What is Transformational Coaching?

Learn about the differences between various transformational coaching options and how to choose what´s right for YOU.

Transformational coaching.

Transformative coaching.

Transformation coaching.

Transformational life coaching.

Breakthrough transformational coaching


When it comes to the titles of coaches focused on transformations, things can get confusing. It may seem like a poTAYto/poTAHto situation in terms of semantics, but there are those who insist that there are clear differences between these types of coaches. However, the terms are often used interchangeably.

The biggest question seems to revolve around the use of transformational versus transformative

Transformational refers to creating a deep level of change by helping clients understand themselves and how they relate to the world. A transformational coach is a catalyst for insight into the often-hidden motives that we use to limit ourselves. 

Transformative refers to the approach used that creates the potential for that change...which is often exactly what a transformational coach uses. :-|

A transformation coach is one who focuses on creating this perspective shift that produces a lasting and meaningful positive change, whether it is related to something physical (like fitness) or mental (rewriting a limiting belief in order to pursue a goal.)

Perhaps the simplest way to think about it is that any coach using any form of transform in their title is focused on changing a belief or a behavior


Whether you´re considering working with a transformational coach, a transformative coach, a transformation coach, a transformational life coach, or a breakthrough transformational coach, all of these titles refer to an evidence-based approach that has been shown to produce impressive results in helping people shift their perspective and improve their lives.


For the sake of simplicity, I will use ¨transformational coaching¨ throughout this post. According to the International Coaching Federation, transformational coaching clients have shown:

62.4% smarter goal setting

60.5% more balanced life

57.1% lower stress levels

52.4% more self confidence


Transformational coaching empowers people to rethink and rewrite their reality. Coaches and clients engage in a process that focuses on awareness, alignment, and action around a particular topic. Rather than focusing on one particular goal, however, transformational coaching is a process that explores the beliefs, thoughts, and assumptions you may have that block your overall growth.


In this process, clients are guided to recognize and eliminate self-defeating thoughts that limit them and replace those with more positive stories about themselves and their possibilities. With a skilled transformational coach, clients can become the best version of themselves. In addition to swapping a particular limiting story for one that serves them better, they develop the ability to recognize new limiting beliefs as they arise and eradicate them before they cause harm. 


The roots of transformational coaching can be found in the work of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. But the concept of transformation were further enhanced by the transformative learning theory of Jack Mezirow.  His initial theory was that adults find new perspectives in order to understand things as they change, and that there were important learning opportunities connected to the students´ past experiences. With his focus on adult education, he found that critical review and exposure to new thinking could transform a student´s learning experience. He embraced the idea that adult students learn best when they critically analyze and transform what they believed and understood as children. This expands our world view and allows us to gain insight more easily. 


The combination of Mezirow´s transformative learning theory and transformational coaching techniques can contribute to a highly effective understanding of how we learn, and how, as adults, we can change what we believe to be true.


Each transformational coach chooses the precise technique they deem to be most effective for each client, depending on their challenges. The overall aim of transformational coaching is to help clients recognize the limits they place on themselves and release these so that their potential is unlocked. These limits can be related to health, fitness, relationships, work, money, travel, or any number of possible growth areas that the client wishes to address. 


How is transformational coaching different from traditional coaching?


First, let´s look at what traditional coaching is in terms of its structure. 

Traditional coaching is: 

✔️ client-led (the client chooses the topic)

✔️ conversation-based (using questions and reflections to discover and understand)

✔️ client-initiated (the client chooses the timing of the start and ending of the course of sessions)

✔️ client-reliant (the change is created by the client´s own actions)

✔️ client-empowered (the client comes up with the best answer for themselves)

✔️ change-focused (a tangible shift rather than simply a release of thoughts and emotions)

✔️ potential-oriented (the client can grow and realize their potential for greater happiness and success)


Now, within the realm of coaching, there are considered to be three specific types, each with its own focus regarding change.


What are the three types of coaching?


The three types of coaching include:

  • Behavioral Coaching
  • Developmental Coaching
  • Transformational Coaching

Each one is useful and valuable, and the decision to opt for one over another is based on what a client needs and wants. 


Behavioral coaching is the most straightforward, as it is focused solely on meeting an agreed-upon goal. It is generally focused on the accomplishment of specific tasks toward that stated outcome. Though limiting beliefs may be addressed in the conversation, the focus is clearly on the process of taking successive steps forward. This works well when the client knows what they want to achieve and simply needs help to focus and stay accountable. 


Developmental coaching tends to focus on increasing competence in a specific area, such as relationships, health, communication, or other aspects of life that impact us on a daily basis. Rather than looking at short-term goals, developmental coaching emphasizes incremental improvement in the ability to build strengths that produce a positive long-term impact.


Transformational coaching is different in that it helps clients develop greater awareness about the deeper forces that shape their responses and choices in life, such as assumptions, opinions, and persistent beliefs rooted in past experiences. Rather than focusing on goal-setting, the aim of transformational coaching is to create a shift in perspective that expands your possibilities. If you are in the process of questioning the purpose of your life or understanding what motivates you, focusing on a goal is counterproductive. Instead, transformational coaching offers an effective way to create a deeper understanding of your own ability to change your thoughts and patterns of behavior.


