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We Asked Life Coaches What Exactly Life Coaches Do

Some of us could use a life coach just to get through simple errands, and North Texans are all about paying someone to keep them motivated during the pandemic.
Some of us could use a life coach just to get through simple errands, and North Texans are all about paying someone to keep them motivated during the pandemic. Nick Dolding/Getty
When Lupe Prado graduated from college with a degree in accounting, she landed a job in one of the "Big Four" accounting networks (Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PwC). For accounting majors, this was the pinnacle of success, and Prado was living the dream. That was until she began to have chronic headaches.

“I learned so much, and I worked with brilliant people, but I was working really long hours and just really stressed out and not feeling like the work was in alignment with my strengths,” Prado says. “I was not feeling that sense of fulfillment, and I had really bad headaches that wouldn't go away. I had an MRI done and they couldn't figure out what it was.”

At the time, Prado’s family and friends urged her to scale back on her workload, citing a possible correlation between her physical pain and her stress. While she didn't follow most of the unsolicited advice, Prado did look into one suggestion: getting a life coach.

“I was so desperate, I was really unhappy that I was, like, ‘I'm just gonna try it, whatever. Let's see if it will work,'" Prado says. "I had no expectations."

The decision led to a transformative experience, Prado says, when she hired Dallas career and life coach Kristin Taliaferro. In her first session, Prado remembers she had an "aha moment" and pinpointed feeling stuck in her career. What followed was a three-year coaching relationship between Prado and Taliaferro in which Prado had breakthroughs in her career and health. Prado says her headaches disappeared within two weeks of her transitioning out of her stressful role at work.

Delighted by her results, in 2017 Prado enrolled at the Coaches Training Institute. In 2018, she opened her own business as a career and life coach.

“Life coaching is a partnership between the client and the coach, where I ask questions, as a coach, to help them get clarity and take action,” Prado says. “It's different from therapy in that therapy can focus on the past and coaching focuses on the present and the future. And it's different from consulting and mentoring, in that I won't give you insight as a coach because research shows that giving advice doesn't necessarily help with long-term change.

"People tend to stick more to things that they really figured out for themselves, so the coaching process is just helping. It's like I’m holding up a mirror for the client to see themselves more clearly.”

Life coaching is a future-focused relationship in which the client is expected to act on their own to achieve a goal or milestone with the guidance of the coach. Life coaches vary in specialties from career coaching (Prado’s specialty) to relationships, self-image, finances and wellness. The coaches act as unbiased accountability partners who highlight the details, patterns and mindsets that clients have overlooked and challenge them to analyze and make changes.

For Prado, the approach to this relationship is gentle. She prides herself on being a deep listener. She asks questions and allows for her clients to arrive at their own conclusions.

“Most people walk around feeling like they are not really listened to, and in coaching we listen more than we talk, and that process can really unveil mindset patterns, thought patterns, and that can be really helpful,” Prado says. “Sometimes we don't realize that we are worrying about being stuck without really doing anything to change.”

For some, the coaching relationship may sound like a glorified friendship. Friends and family rarely shy away from giving unsolicited advice. But despite their best intentions, loved ones can't remove their on biases and at times self-serving motivations.

“I don't tell people what to do, and that's the difference,” Prado says. “When we go to our friends and family, they tell us what to do and why you should do this, and that doesn't take everything into account. And so when I'm listening, I'm just pointing out things like connections and values like, ‘It sounds like connection is really important to you. Oh, when you mentioned this other thing, and what's important for you?’ And so through that process, the client gets a lot of clarity. And then I'll say something like ... 'What are the next steps for you?’”

The average life coach takes on about 12 clients at a time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Life coach clients can expect to meet with their coaches on a weekly or biweekly basis. In these sessions, which nowadays are typically virtual or via telephone, clients discuss a particular goal they want to achieve or a habit they want to break or obstacle they're facing. Sessions last about 45-60 minutes on average.

During these sessions, coaches outline plans and tasks for clients such as quitting a job, setting boundaries, initiating conversations, joining a dating site, expressing and identifying emotions and any other tasks that will help the client. Having to report back to their coaches in subsequent sessions motivates clients to act on prescribed tasks.

Like most industries, coaching was affect by the pandemic, and Prado says the demand for life coaches has increased. With more people working from home, the lines between work and personal time have become blurred and clients expressed discontentment due to isolation, burnout and toxic work cultures.

“People want to feel like they're making a positive impact through their work. They want to feel a sense of purpose in their work. They want to be challenged,” Prado says. “People have different values, and they want to be able to have those values at work such as a value of connecting with people, and connections are really important. But if they're stuck behind a computer, on the spreadsheet, and they never had interaction with people, that would leave someone feeling really drained and burned out.”

