Coaching over the past 30 years has evolved from a poorly understood career choice to an increasingly standardized profession. What began as professionals from a variety of industries branching off to help others improve their lifestyles is now a well known branch of the mental health field.
As an indication of how far coaching has come, the Harvard Business Review published an article in 2004 titled “The Wild West of Executive Coaching,” which spoke about “the untamed terrain of executive coaching” and about how “no universally reliable credential exists to identify capable coaches.”
Today, over 15 years later, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Trained life coaches now go through courses and programs designed to equip them to facilitate healthy habit change, and some choose to pursue niche specialties to help others with a specific area of life. The most impactful improvement to the field of coaching over the past 30 years is a focus on evidence-based techniques and standardizing credentials needed to practice as a coach.
The first official life coach training program was developed in the 80s to help individuals coach organizations towards success. From there, the practice has blended with psychology as many of the techniques designed to facilitate change stem from behavioral science.
Best practices of the field have changed for the better as well, as almost anyone could call themselves a “life coach” before the industry was well established. Now, it is widely accepted that professionals wishing to practice coaching must undergo extensive training from an ICF-accredited organization. Certified life coaches can now establish credibility and pursue higher education knowing their techniques are standardized across the field. Although there are still “life coaches” operating without credentials, clients and organizations have a better understanding of who to trust now that certification programs exist.
Coach and Author of Coach the Person, Not the Problem
Another key progression for the life coaching field has been its adoption of evidence-based behavioral techniques.
Life coaching techniques were highly anecdotal at the start of the profession. Experts from various fields would share personal insights to guide others without necessarily having proven their techniques to succeed. As the profession grew, it became clear that standardized techniques would drive client results and help coaches build clinical skills. Although the profession differs from therapy, the main goal of both is to promote healthy habits and mental well-being of the client.
Life coaching and therapy both heavily rely on behavior change methods. A heavily used technique in life coaching is motivational interviewing: asking open-ended questions to guide the client conversation without telling them what to do. These questions are used by the life coach to bring the responsibility to the client to decide their own motivations and act on them. Techniques like this are used widely among modern life coaches to ensure personal experience does not take away from the clients’ agency.
“The success and ongoing growth of coaching is due to one fact: it works,” Reynolds adds. “Other attempts at motivation and influence aren’t as effective.”
Business growth and opportunity has become a major development and driver of popularity among new life coaches. The first life coaches helped executives in organizations succeed, but now, most people qualify as great candidates for life coaching if they need help reaching a goal. This wide application of coaching has become a lucrative opportunity for the coaching market, as coaches can specialize in helping a variety of people, from those looking to improve their healthy habits to those looking to land a promotion. Developments in other industries such as marketing and education have driven the life coaching field as well.
Coaches can now build a personal brand or teach courses on a subject and make a generous living as an expert on their craft. These opportunities to niche down and scale influence have turned coaching into a future trillion dollar industry.
Technology is perhaps the most powerful driver of the coaching industry, allowing coaches to reach past geographic barriers to help others. Coaching is no longer limited to face-to-face sessions as coaches can conduct phone calls, video sessions, and even support clients through messaging. Aside from increasing ease of connecting with clients, technology has allowed coaches to expand their personal brands and authority to masses.
Increasing amounts of coaches are marketing services on social media and building audiences over video content, books, and podcasts. This blends the idea of coaching and teaching, as clients now have the option to benefit from life coaching simply by listening to a podcast. Lastly, coaches can serve multiple clients at once thanks to technological advances. Group coaching can be facilitated on video calls and coaches can develop online courses available to be sold to thousands at a time.
Coaching as a profession has evolved not only in standardization of the practice, but in the economic value of entering the industry. Thanks to evidence-based techniques legitimizing the field and client success rates, coaches have more authority to attract clients and in turn, make a great living. Technology and innovation of modern coaching techniques are only continuing to drive life coaching as a widely accepted industry in the mental health field.