or addictions or mental health issues or finances or work or grief?

Wherever you are at, that’s where we start, and that’s what begins our exploration (although we often find it doesn’t end there!)

I Use an Attachment-based and Trauma Informed Model

With over 16 years of training and experience in supporting people from all different walks of life and folks dealing with all sorts of different issues, two of the most valuable things I have discovered along the way that mold and shape the way in which I engage in conversations with people are Attachment Theory and Trauma Informed Practice.

Attachment Theory is rooted in the idea that as human beings, to be able to learn and grow and develop we first need to feel safe, known and precious. This state – which I often refer to as the ‘Green Zone’ is where we can look at the hard things in life without freaking out. It’s where we can sit with them and sift through them and ultimately process them so that we can make decisions, find resolution and begin to move on. We get to safe, known and precious by being able to be honest about our struggles and questions and concerns with someone who takes the time to truly listen and hear us, and then responds to those struggles with compassion, communicating to us that we are valuable right in the midst of our struggles.

Trauma Informed Practice in it’s simplest form assumes that many people have experienced trauma in one way or another, and therefore to create an environment where you feel safe, known and precious will require being aware of trauma and how trauma affects us, both in the short term and the long term. Both my personal experience and professional background in trauma include (but is not limited to) a significant amount of experience with spiritual abuse survivors as well as sexual abuse survivors (particularly around pregnancy and birth) and medical trauma.

It’s important to note: Just because trauma is part of your past doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what you want to work on. I get that! But it can be valuable to work with someone who can be sensitive to these issues and where you don’t have to spend long periods of time explaining things simply to get to the point where you can feel safe.

I Establish a Foundation

For many of my clients we take some time to do a values-discovery process as one of our first steps. Most people have never had a chance to identify their values, and don’t know how they would possibly ‘guess’ what their values were if they were given a list. But by asking a series of questions around the theme of ‘what makes you come alive’ we find that we can identify pretty clearly a set of values. These values become the foundation that we build off of as we navigate the questions we are asking.

I Use Question-based Discovery

One of the biggest things that drew me to coaching was that it has at its root the idea that we know much more about ourselves than we can necessarily access independently, but that when we can access our own knowledge and truth it can lead us to a freedom of being and doing life that allows us to soar.

That means that instead of assuming I have all the right answers, I use compassionate curiosity to carefully look out for opportunities to ask the next right question. The result is that my clients are led through an experience of discovery where they have the chance to find out for themselves what they think, how they feel, what’s holding them back and what they need to do to move forward. Because it comes from within, it gives people a sense of autonomy and agency as they look at the hard challenges of life – which in and of itself can be a huge part of empowering people to move forward wherever they are feeling stuck.

I Help You Build a Robust, Personal Toolkit

Many of the clients I work with discover that they are missing ‘tools for life’ that would make it easier for them to reach their personal, relational and professional goals. Drawing on various wisdom traditions and best practices from a range of disciplines including occupational therapy, psychology, finance, nutrition and health we look at areas where you may be missing tools and other areas where we could help you strengthen the existing tools that you already have.

I See Lives Changed – Starting With My Own!

I’m not one of life’s natural salespeople. I’ve never hosted a tupperware party, done a Scentsy party online or been at all interested in Mary Kay. I dreaded fundraisers when the kids were little because I wasn’t interested in buying the products myself so I certainly wasn’t interested in trying to coerce my friends or family into purchasing them. I know that coaching is expensive, but here’s the thing: I have first-hand experience that says that it is more than worth the cost in terms of what it will allow you to save!

Five years ago my life and family were falling apart. I was a mess – holding on to life by the skin of my teeth and just simply trying to survive each and every day without pulling my hair out or screaming at my husband or my kids. (They, in turn, were having an awfully hard time living life with a mom on the edge). In fact, I was the last person you would have wanted to take advice from at that point!

But slowly over the following few years I started showing up for coaching and doing the work. I engaged with the process. Then, because I had years of experience as a parent support worker and high risk doula as well as training as a life coach myself, I tweaked the process and adjusted the process until it worked – not for someone else who might tell me that everything was fine to make me feel good about myself, but for me – and I know how high my bar is!

Today, my relationship with my husband is the best it has probably ever been (which is pretty awesome after 19 very hard years of marriage!) My teens – both diagnosed with Level II Autism – are both thriving academically and socially. My anxiety is at an all-time low, I’m a healthy weight, I sleep well at night and have developed deep, supportive friendships. Although I have an undiagnosed medical condition that leaves me with a significant mobility impairment and doing life from a wheelchair, I am in many ways the healthiest that I have ever been. This is the kind of life change I’m talking about. I’ve seen it in myself and I’ve seen it in my clients. This is the life change that makes the time, effort and energy worthwhile. Because who wouldn’t want to be able to live more freely and lightly?

The Bottom Line

When we start right where you are, using attachment-based, trauma-informed practices to establish a foundation from which to do question-based discovery and create a robust, personal toolkit, people see life change. I know, I know, I know – there’s a million other things screaming for your time, money and attention. But if you were to let yourself dream for just a moment, where would YOUR journey start?

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