Intended for healthcare professionals

Career Focus

Get yourself a life coach

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 11 June 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:s241
  1. Ruth Chambers, professor and clinical dean
  1. Facility of Health and Sciences, Staffordshire University, r.chambers{at}


Losing your drive? Get yourself a life coach and get out of the bus lane says Ruth Chambers

What is life coaching about?

  • Believing in possibilities

  • Being accountable

  • Challenging assumptions

  • Having a sounding board

  • Being motivated

  • Having a catalyst for change

  • Devising strategies

  • Thinking creatively

  • Setting and achieving goals

  • Being action oriented

  • Considering different options

  • Deciding what action(s) to take

Life coaching is becoming fashionable— professional newspapers are peppered with articles and promotions for individuals and teams. A life coach can offer you direct help with your work or career in the same way that a sports coach urges an athlete on. So if you're at a stage in your life where you seem to have stalled in your career or are feeling negative about your work or your work-life balance is up the shoot, why not try a life coach? They'll help you beat your negative thinking and focus on what needs to happen for you to be in more control of your life, move forward, and be successful.

What does a life coach do?

A good coach motivates and encourages you to improve your skills, knowledge, and attitudes in your personal and professional lives. They'll establish a good rapport with you, give you constructive feedback, and you'll set clear objectives together.1 They'll stretch and challenge you and encourage you to solve problems and make changes by yourself. A good coach is analytical rather than critical. They depersonalise the problems you discuss by focusing on facts, outcomes, and performance rather than your personality or style. So although it's all about you, the way they approach coaching means that you shouldn't feel threatened or defensive.

Life coaching involves a combination of psychology, business, and communication skills. Coaches work through one to one conversations with you, in person or by email or telephone. Coaching usually starts with an evaluation of your current effectiveness and your use of time and your priorities. Your life coach will encourage you to reflect on how you might build on your strengths to change your current situation. They will get you to see for yourself what is stopping you from progressing as far or as fast as you might otherwise do. They'll maybe use mind mapping, visualisation, goal setting, open questioning, brainstorming, and other action oriented techniques.

If you enrol with a life coach you'll have someone on your side. The box describes what it's all about.2

How does it work?

Staffordshire University recently trialled life coaching for local GPs, funded by the health authority.3 Three accredited life coaches undertook coaching of 46 volunteer GPs in Staffordshire and Shropshire. The life coaches gave the GPs introductory telephone coaching sessions to ascertain that coaching was right for them and to check that they would not be better served by an alternative intervention, such as counselling or psychotherapy. Up to six hour-long coaching sessions were organised over a three month period. The initial session was face to face and the remaining sessions were conducted over the telephone, with email support offered in between coaching sessions if required. All sessions and support were provided by the same life coach for each individual GP.

Of the 46 GPs who volunteered and were then offered coaching after the introductory talk with a life coach, 39 completed more than one—and up to six—coaching sessions. Seven GPs subsequently failed to commence the coaching programme because of competing time commitments.

Most of the GPs (70%) said that coaching was “very useful” and the majority felt that the series of six one-hour coaching sessions was about right. They had noticed a positive change in their effectiveness at work as a result of coaching—in time management, effectiveness in consultations, communication and decision making, organisational skills, and handling paperwork. Typical comments included, “I am getting to the point, making decisions and acting on them,” and “I am clearer about decision making and have time to weigh things up and then be more effective.”

Half of the doctors coached had made a change to their career plans as a result of their coaching experience. Several of these (five GPs) had thought of changing their career path or giving up work but had now reconsidered. A middle aged inner city male GP said coaching had “helped make my decisions more rational. I might have given up, so having time to talk things through was very helpful.” A female GP in her early 30s reported that she “nearly changed jobs and as a result of the coaching I didn't.” Other GPs said that they now had a much clearer idea of what they wanted to do and that coaching had given them confidence to make decisions.

Three-quarters of the GPs had noted an improvement in their work-life balance which they attributed to receipt of life coaching sessions. Typical comments were about being able to separate home life from work and say “no”. Several GPs described feeling “less guilty about having time to yourself, more leisure time,” and experiencing “increased relaxation.”

Who should your life coach be?

Look for a life coach with loads of experience as a coach and a professional qualification, for example, in clinical psychology, occupational psychology, a diploma in counselling, a master practitionership in neurolinguistic programming, or psychotherapy. You might prefer a coach who has worked in the NHS or value the independence of a coach outside your field.

Ask around, if a colleague, local trust, or professional body can recommend someone. Look at reliable websites like, which can match you with accredited coaches and give you more information about what to expect from a coach. Have an initial trial and see if you click—if so, you're off and away. ■