(CNN) -- "Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years?"
Seeking serenity or direction in your life? The growing number of life coaches want to help.
It's one of those questions many job-seekers dread during an interview, but it can be daunting to answer on a personal level as well. Amid all your responsibilities, activities and projects, it's sometimes hard to see the big picture and easy to become overwhelmed or feel like you're lacking direction.
That's where a life coach can come in.
"If you are frustrated with an aspect of your life, not sure how to stop making the same choices you keep making or just want to have more happiness, peace of mind and passion -- life coaching can do that for you," says Rhonda Britten, founder of the Fearless Living Institute.
Life coaches can specialize in areas like relationships, careers or personal growth. They promise to motivate, offer support when clients need a boost in confidence and help them decide which direction to take. Quiz: Are you off balance? »
"In a perfect world, everyone could figure this out for him or herself, but we live in such a complicated time ... that most of us need all the help we can get," says life coach Libby Gill.
A big part of the process is figuring out where you are in life and where you want to be, but for many people, being asked to set personal goals is akin to being told to eat your broccoli.
Elizabeth Scott, life coach and a stress management expert for About.com, says she can help them get unstuck.
"Often, people need someone to help them take the dreams they have in their heads -- the visions of what they want to do next with their lives -- and do the work to make them a reality," she explains.
Life coaches are part of a growing profession. The International Coach Federation (ICF) says it has more than 12,000 members worldwide, or double the amount just five years ago. In a survey commissioned by the ICF last year, 16 percent said their coaching specialty is "life vision and enhancement," the third most popular area behind executive and leadership coaching.
The survey also found that women make up more than half the clientele of professional coaches.
Britten, who's been a life coach for 12 years and was featured on the reality TV series "Starting Over," says a typical client is age 35 to 55, is "at a crossroads, must make a decision and is sick of choosing out of safety and fear."
Don't expect a therapy session when you meet with a life coach. While some have a background in counseling, the process is different.
"In simplistic terms, a therapist is [there] to heal the wounds of the past, and a life coach supports you in moving your life forward," Britten says. "My rule of thumb: If a client tries to convince me of someone else's wrongdoing more than three times, I know they are not ready to move forward, and I suggest therapy might be a more appropriate option."
Scott says another big difference is that therapists try to help people with problems, while coaches help already healthy people improve their lives.
It's also important to remember that life coaches are not regulated. There are numerous coach training programs across the country, but no one national standard for certification. Associations like the International Coach Federation have their own credentialing programs, but there is no requirement for anyone who wants to practice life coaching to take part.
Mental health experts say life coaches can help improve someone's life, provided they're qualified.
"Learning skills to handle stress, adversities and other life challenges -- regardless of the source -- is a positive step for any person," says psychologist Dr. David Shern, president and CEO of the nonprofit group Mental Health America.
He urges anyone interested in going to a life coach to research the profession thoroughly, and he says that life coaches are probably not the best solution for people with serious mental health problems like depression.
"In addition, only a fraction of people can afford this type of personalized care," Shern says.
Finding a coach
Just like hiring any professional, you should do some homework and shop around before choosing a life coach. Since it's someone you'll be working with closely, and probably revealing a lot of personal information to, it's key to look for someone with whom you feel at ease.
"As with any relationship, it's important for coach and client to 'click' interpersonally. You need to be comfortable with your coach's personality and communication style," Scott says.
The International Coach Federation recommends talking to three prospective candidates and requesting two or more references from each. It advises asking the coaches lots of questions, including how much experience they have, how many people they've worked with and what specific successes they've had in helping their clients.
"The best way to find out which coach is best for you is to ask for a sample session and then use that time to get coached on a real problem, not to ask questions about coaching," Britten says. "Trust yourself. If the coach isn't supporting you right off the bat, say 'thank you' and move on," she adds.
You can search a database of coaches credentialed by the International Coach Federation at its Web site: www.coachfederation.org. The International Association of Coaching has a similar tool listing its certified members at www.certifiedcoach.org.
Working with a coach
Once you've found a life coach, be prepared to open your mind and your wallet. Britten says an hour-long session with one can cost from $40 to more than $500. (She charges $400 for a 50-minute session.)
Many coaches require a three-month commitment to start, and you're likely to talk with them once a week, in person or by phone.
"Remember that you get out of the coaching experience what you put into it, so hire a coach when you're ready to make changes, and devote your attention to doing the work," Scott advises.
"A coach can be a powerful asset, but they will work in a partnership with you, and you determine where you want that partnership to go." E-mail to a friend
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