The dark side of life coaching: Safeguarding against pseudo-coach

Life coaching has emerged as a powerful tool for personal development and empowerment, helping countless individuals navigate life's challenges and unlock their full potential. However, like any industry, the field of life coaching is not immune to the presence of individuals who exploit their positions for personal gain, misleading clients and veering into unethical territory.


As a qualified life coach, I am deeply concerned about the rise of bogus coaches whose coaching practices are more cult-based or resemble the tactics of con artists. In this article, we will explore the darker side of life coaching, shedding light on the dangers associated with pseudo-coaches and how to distinguish between genuine guidance and manipulative tactics.

The rise of bogus coaches

In recent years, there has been some alarming stories of life coaches who have overstepped ethical boundaries. Some individuals have taken advantage of the unregulated nature of the coaching industry to engage in questionable practices and exploit their clients. Documentaries available on platforms like BBC iPlayer or Amazon Prime offer insight into these concerning practices.

Often these coaches are charismatic leaders weaving elaborate narratives and creating tight-knit communities that can be difficult for followers to escape from. Some have resorted to blackmail, threats of violence and emotional manipulation to maintain control over their followers.  

How can we stay safe when choosing a life coach?

Here are some identifying red flags to look out for.

Overemphasis on exclusivity

Beware of coaches who promote an exclusive, secretive, or elitist community. Genuine life coaches focus on inclusivity and aim to empower individuals from diverse backgrounds. Cult-like groups often use exclusivity as a tool to create a sense of belonging while isolating individuals from the outside world.

Manipulative techniques

Unscrupulous coaches may use manipulative techniques to control their clients. This can include emotional manipulation, gaslighting, and the exploitation of vulnerabilities. A healthy coaching relationship should be built on trust, respect, and a commitment to the client's well-being.

Excessive talking

I know this may sound strange, but your coach shouldn’t talk too much. If you are working with a good coach, they will ask you relevant questions so that you can gain insight and create goals. In contrast, pseudo-coaches may monopolise sessions, constantly lecturing or over sharing their own experiences.

Abusive language

Coaches should offer support, not engage in embarrassing or shaming language. If a client consistently leaves sessions feeling negatively about themselves, this is a significant red flag.

Putting themselves on a pedestal

A coach should not position themselves on a pedestal, dictating that you should emulate them for success. A quality coach treats you as an equal partner, fostering a collaborative and teamwork-oriented relationship.

Unrealistic promises

If a coach guarantees miraculous results or promises instant life transformation, it's a red flag. Legitimate coaches understand that personal growth is a gradual process, and success is not one-size-fits-all. Be wary of coaches who make grandiose claims without a realistic understanding of the complexities of personal development.  

Unreasonable requests

While some coaches may take on mentorship roles, they should never pressure clients into actions that feel uncomfortable. Coercion goes against the principles of genuine coaching.

Absence of a contract

A reputable coach welcomes a transparent agreement. If a coach refuses to enter a signed contract or expresses anger at the suggestion, it raises significant concerns.

Overstepping boundaries

Pseudo-coaches may overstep boundaries by making inappropriate contact, excessively monitoring progress, or pressuring clients to engage in activities beyond the coaching scope. Clear communication and boundary-setting are essential and this should be outlined in the coaching contract. Also, be very wary of any organisation that asks you to move into a special house or building to be with others in the same community.


Genuine coaches recognise the diversity of individuals and the need for adaptable approaches, coaching isn’t on a one-size-fits-all method. Also, if your coach reacts negatively to feedback, it's a red flag. Your coach should not get annoyed or say you are hurting their feelings if you question their methods or don’t adhere to their ‘rules’ – this is a form of manipulation and emotional coercion.

Recruitment pressure

Coaches pressuring clients to recruit others into coaching groups raise ethical concerns. Genuine coaching groups offer support without the need for recruitment pressure.

Financial exploitation

Some coaches turn to financial exploitation, pressuring clients to make significant monetary investments in their programs. Genuine coaches are transparent about their fees and prioritise the client's financial well-being. Be cautious if a coach insists on exorbitant payments or makes financial demands that feel uncomfortable, especially if they encourage you to get in debt. And be wary of pressured payment tactics e.g. you must buy today otherwise lose your 50% off coupon.


