What life coaching is (and what it isn’t)

Emily Whitton
By Emily Whitton,
updated on Apr 13, 2023

Two people looking at laptop.

We’re highlighting the benefits that coaching can bring when used appropriately and the importance of working with a qualified professional

A new podcast from the BBC, A Very British Cult, addresses the findings of an investigation into a so-called ‘life coaching company’ - Lighthouse - which has been taking over the lives of those involved.

Findings from the investigation - which started in June 2022 - reveal how Lighthouse has taken hundreds of thousands of pounds from their mentees since its inception, over time working to isolate the individuals from their friends and families, and calling for them to devote their livelihoods to the company.

Speaking with two past mentees from the organisation, journalist Catrin Nye, host of A Very British Cult, uncovers what was really going on behind closed doors. What initially started out as seemingly ‘normal’ coaching quickly turned into members taking out loans, investing money into the company, delving into past traumas and cutting ties with family and friends. “Nearly all those who've been part of Lighthouse have told us they think Lighthouse is a cult”, Catrin says.

Life coaching as an industry is rapidly growing in popularity in the UK. There are an estimated 80,000 - 100,000 people working in the field, but the lack of regulation means anybody can call themselves a “life coach”. With this in mind, there’s certainly an element of vulnerability for anyone who’s considering working with a coach to better an area of their life. So what should you be looking for and how do you know they’re legitimate?

What is life coaching?

Life coaching involves working with a coach to change an aspect of your life. Perhaps you’re looking to address your work/life balance, or you’re seeking to find more motivation in order to achieve a specific goal or life change. Maybe you want to live a more fulfilled life or overcome a problem you’ve been struggling with, and need someone to help you do it.

In episode three of the podcast, Mark Fennell, a life coach with 10 years of experience says, “It’s not therapy, it’s not counselling. It’s life coaching. The main difference is that it’s future-focused - where are you at? Where do you want to get to, and what’s holding you back from that?”

Also in the episode, Catrin references a conversation with Caroline Jesper, head of professional standards at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). After listening to phone calls provided to the BBC between a Lighthouse coach and mentee, Caroline told Catrin, “If any of [her] members behaved in this way, the association would investigate under its professional conduct procedure.”

What Lighthouse provides is not a professional, trustworthy life coaching service - nor is it counselling. As Mark says, “It’s absolutely not within a Life Coaching remit to discuss mental health, trauma or medication”.

What are the benefits of coaching?

When used appropriately and when working with a professional, life coaching can be truly transformative. There are a number of benefits to coaching, including:

  • Empowering you to make decisions.
  • Helping you build personal awareness.
  • Gain perspective in a safe, supported environment.
  • Provides clarity, direction and focus if you’re feeling ‘stuck’.
  • Giving you accountability.

In this video, life coach Alex Bowman shares his top four benefits of coaching.

What life coaching isn’t

A coach will work with you. They will offer you support and guidance, helping you to work things out and find a clearer direction or idea of where you want your life to be headed.

Lighthouse claimed that the work they were doing was, in fact, coaching - helping people realise their potential, by starting businesses and unlocking their careers. But to do this, Lighthouse would encourage mentees to borrow large sums of money, take out loans and even sell their houses to fund mentoring courses.

This is not something an experienced and qualified coach would encourage from any client. “Not a chance. We’re not financial advisors. If someone is doing that, they shouldn’t be doing that. This is going to paint a bad image for life coaching”, Mark says.

During his interview with Catrin, Mark goes on to say that coaches won’t bring up past traumatic events - this is where it sways toward counselling and therapy. Also, coaches won’t tell you who you should and shouldn’t involve in your life, noting that it’s “disappointing” to hear this has been going on.

If you’re struggling with mental ill health, trauma or other serious concern, it’s important to work with someone trained in that area, such as a counsellor or GP.

How do you find a life coach you can trust?

As coaching isn’t a regulated industry, it’s important to find someone you trust - someone with qualifications and experience in the support you seek. Not all qualified life coaches will be a member of a professional body, but being so means they have met the requirements set by the organisation and agree to follow a code of ethics. Finding a coach who is a member of a professional body can, therefore, be very reassuring.

At Happiful, we understand how vital it is to know your therapist or coach is trained and trustworthy, which is why, for each of our wellness directories, we have a thorough approvals policy that must be met by each professional in order to list their service. The Life Coach Directory was established in 2009 and is one of the UK's leading coaching websites. We’re dedicated to connecting you with qualified coaches, located across the UK and online. To be listed on our directory, coaches must provide us with proof of the following:

  • A relevant qualification AND insurance cover; or
  • Proof of registration with a professional body.

All our coaches have met the above criteria for membership. We only advertise verified professionals, meaning we’re a directory that you can trust. If you’ve hit a crossroads and you’re looking to connect with a coach, simply browse through our members’ profiles until you find one that resonates with you and pop them a message.

Listen to all episodes of A Very British Cult on BBC Sounds and Apple podcasts.
Read the full story on the BBC.

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