Michael Ireland who writes for a Christian Web site says he has the best of both worlds. He sees a psychotherapist for his bipolar depression and a life coach for meeting future goals. One of the issues on tap for his next life coach session is overcoming writers' block.
Ireland views psychotherapy as delving into the past where the therapist is the expert. He views life coaching as focusing on the future, where he is the expert.
"When I go to my therapist at the end of the session, he'll give me homework to do. I can do a similar thing with my life coach; he'll try and push me to discover my own answers," says Ireland. "That's really the fundamental difference between the two. One from a mental health standpoint, the other -- I'm trying to learn what action steps I can take to help myself."
The personal life coach is an offshoot from industrial psychology -- psychologists who help companies determine who to hire, or help executives meet their business goals. Paula Hemming, who heads the Minnesota Coaches Association, says personal life coaching isn't limited to business.
"People will want to turn their money life around; people want to change their health life. Sometimes it's just about establishing new habits. Most often it has to do with getting all the foundational pieces in place to really live your life purpose," Hemming says.
The first session with a life coach is in person, but subsequent sessions are typically conducted by phone. Hemming says the average fee runs $100-$200 an hour.
Life coaches don't have to be psychologists. In fact, they have no requirements at all.
Becoming a licensed psychologist requires at least a master's degree. Licensed psychologist Peter Zelles says life coaches who have mental health training can be very helpful.
"The benefit of this is that you get people who, for one reason or another, are hesitant about getting into a psychotherapeutic or counseling that are willing to see a coach," he says.
Zelles is a member of the Minnesota Psychological Association's board of governors. He says the downside of life coaches is those that have no mental health training may not know when they're venturing beyond their expertise.
"They may not be aware of the fact that they're dealing with something that's more significant than they can handle. And that's really one of the main areas of concern," Zelles says. "They're going to come upon people who may have very significant psychological problems and they don't recognize it as such."
(Life coaches) may not be aware of the fact that they're dealing with something that's more significant than they can handle.Licensed psychologist Peter Zelles
When asked about those concerns, Paula Hemming of the Minnesota Coaches Association said coaching is not counseling. She says practitioners should refer their clients to specialists when necessary.
Nevertheless, Hemming says life coaching isn't the only profession where clients can be vulnerable when talking about sensitive subjects.
"Nobody asks accountants why when somebody is sitting in their office crying about their money. Is it OK for that to be happening? An accountant isn't required to have a master's degree in psychology to talk to somebody about their money life, and talking about your money life maybe very vulnerable," says Hemming.
While life coaches are unregulated, one organization does provide credentials. The International Coach Federation, or ICF, requires applicants to meet minimum standards. The federation's Magdalena Mook says applicants must pass a written exam it administers over the Internet, as well as two other exams.
"We request our applicants to send us a tape of the actual coaching session, with the real client's permission, and the tape is evaluated by ICF-trained assessors," says Mook. "And the second part of the exam is the conversation on the phone between the applicant and the two ICF assessors."
Michael Ireland says he would never consider seeing a life coach and dropping his therapist. He says his life coach cannot help him with a chemical imbalance like bipolar depression.
"If somebody has a recognizable, treatable diagnosable disorder, they need to see a professional. On the other hand, if they think they have issues that a life coach can handle, then they should see a life coach," Ireland says.
It's unclear how many life coaches there are in Minnesota. Paula Hemming of the Minnesota Coaches Federation says, however, that the federation has 265 members.