The New York Times has a pretty good article on life coaches and what they do. I particularly like the fact that the coach they feature most prominently comes, as I do, from a business background: many coaches come from a social work or psychotherapy background, and while those skills are essential, I don't think they're sufficient. I find that my strategic and business knowledge are particularly helplful to people who are stuck with their careers or, obviously, businesses.
One thing that I do that I don't see other coaches doing is include an explicit political framework in my coaching. Not that I tell people whom to vote for, but I do incorporate my conviction that many people are stuck or unhappy not through any fault of their own, but because our hyper-capitalist, hyper-corporate society has decimated our authentic communities, overwhelmed our families, and striven to reduce vibrant, creative, independent-thinking individuals to passive, compliant workers and consumers. For the kind of people I coach - the ambitious dreamers who will fight to retain their dreams and sense of self - the disconnect between who they are and who society is pressuring them to be can lead to incredible confusion, stress and unhappiness.
Then we get to the "micro" level of life as an employee. I believe that many jobs are oppressive, if not abusive - and I'm not talking about the extreme examples involving harassment or discrimination. Even the ordinary insults and injuries of worklife - the regimentation, hierarchies, lack of respect, lack of caring, and bad management, etc. - can damage one's psyche, particularly over a period of years. More specifically, many of my coaching clients blame themselves for work "failures" that weren't their fault at all. I'll be writing more about all this in another post.