'It was one big expensive lie': Inside the big business of life coaching.

When we hear the words, "I'm a life coach", it's often met with many internal (or sometimes very visible) eye rolls, with a lot of people feeling suspicious about what the term actually means.

Their trepidation isn't always valid, but in many cases, it's completely reasonable.

You see, for someone to become a life coach, it takes few to no qualifications and experience.

Sure, you can do a short course, get a certificate of some sort and say you've been properly trained in whatever coaching space you dream to be a part of. But is it of the calibre of a psychologist or a psychiatrist? 

No. And we need to stop pretending that it is.

Watch: The 3 things people get wrong about trauma. Post continues below.

Video via YouTube.

Renae* still feels viscerally angry and taken advantage of when she thinks back to the moment she met Grace. 

"Grace was a friend of a friend and at a birthday party, she introduced herself to me and said she was a women's health and period coach. I was initially pretty impressed, as I had been dealing with some bad period pain and other female-health related frustrations, so I was looking to soak up any solutions anyone offered," Renae tells Mamamia.


As Renae and Grace got to talking though, Renae says she felt a twinge of doubt — there was no mention of Grace being medically qualified or having the relevant tertiary education. Plus, Grace had a big focus on 'healing' a woman's cycle, health and fertility with deep breathing, the power of attraction, working with energy and a mindset switch.

"Yes, in hindsight, it sounds like bulls**t and now I laugh when I reflect on all those things she was saying," says Renae. 

"But when you're in the thick of pain, discomfort and confusion about your health, you feel pretty desperate. And I was desperate for some sort of change."

Renae fortunately didn't invest any money in Grace's business, but she says she was close to it. 

"I was considering purchasing a health plan, which was in the hundreds of dollars. I looked up the prices of her one-on-one courses recently and it's now well over $1,000, which I find unbelievable. She had a qualification in the fitness space, and good for her. But I wasn't asking her for fitness advice or tips. I did a LinkedIn trawl, and all Grace had done was a week-long course with another life coach and she had been given a certificate at the end, therefore that made her 'certified' to give people health advice.

"I avoided one big expensive lie." 


For several years, Jarrod owner of F1 Chronicle, worked for a personal development company. He notes that it wasn't a completely terrible working experience, saying he saw some transformational impacts on the people using the company's services.

But that's not to say it was all roses. Jarrod tells Mamamia that he felt many of the coaches he personally worked with were prioritising making a fortune for themselves, rather than helping people.

"I'll never forget the moment when the blinkers came off for me, and I discovered that the majority of coaches are in it for their own ego and have no place getting inside the heads of their clients. Separate to my work I was part of an online forum community where coaches could ask for help with their clients, and someone mentioned that on the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale Test their client scored off the charts due to childhood trauma involving a close family member," says Jarrod.

"Normally, if someone gets a mid to high-level score, the best thing to do is to refer them to a psychologist or psychiatrist to look at getting professional help. What happened next shocked me. Coaches commented on how they had helped clients who had gone through a similar trauma, and gave the coach advice on how to help the client by using a technique that has the person relive the event to find the 'positive learnings' they could take from it."

Understandably, he found it "sickening".

"Some had no formal training, others had 'certification' from companies you could pay $100 to and watch a handful of videos — with no test or practical experience needed," he shared. "This was the point where I realised that so many coaches are actually ego-maniacs with a God complex who want to 'fix' people, and actually need more help themselves than the people they're trying to fix."


It's important to make some distinctions.

First, there are some proper accreditations for coaching, and professionals can be deemed skilled at this level. 

Tertiary education is not accessible to everyone.

Secondly, some find that a coach is available to offer them guidance at a cheaper cost than a tertiary-qualified mental health professional. This is not always the case, but we spoke to a few women who have paid for the services of a life coach, saying it was easier to book and get a prompt appointment, and was far more accessible. 

There are cases, however, of some life coaches charging a significantly higher price than psychologists. 

When it comes to mental health in particular, many are struggling to access traditional support networks, which are becoming increasingly scarce amid the rise in mental health awareness and the number of people seeking help. This is where coaches have stepped in, to fill an undeniable gap.