Victoria Foster of Dallas’ E & R Life Coaching LLC defines a life coach on her website as someone “who listens to what you are going through, asks questions, helps you to formulate a plan and will hold you accountable along the way.” Foster assigns her clients homework that varies by client depending on their desired outcomes.

“I had a client who wanted to network, but didn't feel like she would be able to carry on those conversations when she got into those networking arenas, so we did homework,” Foster says. “One of the homework experiences was that person stepping out into a networking event and then coming back and speaking to me about how that event went and how it would look the next time she went to an event. It’s not just the coaching experience. It's what happens after and how you use the tools that I give you outside of the coaching experience.”

Foster calls herself “The Restorer.” She specializes in personal growth, confidence, relationships and marriage. She has coached individuals in building confidence to achieve career and personal goals, to resume dating, to develop intimacy and find a shared vision with a partner.

“Whatever you don't think you can do, I promise you by the end of the amount of sessions that you have selected that I will have you there, but it also takes a commitment from the client to be an active participant and take it seriously,” Foster says. “I call myself ‘The Restorer’ because I take you where you didn't think it was possible to be.”

"People tend to stick more to things that they really figured out for themselves so the coaching process is just helping, it's like I’m holding up a mirror for the client to see themselves more clearly.” – life coach Lupe Prado

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While the structure of a life coaching session may seem similar to a therapy session, the two are not interchangeable. Trained as a counselor, Foster worked in the field of social services as a mental health advocate before being a life coach. For Foster, life coaching differs from social services and therapy in that life coaching serves to build on strengths and doesn't focus on a diagnosis and treatment of past trauma.

Alexis Cavo, owner of life coaching firm Paragon Consulting, initially pursued a career as a therapist.

“Therapy is going to be a lot different. As far as coaching, we focus on the present, and we're more of a future-focused practice and therapy,” says Cavo, who used to work at a behavioral health hospital in Dallas. “Therapy is a lot of touching on the past, and you use a lot of different types of theories and philosophies. As far as coaching, we're very much, 'Where are you at right now? What's the circumstances right now?' And we focus on the future. It's a lot of goal setting, accountability, coaching, and it's a holistic approach versus therapy.”

For clients who lack motivation, feel stagnant or lack control of their emotional reactions, Cavo encourages them to analyze their behaviors. Cavo says clients are able to imagine, create, dream and develop goals and desires resulting in an increase in motivation.

Because the field is subjective, that looks different for every client.

“A positive mental breakthrough is whenever you have an epiphany, or I call them 'Aha moments,' where you realize something that you have been doing in your life has been creating a habit that you don't necessarily love, and you're able to recognize why you were doing that,” Cavo says. “You're able to make a change from a positive thought that's going to bring positive results.”

Kari Jorgensen had her epiphany in January 2021 with Paragon Consulting life coach Giana Garcia.

“I tend to get in my head and overthink things a lot,” Jorgensen says. “Even if I achieve the goal, there's a lot of mental duress in the process, and I think this really helped me unpack that, and understand why it was happening and how to get past it.”

Garcia led Jorgensen through what Paragon Consulting coined “The Life Model,” in which clients work through their personal circumstance with their coach by analyzing the thoughts and feelings it provokes. The coach then guides them through developing a plan to generate positive results.

Within four coaching sessions, Jorgensen was able to work through insecurities preventing her from making the progress she wanted. Jorgensen successfully continued blogging after self-doubt caused her to stop, a goal she set with her first couple of coaching sessions. Jorgensen says she still uses the principles from “The Life Model.”

Life coaches stress the importance of a consultation before entering a coaching relationship. Jorgensen says  there it's important to gauge chemistry.

“The first step is to have a consultation or reach out to learn more,” Jorgensen says. “During that conversation you're going to learn if things seem like they're aligning and if you think you're going to have a good relationship with the coach. Giana and I ended up having an amazing relationship, and I felt like she was really able to understand where I was, and I feel like that dynamic is very important.”

Foster advises those seeking life coaching to do their research online, find coaches who resonate with them and set up consultations until they find the right fit. Cavo agrees.

“If you're looking for a coach, definitely interview. You're interviewing each other,” Cavo says. “But go and interview different types of coaches before you settle for one unless you feel super connected to that first coach that you meet with.”

However, not everyone is an ideal candidate for life coaching. The ideal candidate for life coaching should be ready for a change. They should be looking for clarity or purpose and be motivated to take the necessary steps to reach a short-term goal.

