Life Coaching is NOT a Substitute for a Medical Professional

by Don Smith

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It's frustrating sometimes to see the term life coach used interchangeably with a psychiatrist or other medical professional. I listened to a coach talk about trying to help a homeless guy awhile back and had to work hard not to laugh as he told his story.

The coach, let's call him Jeff, decided he was going to help this homeless guy, we'll call him Bob. Bob seemed very receptive to his teachings, but every time Jeff went to visit, he hadn't done anything with the information. Not only had he not done anything with the information, but he was asking the same questions over and over! After months and many hours invested, Bob was no farther along than he was when he first met Jeff.

You Can't Help Everyone

Jeff started thinking he was a horrible coach. “If I can't help this guy who clearly needs my help for free, how can I help anyone or ask them to pay me for my services?” he wondered.

Eventually, Jeff was able to get a high paying client, and the difference was night and day. The new client hung on every word he said and immediately took action on virtually every suggestion. She posted glowing reviews all over the Internet about how much he had helped even though he hadn't worked half as hard as he had with Bob, and Jeff's career soon took off.

The mistake Jeff made was in thinking that Bob was like himself, highly intelligent, driven, and willing to take advice. Unfortunately, not only was Bob not motivated, but his mind wasn't all there anymore. He also had a hidden drug problem which further complicated the issue. Bob wasn't invested in the process either, he had nothing to lose by letting Jeff talk, plus he liked the free meals he often got when Jeff stopped by.

Coaching a homeless man - man holding a sign saying I need weed
Probably Not Your Best Coaching Prospect

A Broken Window

I came into our office a little while back to find a broken window and huge chunks missing from the side of the building. As I was reviewing the security camera footage, I watched a disheveled guy walk down the middle of the road, then suddenly start arguing with thin air. He grabbed some rocks and started throwing them, then threw his book bag at his imaginary assailant.

Some of the rocks hit our window; then apparently, our building said the wrong thing because he came over and shouting at it and hitting it with yet another stone he picked up. Eventually, he wandered off, shaking his fists and muttering under his breath.

If you're a coach, stop thinking you can help guys like that.

Unless you have a facility you can lock that guy away from whatever drugs he was on and get lucky that he doesn't have permanent brain damage, you aren't going to be able to help. My point is, there are many people out there who need medical professionals, not coaches.

Who You Can Help

A coach's job is to help people reach their full potential. The ideal client is someone who is NOT mentally ill and has a realistic goal that you know you can help them achieve.

On top of that, they should have a solid understanding that spending money on a coach is not an expense, but an investment in their future. When people look at this as an investment, they aren't looking for a free handout; they are willing to pay to get the results they want.

They Have Skin in the Game

When someone has put some money on the line, they have skin in the game, and therefore actually do what you tell them to do (most of the time).

That's why banks require a down payment on houses. If you have to come up with many thousands of dollars to buy a home, you have skin in the game, and you aren't going to want to default. I wonder what the default rate would be if banks gave out loans with no down payment required.

I've had people making minimum wage come up with significant sums of cash to hire me as a coach because they want something different for their lives. I knew that it was a good investment for them, as what we were doing had the potential to have a massive impact on their lives, and with that sort of investment, they would put in the hard work required to change their situation. You CAN help people like that.

They Are Already Successful

Even better is the already successful individual who wants to take their life or business to the next level. They've already proven that they have the work ethic required to see projects through, and they likely have the resources available to invest in doing things right. People like this just need a little guidance, and they are off and running.

The guy throwing rocks at our window and fighting an imaginary opponent in the middle of the road at 2AM? You're probably better off leaving him to the professionals who have a room he can stay in for a while.

About the Author 

Don Smith

Happily married with five kids, Smith owns a technology company, is the founder of this site, has served on the board of directors for multiple companies, and loves playing soccer, hiking, and mentoring.

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