Sometimes, just having someone — anyone — to talk to can make a world of difference.


But herein lies the complexity: there are very few regulations around who can and can't use the term 'coach', meaning people without qualifications or accreditation can give themselves this title. This is not only a disservice to legitimate coaching professionals, but more importantly, to clients seeking advice in their moments of need.

When there is such little regulation in the coaching industry, it leaves room for personal interpretation — which isn't exactly the best thing when it comes to spaces where health advice is provided. 

I myself recently decided to see how long it would take for me to become a 'certified coach' via one specific coaching company's standards here in Australia.

I was told the course would take 16 days and would 'certify' me as a coach, hypnotherapist and more. If I wanted to be considered a 'Master Coach' this would take an additional seven-day course. In total, 23 days.

Dr Aileen Alegado is the Director and Clinical Psychologist at Mindset Consulting Psychology. She's been in the industry for 15 years and studied for 10 years for her doctorate in clinical psychology. 

Dr Alegado says it's a privilege being a part of people's journey towards change and growth.

This is a position many people hold in different facets, one example being coaching professionals. There are countless people who have benefitted greatly from coaching professionals, and this is something to be celebrated. Rather than demonising this subset though, Dr Alegado says it's more about clients going in with a clear understanding of the qualifications and accreditation of the professionals from whom they seek physical, mental or fertility help.


"I agree there should be something for everyone and I'm not anti-coaching and just pro-psychotherapy," she says. 

"[But] while I believe that there are benefits to having diversity and inclusion, there is a risk that some coaches lack rigorous psychological training that can do more harm than good. This may inadvertently expose people who may be vulnerable to being taken advantage of or exploited," she tells Mamamia.

"People who are seeking help may not necessarily know what 'gold standard treatment' looks like and it can be so subjective that the service they are receiving may be a waste of their resources, or worse, expose them to more distress. Psychological treatments performed by qualified therapists [such as psychologists or psychiatrists] are grounded in evidence-based science, years of training and supervision, and most importantly, a governing body such as AHPRA, which regulates their practice at a national level."

Aside from mental health and period health, there's another health space that has been dominated by coaching professionals: fertility.

Associate Professor Vinay S. Rane is a Senior Obstetrician and Gynaecologist. He tells Mamamia his sector has seen an increasing number of couples and women utilising fertility coaches. His perspective is interesting.


"My view is that this has been born out of necessity as our healthcare system is so overwhelmed that it is not always possible, more so in the public sector, for obstetricians, doctors, midwives and other practitioners to spend as much time or see our patients as often as we would like. That leaves our patients sometimes wanting to know more and as a result, they have sought assistance from fertility coaches and other support services," he explains.

"I think finding somebody that understands your individual set of circumstances, what your primary goals are, and to advocate for those things, and be supportive of shared decision making are all factors that weigh heavily into deciding who you would involve in your fertility journey. It is a real privilege and honour to be selected as that person, and I would like to think those called upon would see their role in this light, rather than just another job."

There's also the hope they would have the relevant experience and knowledge.

Ultimately, this whole conversation is about applying a 'buyer beware' mindset. Unfortunately, it is still up to us as consumers to do research prior to investing our money in any 'professional', while we wait for more stringent regulation.

As Dr Alegado notes, we are within our rights to ask for a professional's credentials, accreditations and experience in the issues we're wanting help with. It's more than okay to do your due diligence, and to ask for a brief consult to see if someone is the right fit for you.

After Jarrod's experience, he feels the same, recommending people be clear on what they want to achieve. He suggests speaking to some of the coaches' other clients for their feedback. 

"There are thousands of generic 'life coaches' out there who will take your money and help you feel good for a few minutes during your sessions, but they won't help you reach your goals," says Jarrod.

"The coaching industry isn't regulated and anyone can call themselves a life coach in a heartbeat, so please make sure your coach has your best interests at heart, not their own."

*Renae has changed her name for privacy reasons. Her identity is known to Mamamia.

Feature Image: Canva.

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