The initial consultations serve as a method for coaches to see if the match is a fit for them as well. With her experience in mental health advocacy, Foster has been able to recognize when a client is showing signs of depression or anxiety. In those instances, Foster urges her clients to seek therapy or consult with a licensed medical professional before going forward with the coaching relationship.

Another key distinction between coaching and therapy is regulation.

“Life coaching is not a regulated industry,” Prado says. "Really anyone can call themselves a coach."

Life coaching is not regulated by the government and does not require licensing, but there are certifications available that serve as credentials for life coaches. Both Foster and Prado are certified coaches.

“The certification helps by telling people that you take your job and your role with them seriously and that you're not just out here throwing out anything to try to help them or to bring them on as a client,” Foster says. “I think that certifications do help people take the field more seriously.”

Prado is certified through the International Coaches Federation (ICF), a global membership-based coaching organization. The ICF offers three tiers of credentials: associate, professional and master certified coach certifications. The certifications require up to 200 hours of training, 10 hours of mentor coaching, 2,500 hours of coaching experience, performance evaluations and assessments.

Because life coaching is customized to the coaches' and clients' preferences, the longevity of the relationship, session frequency and costs vary greatly. Despite the popularized Oprah Winfrey Network’s depiction of Lindsay Lohan’s life coaching experience, life coaches don't integrate themselves into a client’s physical life like a sober coach to keep them on track.

According to Choosing Therapy, a medically reviewed publication website, a short-term coaching relationship lasts about six months and a long-term coaching relationship lasts about a year to two. The average cost of a life coach is $120 per hour, which most health insurance does not cover.

Prado says her three-year relationship with her life coach was longer than average.

“For most people it can range from a few months to a year," Prado says. "Three years was probably above average, just because I loved it so much, but it really depends on what the goal is. So if it's like a longer goal, like a career pivot, that takes a little bit longer, and it's not a couple of sessions, because there's a lot that has to be worked through.”

Foster says her average client relationship lasts about four months with biweekly sessions.

Considering the lack of regulation, in the event that a client relationship begins to go astray, the most likely consequence will be the termination of the relationship.

“Life coaching is not a regulated industry. Really anyone can call themselves a coach." –Lupe Prado

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For Prado, the benefits outweigh any risks.

“It's an instant investment, but it's one that has a ripple effect, really, for the rest of your life,” Prado says. “It is still a positive ripple in my life having worked with my coach years ago. I tell everyone she changed my life; it's definitely worth it.”

Life coach Verónica Cordonnier was introduced to life coaching through the UnF*ck Your Brain podcast right before the pandemic led to Cordonnier's being laid off from her job as a corporate project manager.

With time to  reflect, she focused her energy on self-coaching with the guidance of UnF*ck Your Brain podcast host and master certified life coach Kara Loewentheil.

“I’m a fun, feminist, non-judgmental combo of life coach, feminist mentor, and hilarious best friend ... except I give way better advice than your friends do," Loewentheil says on her website. "And I actually teach you how to act on it.”

Loewentheil’s feminist approach appealed to Cordonnier, and soon Cordonnier realized that she, too, had been coaching in her prior job. Through her work as a project manager, Cordonnier led fundraising efforts for public media where she coached individuals on how to develop the confidence to approach others and successfully generate funds for the cause. Cordonnier realized she could take these tools and apply them to coaching others.

In December 2020, Cordonnier opened her own business, BiConscious Coaching Co. She used her life experience as an immigrant, bisexual, polyamorous, feminist, activist and Latina to bring life coaching into new spaces.

“I noticed that the majority of coaches were white women, and I saw what a great benefit and value they had, and all these tools and learning hacks for people, but they were really servicing a lot of other white women,” Cordonnier says. “I knew I could help people and train people on their mindset, and it's important to me to do it as a marginalized person myself, because if I could have somewhat of a struggle as a light-skinned fluently English-speaking Latina, if I can have the experience of still feeling kind of outside of coaching, then people who are even more marginalized than me, or darker than me, or came over more recently than I did to North America, then how are they going to be able to reap the benefits of coaching if they don't see anybody that looks like them?”

Cordonnier also hosts The BiConscious Badass podcast, which offers free access to life coach advice and tips from other coaches and community leaders. Her Facebook group, Instagram and Patreon also allow people to explore the benefits of life coaching.
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Desiree Gutierrez is a music and culture intern at the Dallas Observer. Equipped with her education from Dallas College Brookhaven Campus and the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism, Desiree has transformed the ability to overthink just about anything into a budding career in journalism.