The seedy underbelly of the life coaching industry

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Many people turn to life coaches in moments of crisis. Some find what they’re looking for in these programmes – but others find disappointment, even scams.

Can a coach guide you to succeed? A growing cohort of people believe so. They are turning to professionals who promise self-improvement to change attitudes and habits, and set them on a course for personal and professional wins.

Life coaching is a sprawling, multi-faceted industry that can include career coaches, financial coaches, happiness coaches and empowerment coaches. It’s worth billions, and only growing: the International Coaching Federation estimates that the industry is worth $4.56bn (£3.64bn); and between 2019 and 2022, the number of life coaches rose by 54%, making it one of the fastest-growing careers in the US. This boom is happening alongside the “people development” industry that’s emerged throughout the past 15 years, say experts.

The pandemic catalysed two major shifts that provided a business opportunity for would-be life coaches. First, throughout the past several years, many people have struggled with mental health; additionally, many have also found themselves re-evaluating their priorities, goals and values.  

“The mental health fallout from the pandemic has left many people feeling lost and in need of guidance,” says Emily Maguire, who works as a career consultant and life coach. “If you look at trends in internet searches regarding life coaches, you’ll find that the most common topics that people search for are those that specialise in career coaching, ADHD, confidence, relationships and anxiety.”

Maguire also adds that social media has allowed life coaching to boom. It’s now common to see individuals selling not just their professional coaching services, but also their lifestyles on platforms including Instagram and TikTok. They promise their course is the route to a similarly ideal life.

For plenty of people, life coaching gives them the push and clarity they need, whether they’re tackling adversity, pivoting careers or looking for a kickstart. Yet with rising concerns about the opaque and unregulated nature of the industry, some experts and clients alike say this system leaves people vulnerable to fraudulent practices, when anyone can call themselves a “life coach”.

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