What is Coaching?

What it is, how it works, what it’s for—info galore.

Lisa Sanchez
6 min readOct 23, 2017

Coaching is a practice that helps people grow and get unstuck in work and life. It’s a partnership designed to uncover your own truth and creativity.

A starting point

There are different philosophies of coaching, and they have a lot in common. I won’t unpack the differences here. At Cocoon, I practice co-active coaching, which is taught at the Co-Active Training Institute (CTI). So that’s the coaching perspective I know best; that’s my starting point here. It’s based on a fundamental belief that people are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.

What is coaching good for?

Coaching is forward-looking. It’s a practice of learning from your present—what values you hold; what internal and external resources you have; what’s important about who you are—to design a life in which you are being your best self, making the difference you want to make.

So, coaching is great for moving forward. If you feel like you’re spinning in circles, or just stuck, coaching can be just the thing to shake things loose. People often begin working with a coach when they’re about to:

  • Start a new job
  • Change careers
  • Level up at work
  • Start or finish a creative project
  • Move to a new place
  • Pivot their business
  • Improve their wellbeing
  • Find their voice

What’s the difference between coaching and therapy?

This is a common question, since coaching and therapy both use conversation as a primary medium.

Therapy often looks to the past to uncover the why behind our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, then works to shift unhealthy patterns to healthy ones. Therapy treats trauma, grief, addiction, depression, anxiety, and many other mental health concerns. And even more broadly, it helps improve self-awareness, relationships, and overall wellbeing.

Coaching isn’t therapy. It doesn’t diagnose or treat mental health concerns. It can be a great complement to therapy, but it doesn’t replace it. Coaching looks toward the future, expanding one’s sense of possibility, then providing accountability to make things happen.

Can I have both a therapist and a coach?

Certainly. It can be helpful to let each know you’re working with the other.

Can I bring emotions to coaching?

Definitely. At Cocoon, I like to say that tears are in scope, and emotions are information. They tell us so much about what matters, and where we’re headed.

What’s the difference between coaching and friendship?

Friends swap stories. There’s a balance in a friendship—over the course of months and years, you take turns sharing what you’re going through. A coach sets aside her own stories, experiences, and expectations to become a mirror for you. Coaching conversations are entirely about the client.

Should We podcast episodes where we talk about becoming coaches.

What’s the difference between coaching and consulting?

Consultants often identify a problem, propose solutions, offer advice, and sometimes guide the implementation of a solution.

Coaches, in contrast, don’t give advice or fix problems. That’s because of a fundamental belief that you are the expert on you. A coach helps you find your own answers and choose your own next steps. The outcomes of coaching depend a great deal on what the client does between coaching sessions—what experiments they try and discoveries they bring back to coaching.

What’s the difference between life coaching, leadership coaching, and executive coaching?

Coaches often specialize in different areas of interest or specific populations. Most types of coaching address the whole person, but the specialization provides an entry point.

For example, if you’re an executive, you might seek out an executive coach: someone who specializes in coaching executives. Your intention for seeking out coaching might be to become a more inclusive leader. But the content of your coaching sessions will likely go beyond the office. For example, you might discover that a subtle change to your morning routine shifts the way you show up at work.

Or you might seek out a life coach if there’s something you want to work on in your personal life, like taking up a creative practice. If you have a day job, work will likely factor into your conversations too, since it affects the time and energy you have for your personal goals.

At Cocoon, I use the term “leadership coaching” because I love empowering leaders who break the mold. I work with people who want to lead with courage and creativity. I define leadership broadly: leading teams, writing books, designing products, telling stories, speaking up, and creating change. I especially love working with people who are underrepresented in their fields.

What happens in coaching?

Coaching happens through the medium of conversation. Things that might take place over the course of the conversation: imagining, role playing, visualizing, being quiet, writing, drawing, moving your body. It can be playful, creative, serious—sometimes all of the above.

The character of each session depends a lot on what you bring to it—your topic, your energy, and your tone. Your coach will co-create sessions with you that meet you where you are, stretch you, and give you space to surprise yourself.

Is coaching for me?

If you’re ready to dig deep and you’re on the cusp of change, coaching might be right for you. Here are a few questions to think about as you start looking for a coach:

  • How much time are you willing to invest in the process? How often can you make time for coaching sessions? How much time and energy will you devote to action and reflection? Keep in mind that much of the transformational work happens between sessions as you process what you’re learning, try new experiments, and create new rituals.
  • How much money are you willing to invest in coaching? Coaching engagements usually have a minimum timeframe of at least a few months, to allow space for deep learning, iteration, and transformation. Think about how much you can afford on a monthly basis, and how much the thing you’ll be bringing to coaching matters to you. What do you have to gain by working with a coach? What else have you tried to achieve your goals? What’s at stake?

How much does coaching cost?

Coaching rates vary a lot depending on the coach and their specialization. We’ve found that many coaches charge between $125 and $350 per hour for individuals. There are also coaches who have lower rates while they’re in training, and there are lots of coaches who offer a sliding scale or pro bono coaching for underserved populations. CTI has a great tool where you can search for coaches using all sorts of criteria, including rates.

Corporate coaching rates can range widely, from about $300 per hour to over $1,000. That’s based on factors like the coach’s expertise, organizational complexity, the types of challenges the organization is facing, travel time (if coaching takes place onsite) and schedule flexibility required of the coach, the length of the engagement, and the seniority of people they’ll work with.

At Cocoon, I work both with individuals and with companies.

How do I choose the right coach for me?

Most coaches offer free sample sessions. They’re the best way to find out whether a coach is right for you. Some coaches also have podcasts, which give you a chance to learn more about who they are and what they stand for. Here’s mine.

If you’re interested in working with me, I’d love to hear from you! Please pop over to Cocoon and schedule an intro session.