“Coaching is about removing barriers. It is about making desired ends accessible. It is about going from strength to strength.”
What is Life Coaching?
A relatively new social service profession has arisen over the past decade, called life coaching. Life Coaching is so ubiquitous and popular, and in certain ways has replaced faith communities as a place of support for life’s dilemmas. It is useful to describe what coaching does and how a model of coaching, as opposed to education, might be helpful for Christian formation. An understanding of life coaching can be hard to pin down because there are so many specialties within the field. This makes sense – life coaching is coaching for life and life is so multi-faceted. There are coaches who specialize in careers, some on finances, some on fitness, some on business development, some on nutrition, some on transitions, some on relationships, some on parenting, some on body issues, some on health issues, etc. etc.
Coaching as Training
One way to approach an understanding of life coaching is to draw a parallel with the difference between medicine and a personal trainer. If someone’s body is sick, then they go to a doctor. If someone’s body is healthy, then they go to a personal trainer to make improvements on the health and strength they already have. Coaching is a form of training. Life coaches work with essentially healthy people who want to capitalize on the wellness they already experience. Coaching is about removing barriers. It is about making desired ends accessible. It is about going from strength to strength. It is asset-based.
We are all familiar with athletic coaching: a person developing expertise in a particular sport looks to someone who has more experience in that sport to refine their skills and teach them the tricks of the trade. So it is with coaching: the life coach specializes in one area of life’s challenges, and, because of their experience, offers others the opportunity to refine their skill level and learn more tricks of the trade in that particular area.
The Practicality of Coaching
Coaching has become popular because it is practical and has a high potential to produce results. No one wants to stay stuck. People are looking for answers to life’s difficult moments or to life’s recalcitrant problems. Coaching appeals to folks because it is both systematic and individualistic simultaneously. A life coach follows a particular model; choosing a practitioner means choosing a set course of suggested action. However, the personal application of the model is just that: personal, individual, tailor-made.
In addition to the individual benefits, coaching also creates opportunity for connection to a community, a sense of belonging. Popular life coaches, such as Brene Brown, Barbara Sher, Richard Bolles, Tara Mohr, Martha Beck, or Elisabeth Gilbert have tremendous followings. They continually feed their community new and practical insights on how to move forward based on their coaching philosophy. Those who consistently attend to these insights feel like they belong to their coach in some way and, therefore, to one another.
Advantages to the Coaching Model
Coaching provides support and guidance over life’s humps. Perhaps in the past this was done around the extended family kitchen table or at the quilting bee, the barn-raising, the church social, or adult Sunday School. Coaching provides specific clarifying questions to specific problems without complicating the waters with extensive time or relational commitments. It gives people permission to say they are having trouble in one area of life and helps them use their strengths in other areas to tackle those troubles. It can be fun and provocative and deep and nurturing and practical all at the same time.
Coaching as a Helping Profession
Coaching is a profession in the same family of professions as teaching, counseling, spiritual direction, pastoral care, and social work. Coaching, like any of these, can be done in private practice or as part of another job. For example, a teacher may use some coaching tools to help move the class along on a project, a priest may use coaching tools as part of pastoral care, a social worker may develop a group coaching module to facilitate growth in a group of clients.
So, the basic definition of coaching? It is a model of helping that has arisen recently to allow for and to facilitate personal growth and development in a person in a particular area of their life. It uses a framework of tools to allow individuals and groups to uncover their strengths, eliminate their roadblocks, envision a pathway forward, and implement specific changes or transformations.
Marna Franson has worked with families and children for over twenty-five years, in the church and in educational settings. She is a Martha Beck Certified Life Coach and a Postulant for Holy Orders from the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas.
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