Feeling excessively reliant on a coach may indicate an issue, if you feel you are dependent on your coach, when making decisions, then maybe it’s time to take a break from them. Believe me, as a coach, I love to hear when a client decides they are ready to go it alone! It means I have done my job in empowering them to take action in their own life and that they now have the confidence to do this.

How can you protect yourself when working with a coach?

Do your research

Before engaging with a life coach, thoroughly research their background, credentials, and client testimonials. Legitimate coaches are transparent about their qualifications and are often affiliated with reputable coaching organisations. Do an in-depth search so you can look beyond positive testimonials to gain a balanced perspective.

Do not hand over large sums of money

Be wary of coaches demanding large upfront payments or pressuring clients to get into debt. Transparent financial arrangements are essential for ethical coaching, so make sure you are comfortable with the amount you are paying. Even better, if you're concerned, find a coach that you can pay per session!

Trust your intuition

If something feels off during your interactions with a coach or their community, trust your instincts. Genuine coaches encourage autonomy and personal growth, while questionable ones may exert undue influence and pressure. A lot of coaches offer a free or reduced cost coaching consultation to see if you are the right fit for each other.

Have a contract

A clear coaching contract is crucial for protecting both parties. Review it thoroughly to ensure it covers fees, session details, and the process for cancelling sessions or ending the coaching relationship. This is also your opportunity to set out your boundaries and you can request your coach to add these to the contract.  

Seek recommendations

Ask for recommendations from friends, family, or colleagues who have had positive experiences with life coaches. Personal referrals can provide valuable insights into a coach's effectiveness and ethical practices.

Avoid isolation

Be cautious if a coach encourages isolation from loved ones or activities you enjoy. Coaching should open your world to new experiences and possibilities, not make it smaller. Maintain open communication with trusted individuals from outside the coaching organisation.

If loved ones say they are concerned about you then listen to them and try to see things from their perspective. And if your coach starts to tell you to cut people out of your life, then this could be a red flag.

Assess suitability

Evaluate whether coaching is the right intervention for you, especially if you have past trauma or mental illness. As such, it is important that you check if the coach is qualified to work with your particular needs. Inappropriate intervention can do more harm than good, so explore all your options.

Verify insurance

Reputable coaches have insurance. Enquire about the insurance provider and check its criteria for coach membership.

If you find yourself feeling trapped within an organisation, remember, there's no shame in that. Often, the controlling process is gradual and it can be hard to notice early on. It's not your fault, and many individuals face similar challenges. 

Stay connected with those you've always loved and trusted, and be open to hearing their perspectives, even if they differ from yours or from others within the organisation. Don't close off communication with these loved ones. If needed, seek guidance from a charity support line for advice. If you sense any danger of physical, financial, or emotional abuse, reach out to the police, a counsellor, a doctor, or a health adviser.

If you believe someone you know may be at risk, try to remain calm, patient, and non-judgmental. Expressing anger or frustration may inadvertently play into the isolation techniques of the organisation. Keep communication lines open with your loved one, letting them know they can always turn to you, regardless of the circumstances. Seek advice and guidance from organisations that specialise in dealing with coercive or cult-like behaviour.

In conclusion, while life coaching can be a positive and transformative experience, it's essential to remain vigilant against potential exploitation. If you suspect coercion or exploitation, don't hesitate to reach out for help. Many mental health or abuse-related charities can provide support, clarity, and assistance in determining the best course of action.

If you're curious about life coaching and want to explore how it might benefit you, I offer a free consultation to see if we're the right fit for working together. You're welcome to reach out via my Life Coach Directory profile to find out more.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, OL6
Written by Joanne Forristal, Imposter Syndrome Specialist I ACT & CBT Coach.
Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, OL6

Jo is an Acceptance and Commitment coach and the owner of Dovestone Coaching. She helps clients respond more effectively to difficult thoughts and feelings so they can take action towards their value-based goals.

Jo is an OCD awareness campaigner and speaker. She continues with her own recovery and despite her OCD leads a full and meaningful life.

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