How to Choose a Coach

Choosing a Coach

The mental health industry has seen huge growth in the availability of life coaches and other mental health practitioners. Access to certification for such practices, and a largely unregulated industry means that not everyone with a certificate should be trusted to guide you through life’s challenges.

Just like not all doctors are created equal, nor are life coaches. Check out this list of points to be aware of before surrendering your vulnerabilities into the hands of a stranger.

1. Certification

While certification is important, it’s not the most important factor. There are certificates available with minimal training instruction for as little as $20 online. Being backed by an international institute or body also doesn’t mean that the training adequately prepares the individual to be a life coach.

Certification should be considered the bare minimum to get your foot in the door. It’s the ticket to the game. It doesn’t mean that they are adequately skilled to play the game, so to speak. Look beyond the certificate and check for experience, references, or other evidence that they are skilled and knowledgeable at what they do.

2. Establish rapport

Believe it or not, many life coaches lack the emotional maturity to handle their own life’s challenges, let alone someone else’s. It’s not easy to determine how emotionally mature they are when reviewing their credentials, so check if they offer a free connect session. That is, a session where they allow you an opportunity to test the suitability of their skills and demeanour in working with you to address your goals or challenges.

Remember, this is about you, not them. So you must be comfortable to work with them or else you won’t feel confident to boldly unpack the detail of what may be holding you back in life. Establishing a good rapport is a major hurdle to overcome if you hope to achieve results as quickly as possible.

3. Are they empathetic or sympathetic?

Empathetic means that they can understand where you’re at, and they have a genuine appreciation for what you’re going through. Sympathetic means that they not only understand, but they also have an emotional investment because of their personal experience with a similar challenge. As strange as it may sound, you don’t want a sympathetic life coach.

If your life coach is sympathetic towards your state, they run a considerably higher risk of losing objectivity and developing a bias for your position. As comforting as that sounds, it could be the very reason that holds you back from overcoming the current obstacles in your path. You need someone that is more empathetic and less sympathetic so that they relate to what you’re experiencing, but are insightful and objective enough to guide you towards understanding your contribution towards your current challenges.

Important! We cannot coach someone that is not in the room. So, if your life coach is focusing on someone else’s behaviour and not dealing with yours, be very concerned. They’re stroking your ego, not helping you to recover.

4. What makes a good life coach?

According to Coach the Life Coach, the following 8 points are key attributes of a good life coach, and I agree:

  • They must be a great listener.
  • Must have an excellent ability to build rapport with their clients
  • An understanding of rapport at different levels for different types of clients is essential.
  • They must be able to formulate questions artfully and skillfully to prompt the client towards self-realisation.
  • Extended or awkward silences must not make them uncomfortable. Some life coaches feel a need to fill every gap in the discussion.
  • Being able to re-frame any event demands that they have broad experience and real life wisdom.
  • They absolutely must be passionate about helping people.

One more I would add to that is that they must be very comfortable with pushing the tough discussion and guiding their client through it. Many life coaches want to be favoured more than they want to be true to the client’s needs. For this reason, they avoid getting too contentious because they’re afraid of losing the client.

In a nutshell, these are the points that you must explore in your connect session with your life coach to determine how skilled and/or suitable they are to help you achieve your goals.

5. Affordability

You don’t always pay for what you get. The rate being charged by a life coach is not always an indication of their expertise. Like every industry, there are dubious members that have questionable ethics. This is true for life coaching as well. Don’t use the rate card of a life coach to measure their skill or expertise. As much as there is massive growth in the life coaching industry, it is still a relatively young industry, and as such, is still establishing its norms and benchmarks.

A good life coach could cost anything between R400 to R2500 per hour (US$30 to US$180). Or more. But it all depends on their client base, and their niche. Someone coaching corporate executives will obviously call a higher rate than someone coaching housewives. But even in that scenario, the rate could go quite high if the suburb is considered seriously upmarket.

The bottom line is that the only thing a rate should tell you is whether or not the life coach is affordable for you. Everything else about them must be assessed independent of their rate, especially for those that do it as a passion, and not only to make money.

6. What about NLP, CBT, and all of that?

NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), or even Hypnotherapy are simply methods that can be used in an approach to resolving issues in a life coaching scenario. Like all methods, they have their place, but they also have their limitations.

Be careful of life coaches that swear by one or the other, or take a textbook approach to responding to your questions or challenges. A sure sign to raise concern is if your life coach constantly tries prescribed methods in every session. The reason I don’t recommend taking either of these routes is because they are only effective as short term coping mechanisms, and then also, only within the context of the current state of the challenges that you face.

Once the conditions around your challenges change, or your level of self-awareness improves, the coping methods lose impact. When this happens, you’ll find yourself grappling with issues that you thought were long since resolved.

Be weary of life coaches that speak in methodologies and psycho-jargon. The human condition is not as complex as many would have us believe. A life coach that draws wisdom from the various available methods, and applies that within context in the way they guide you towards re-framing your perspectives, are the ones to seek out.

A good life coach will not teach you coping mechanisms. They will teach you how to overcome, rather than how to cope with your challenges.


So, why would I share all this with you? I want informed clients, because informed clients add to the integrity of the industry, and they keep us honest.

Life coaches are human, although some of them may suggest that they’re super-human. Nonetheless, we make mistakes, and we have bad days. The more informed you are as a client, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to correct us on those bad days. More importantly, the more informed you are, the higher the probability of finding a life coach that is effective for you.

Remember, this is an investment in taking your life to the next level. Don’t compromise on that by looking for a life coach that is going to make you feel comfortable with where you’re at.

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