One of the best ways to understand what life coaching is, is to look into how it differs from counseling and mentoring. While coaching, counseling and mentoring are all similar (ie. they aim to help people overcome challenges or reach success), they are generally delivered by people with different credentials and different relationships with their client.
Not all counseling is the same, nor is all life coaching the same. However, there are some pretty big distinctions between these two fields. Counseling has been around longer and comes out of a pathology based practice. Counseling typically hinges on making a diagnosis of what is wrong and proscribing a method or series of steps that have been proven to work for other patients. Additionally, counselors tend to focus on the past, trying to help client uncover the root cause of why something is happening or why someone is feeling a certain way.
In comparison, life coaching is a relative newcomer to the field and is derived from a mixture of mentoring, sports psychology, and neurolinguistic programming. The idea behind life coaching is that there is not a fundamental problem to solve. Instead, the idea is that people can make changes or simply improve on what they are doing with the support of a coach, whose aim is to take what is working and make it even better. Coaching also focuses more on the present and what the client can do here and now to better her/his life.
Mentoring assumes that the person who is your mentor has already achieved what you are setting out to achieve. Because a mentor has already achieved what the client is setting out to do, mentors are usually older, more experienced, and share advice. In such a roll, mentors are similar to consultants, people paid for their opinions and advice because of experience in a certain area.
Coaching, on the other hand, is not typically preformed on the basis that the coach has experience in the area the client wants to improve on. In a life coaching model, the client is the expert in the client’s life, can discover what action steps needs to happen next, and is open to the coach’s questions and feedback, ready to stretch to reach that next level of performance.