What is a life coach?

It's a question I've sometimes asked myself, i.e. exactly what is a life coach? (and what's more - do I need one?!).

Having spent a happy hour and half today chatting with Maggie Whiteley, Life Coach and all-round Lovely Person, I now feel I have answers to both those questions.

Some (by no means all) coaches, when asked to describe what they do will talk about focussing on setting goals, and getting you to change your behaviours to ones that move you towards those goals. They see their role as variations on a guide, a sporting coach, a personal trainer and behaviour- modification-motivator-type-person.

While Maggie recognises that this type of coaching is the perfect fit for some, and does work in these ways when called upon to by the needs of her client, in her own practice she sees her role as more like that of a fellow traveller or companion. She describes her essential take on her clients and her role in their lives as this:


“People are stunning, amazing; wonderful - we are all walking miracles, and for me coaching is getting people in touch with that, so that they are coming from that place, so they can do whatever it is they want to do – instead of coming from their hurts. For me coaching is about how to connect you with the miracle of who you are”


Maggie peppers this with a little bit of cheerleader and encouraging parent, with doses of support, encouragement and timely perspective re-setting in the mix.

Yes please, I'll have some of that.

What is life coaching?


Maggie's background is as an educator, trainer of other educators, counsellor and psychotherapist (and even, in a past life, as manager of Cortijo Romero!).

But, as she told me today, even though there is no simple, catch-all answer to the question of what is a life coach – that is turned out that she has been one all along.

For Maggie, coaching she is very much about personal growth and development and helping you to become the best version of yourself you are able to be.

While much life coaching focusses on discreet , time-limited projects or issues that the client wants to address, and will often not go into much beyond that, Maggie generally works at a deeper level. From the beginning of the first coaching session, she is listening out for how people block themselves, their self-critical voices – as well as for their strengths and talents and resources.

Which made me wonder...

How is life coaching different from counselling or psychotherapy?


Coaching can and does take account of emotions, past experiences and how they impact on us and so on, but where it differs from counselling and psychotherapy is that these are neither the focus nor the direction for life coaching.

Whereas in counselling or psychotherapy the therapist and client may want to dig deeper into those experiences, (uncover hidden details, decide what happened and how it made you feel and so on), Maggie explains the shift to a coaching mindset: that while emotions and past experiences may be part of the map, they are not the destination.

It's less about putting the emotions centre stage and following them down paths to the past, than about noticing when and how those old patterns come up and – key to Maggie's approach to life coaching - how they are challenging you to grow – right here and now, in the present.

(Maggie then tells me this lovely quote from the Talmud that I have never heard before and am now going to be repeating to everyone I meet for weeks:)



The role of emotions and the past in life coaching.


Maggie identifies self-criticism as the No 1 problem we all suffer from, and describes it as “the place that is there in every single one of us that says I'm not OK and I don't belong”, and her work as being about “working out what are the hooks that pull us down in to that place, and how to let them go”.

In order to leave behind the self-critical voices in our heads and get to what Maggie calls “our cutting edge”, where we are in the flow of growth, we need to step away from past but familiar discomforts, into the present challenge.

Maggie doesn't specifically work at the level of emotions but neither does she avoid them (on the contrary, as she puts it, “I can go anywhere” as her training and experience as a psychotherapist and counsellor has made her “fearless”)

But rather than make emotions and the past the focus for the work (which would be psychotherapy or counselling), she sees them as useful indicators that something is going on right now in the present, that we need to deal with, but are not doing.

As she points out, you don't need to take an emotion or a memory as a cue to fall back into your unsatisfying old patterns. Instead, you can take their presence as a nudge from your higher self letting you know that there is an option to grow going on here.

Maggie sees her role as helping to point that out, and to uncover the messages – and in doing so to encourage you to develop deep self-respect for who you actually are, rather than who you think you ought to be. When you can do this you can step into your own uniqueness and as Maggie puts it, “become the best “you” you can be”.

How does life coaching work?


All life coaches have different approaches, and Maggie's is to start by finding out in a first (complimentary) session if the two of you are a good match. A Maggie says,

“the relationship needs to work - it's really important that we both get a sense of how we relate. I might not be the best coach for them, they might hate working on the phone, or I might think another coach might work better with specific issues.”

Maggie also uses that session to find out what you as the client want, what you think coaching is going to give you that you haven't got at the moment, and how you would like it to support you

How can I try out life coaching?



Maggie works from her home in Spain over the internet and telephone with clients all over Europe. She works with individuals in this way and increasingly, in “virtual groups

(we're working on making available some of the information sheets Maggie produced from her "Keeping The Spirit Alive" tele-coaching sessions for Cortijo Romero website available - watch this space or better still, sign up to The Spring Blog to get updated automatically).

She also has a programme of weekend courses in London, with the next one coming up very soon, in May.

If you would like to work with Maggie in person – something I highly recommend as she is one of those people in whose presence you just feel, well, better - check out her next course at Cortijo Romero, coming up in June.


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For more words of wisdom check out this interview with Life Coach Maggie Whitelely







Forthcoming at Cortijo Romero...

The Dragon's Treasure *STAR PRICE*
with Fiona Primarolo & Rebecca Faro (Cardy)
Jul 21 - 28
Unfold your wings and fly into a creatively renewed life! *STAR PRICE

Write For Life *STAR PRICE*
with Diane Samuels
Jul 28 -
Aug 4
Insight, growth and creative exploration! *STAR PRICE*

Life Happens

.. It’s how you deal with it that counts

With Dr Cheryl Rezek

From Saturday Aug 04, 2012 to Saturday Aug 11, 2012