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What is Coaching? What Do Coaches Do?

In a relatively new field with few barriers to entry, there are a lot of questions. Is coaching some kind of therapy by another name? Is it like talking to your best friend? Why would someone hire a coach? What do you use a coach for? What might a coach do for me?

While the field is becoming familiar, I still talk to audiences on cruises where no one has heard of coaching.

The best analogy I can think of is the sports coach. No athlete gets to their peak without a good coach. The athletic coach is someone who understands the physical, emotional and mental skills needed for peak performance, and is able to teach these skills to someone else, shaping it to the particular and unique situation of the athlete involved. One person needs to work on their backhand. Another needs to learn to control his temper.

When you think about it, when you're faced with something new what do you do? Say you've been diagnosed with some disease you don't know anything about. Or say you'd just been told your house had some problem you didn't know anything about. If you're like me, you'd turn to the experts in the fields, doctors and engineers, but sooner or later, you'll start trying to find people who - ve actually experienced what you're going through.

Someone who has beaten breast cancer may be able to tell you some very useful things about coping with it from all aspects 'mental, physical, emotional and spiritual.

Someone who's had the foundation on their house settle can tell you their experience of 'the battle of the experts,' and, very importantly, the outcome. In both cases, we want to know 'How did this turn out?

There are also people who coach at the meta-level. Through education, or life experience, or both, they have knowledge of how to handle transitions, for instance, or career changes. They may not know precisely about accounting, or public relations, but they understand the process of choosing the right career for you, how to fit an occupation to a person, how to make a successful transition, and how to teach this to someone else.

Coaching started out as 'personal life' coaching, or 'business' coaching, but nowadays you'll find some coaches doing very specific work. If you look on the Internet, you'll find a Breast Cancer coach, a Responsible Recovery coach, a Marketing Coach, an Emotional Intelligence coach, an ADHD coach, The Naked Coach, an eBook coach, a Real Estate Coach, a Parenting coach, a Teen coach, and a Dissertation coach, and many more.

You'll find a whole host of qualifications 'from academic degrees, to coaching credentials, to actual life experience. And you will find a vast array of people doing this work. The majority of coaches still live in the US, but there are coaches globally, and since many coaches work by phone or email, you can swing a very wide net. Great for confidentiality, too.


By looking on a search engine, going to, or asking someone you know who's been coached. Word-of-mouth is always a good way to choose a professional in your life. Or call me (210-496-0678); I know lots of coaches!


Being 'lost' is one thing 'when you've just hit a wall, or can't figure out what you want to do next 'or at all. Specific challenges, like adjusting to a new position, child, spouse, or condition. All sorts of life skills, like getting organized, time management, stress management, building resilience, leadership, developing your Emotional Intelligence. Practical things such as cooking, potty training, house decorating, and writing ebooks.


Interview some! Most coaches offer a complimentary interview session. With some it's strictly interview, while others make it a sample session.

Chances are you'll either feel a 'fit' right away or not. You'll think things like 'I like this person, we get along, she's easy to talk to, or he really knows his stuff. Go with your gut instincts!


As many different methods as there are coaches.


It can go very rapidly. Sometimes I've gotten somewhere they wanted to go in one session. Other people I've worked with over a year. Coaching is not like therapy (see below). You could compare it in this respect to your accountant, or your general practitioner, nutritionist, or trainer. They are there should you need them, something you do for your wellness or to make your life easier. They're part of your life! Some coaches require contracts; it's up to the individual. Some require contracts for certain kinds of work but not for others.

With a physical trainer, for instance, you may start out and work for a while and then reach a certain goal and stop for a while. Then you may decide to go back for a tune-up, or further goals. The person already knows you so you don't have to go through the learning curve again.


It is definitely not therapy, though the field of psychology is changing, I think in part because of the emergence of the field of coaching. I believe the field of coaching evolved because it met a need that wasn't being met.

Coaching focuses on strengths, and the positive, and turns toward the future. It's a 'where do we go from here?' thing, as well as what skills do you need to get there, and what obstacles need to be removed. For example, if you recognize a need to be networking and don't like it and aren't good at it, instead of pondering why you don't and aren't, we would start working on the skills you can learn to reach your objective. With coaching, there's the opportunity for modeling, and also coaches are free to accompany you to, say, a networking event, and observe and give feedback. Neat idea, isn't it?

It's also not friendship, no matter how good a friend you have. Friends have their own agendas and issues, and cannot be objective. Coaching is work, pleasant work, but work nonetheless, and it also has ethics. It takes some training and experience to not put your 'self' into the equation, i.e., if you are timid about being an entrepreneur and prefer working for someone else, you might advise someone else against it, who is very equipped to be an entrepreneur and to succeed at it and love it.


Many coaches are also teachers, offering teleclasses, distance learning courses and ebooks. They offer workshops, presentations and seminars, and write special reports and white papers.


Coaches generally accept credit cards, PayPal or other online payment, money orders and personal checks, depending. Fees vary.

The best way to find these things out is to give it a try. Look up some coaches' websites and read about them and their work. Then email some to schedule a sample phone session. If you've never had coaching, you won't know exactly how it works, you're your coach will know! It's free. You have nothing to lose.

This is something really nice you can do for yourself this year.

STEP ONE: Schedule a sample session!

Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach, offer coaching, distance learning and ebooks around emotional intelligence for your personal and professional development. Transitions are a specialty. for free ezine. For daily EQ Tips, send blank email to


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