What is Life Coaching —a guide for beginners {updated for 2023}

So, what is life coaching about? How’s it different to other similar professions? Let’s explore professional and master life coaching, to help you to gain clarity and avoid some of the common misconceptions about life coaching.

What is life coaching

Life coaching is guiding, facilitating and empowering people to progress from where they are now, to where they want to be.

What’s the definition of life coaching?

It couldn’t be simpler to understand the root meaning of Life Coaching. The word ‘coach’ comes from the mid 16th century: from French ‘coche’, and from Hungarian ‘kocsi’ (wagon) from Kocs.

A ‘coach’ or ‘carriage’ gets you to where you want to be.
In the 18th century, the word ‘coach’ started being used as a verb.

Today, when we ask “What is life coaching?” we use answer that the word ‘coach’ for someone who helps us to get from where we are now, to where we want to be in life.

coach here to there
coach here to there life

What life coaching isn’t? The difference between Life Coaching and Mentoring and therapy.

Mentors impart their wisdom, advice and expertise to the Mentee (person they are mentoring).

In life coaching we don’t tell someone what to do, teach or share our advice. Instead, a coach helps the coachee to find their own best solutions and wisdom within themselves.

Many of our trained coaches combine mentoring and coaching. Coaching skills make mentors more effective and more empowering.

Life Coach vs Mentor vs therapist

“Am I already a Life Coach?” you may ask.

“If I’m already helping people, listening to them well and guiding them to grow, doesn’t that mean I’m a life coach?” 

Ah, not so fast!

Many well-meaning folks make this mistake. Being friendly, guiding and counselling, mentoring and leading—aren’t these all the same as coaching? No.

Being able to help others might mean that you already have natural talents and skills—but coaching skills are very specific. Check out this “Do you have what it takes to be a life coach quiz” to get a sense of where your gaps are.

professional life coaching vs natural

Professional Life Coaching is different from natural life coaching.

Just as much as singing around a campfire is very different from being a paid professional musician, your natural coaching skills are different from professional certified life coaching skills.

The most respected coaching industry governing body is called the International Coach Federation (ICF) benchmarks the industry by credentialing professional coaches at 3 levels of competency (ACC, PCC, MCC – see our ICF Guide) and by accrediting coach training programs (ACTP, ACSTH and CCE).


  • ACC = Associate Certified Coach
  • PCC = Professional Certified Coach
  • MCC = Master Certified Coach


  • ACTP = Accredited Coach Training Program
  • ACSTH = Approved Coach Specific Training Hours
  • CCE = Continued Coach Education

All our short courses (modules) and full Master Coach ACTP are accredited since 2012; I am an MCC and accredited PCC Marker Training Director.

To get credentialed, you need to prove you are skilled at the ICF core competencies, meaning there are specific life coaching skills required to offer professional life coaching.

So many people have the true meaning of coaching mixed up with mentoring, training, guiding, developing, etc. So let’s clear up the confusion and help you to really understand what professional life coaching is. 

What does a life coach do

What does a life coach do?

Life coaching is when we guide and facilitate conversations or meetings in such a way that our coachee (the person being coached, usually a client) achieves any or all of the following:

  • Establishes clear goals (dreams, aspirations, objectives).
  • Finds their own solutions (we don’t give advice as professional life coaches – read more later).
  • Creates action plans.
  • Discovers insights about their learning, progress and themselves (the ICF call this exploring the WHAT and the WHO, “What the client wants to achieve, and who they are.”
  • Builds personal accountability, focus and commitment. Another clue! As coaches, we help people to help themselves; we don’t carry their burdens or police their progress. This doesn’t mean we don’t challenge our clients, we care deeply, but we partner we don’t police.

When learning how to life coach, I strongly suggest you understand 4 stages of progress – confident clarity, credible certification, custom coaching and client cash flow. Each stage is natural and important. If you are new to understanding life coaching, you are in the 1st stage of your path.

Who can a life coach, coach?

Because as true life coaches, we don’t give advice; we can coach anyone who wants to make change or progress.

Life Coaching is not for those who don’t seek change, growth or transformation. 

Mixing advice-giving with coaching is a blended approach. We teach our students how to offer pure coaching and how to blend coaching with their other areas of expertise where they would offer advice.

What can a good, great and master level professional life coach do?

As mentioned, there are 3 levels of coaching skills, called ICF Coaching Credentials.

  • ACC, PCC and MCC (Associate, Professional and Master certified coach, respectively).

Here is a quick outline of what each credential brings you. I hope that this inspires you to strive to become an MCC Master level coach. Besides being able to charge more, Master Coaches generally are able to coach at deeper levels, facilitating powerful growth and change for their clients. 

Our graduates learn all 3 levels, but we teach MCC master levels of skill from day 1 because this is where the life-coaching coaching happens.

In a NUTSHELL, the 3 levels of life coaching skills are ACC, PCC, MCC.

 ACC Associate level… the life coach can:

PCC Professional level… the life coach can do all of the above, plus:

  • Coach wholistically, helping the client find intuitive, creative and “out of the box” thinking.
  • Guide the coachee to find their own best ways to overcome their obstacles to success.
  • Create a space for deeper thinking and meaningful new awareness.
  • For example, InnerLifeSkills Global Coach, our 6-month online course helps you to gain PCC skill levels.

MCC Master level… the life coach can do all of the above, plus:

  • Create a true partnership with the coachee.
  • Co-create the coaching experience, where the coachee helps to choose, shape and design their own coaching process.
  • Offer a deeply supportive space for the coachee to work on creating significant new awareness.
  • A master coach makes coaching look easy and very natural, there is hardly any evidence of coaching structures.
  • Create intuitive, relevant, spontaneous questions to meet the coachee where they are.
  • Be comfortable in the unknown unfolding of the session, and yet still achieve tangible valuable outcomes from the coaching session.

For example, InnerLifeSkills Master Coach, our 1-year online course helps you to qualify with MCC skill levels.

    Imagine being able to talk to someone for 10 minutes to 6 hours, and NOT GIVE THEN ANY advice, but still potentially change their life! Imagine being able to inspire, motivate and help people to help themselves.

    A qualified InnerLifeSkills Master Coach can coach at MCC levels, and they have a coaching toolbox with 52 coaching processes and 111 coaching techniques.

    Life coaching = Empower, Inspire, Guide

    When you learn to coach, you learn to empower, inspire and guide people to reach any goal, dream, objective and InnerLifeSkills coaches also help people to overcome inner obstacles (like fear, self worth and procrastination) and free their inner wealth (creativity, wisdom, insights and inner strength).

    Well trained life coaches can coach individuals and groups on any topic e.g. life goals, work and career aspirations, financial freedom, wellness and weight loss, personal growth and inner obstacles, dream building, etc.


    Certified Life Coaches don’t often call themselves Life Coaches.

    You may be surprised to realize that the core competency skills and methods used by professional life coaches are identical for executive, business and many other certified ICF credentialled coaches. This is good news because if you want to pursue this as a career if you choose the right life coach certification, you can use this certification for many different specialties.