What makes a transformational coach effective?


Because transformational coaching is based on recognizing the underlying influences that can affect your thoughts and responses, it requires a greater level of attention and intention by the coach. Not all coaches are trained or skilled in picking up on the possible sources of resistance that prevent you from progressing in the direction you desire. 


An astute transformational coach relies upon subtle cues and hidden clues revealed in the questioning and reflecting process, and an attuned level of mindfulness to guide you to reveal your underlying influences. In addition, the transformational coach must set the stage for you to see and understand how a persistent belief may be showing up in various areas of your life, and assist you in seeing and embracing positive alternatives to that old story.

To compare the three different coaching approaches, let´s say that you want to find a loving partner.


A behavioral coach might help you create a goal of getting started on a dating site. You would set goals such as creating your profile, reaching out to potential matches, and scheduling a first date. 

A developmental coach might focus on helping you improve your skills, such as asking questions during dates or appearing more confident than you feel. You would focus on gradually increasing your ability to connect with another person in order to establish a meaningful relationship.

But a transformational coach will pay attention to the way you talk about needing a partner in order to help you recognize a persistent pattern (for example, wanting a partner when you´re bored, lonely, facing the holidays, or due to family or cultural expectations.) If one exists, the coach will help you see what might be causing this pattern and how you can create a belief that will guide you in choosing what will be best for you when you feel that same need. Through transformational coaching, you are guided to clearly see both what motivates your behavior and what you can do to change it by rewriting your story.


And just to muddy things further, a single coach can offer ALL THREE types of coaching.

This means that you, as the client, need to understand what you are looking for, how much time and money you have to invest in coaching, and what your expected results might be in order to choose the right coach for your needs.


What are the benefits of transformational coaching? 


The biggest benefit of transformational coaching is its power to create a positive, meaningful, and sustainable change in your life. The awareness you gain in the process can be applied to multiple areas, and the skill developed in detecting and deactivating a limiting belief can be used whenever you notice resistance to a new idea or opportunity. 

Transformational coaching can spark optimal personal development that continues to enhance your life. Positive outcomes may include:

🔵 a deepened understanding of the dreams, fears, opinions, and assumptions that shape your perspective

🔵 an expanded view of what is possible in terms of your choices, roles, and accomplishments

🔵 greater confidence in your ability to choose what is best for you by considering how fear or resistance may impact your decision-making process

🔵 a clearer understanding of what gives you a sense of fulfillment 

🔵 a vision of what your true success and contentment look like and what you are and are not willing to compromise to reach these new levels

🔵 more empathy for others who are struggling with their own limiting beliefs

🔵 an enhanced ability to apply the story-switching process to personal relationships, including your roles as a partner, parent, adult child, or sibling

🔵 more kindness toward yourself, especially as you deal with the impacts of trauma


What happens during a transformational coaching session? 


In general, a transformational coach will use a process of questioning and reflecting that leads clients to realize the impact their limiting belief has had on their lives and choose to change it for a more positive story. Through thoughtful analysis and guided co-creation, the coach and client participate in an insight partnership that requires mutual trust: that the client is ready, willing, and able to be open to change, and that the coach is able to skillfully guide the process. Transformational coaching clients can choose from specialists who focus on either breakthrough sessions or extended coaching contracts

How is breakthrough coaching related to transformational coaching? 


Again, things can get confusing, as breakthrough coaching is often seen as a branch of transformational coaching, even though they can be identical in terms of the structure and intent of the sessions.

In general, breakthrough coaching results in an increased ability to understand self-limiting patterns and ways of being, working, and relating. It is a process that enhances mindfulness and self-mastery skills in order to help you choose what is best for you based on your clarity rather than your assumptions or opinions.

Some transformational coaches refer to breakthrough coaching as a more focused option that includes fewer sessions. Others refer to breakthrough coaching as a process that inspires a bold perspective shift that is then assimilated over time into greater ability to make clear-headed decisions in all areas of life and leadership.


But for our purposes, the best definition of breakthrough coaching may be that it goes deep, works with the underlying mindsets that affect behavior, builds emotional intelligence, and produces real and lasting change.


How long does it take to reach a breakthrough in transformational coaching?


While most transformational coaches will offer a coaching package with weekly or bi-weekly sessions over several months, others may focus on breakthrough sessions which can transform a client´s limiting belief to one that is powerful, positive, and productive in just one or two sessions. Whether a client chooses a breakthrough session or an extended series of sessions, the goal remains the same: to switch a negative story for a positive one that engages and inspires them.


Depending on the client´s goals, time frame for expected results, and ability to pay, they may opt for a breakthrough session in order to dive into the heart of the limiting belief immediately and create momentum quickly. Some limiting beliefs may be seen, understood, released, and rewritten in just one or two sessions if the client is ready and willing to take action. Common goals that can be handled effectively in this way can include old stories around abilities, such as a resistance to getting organized, fear of public speaking based on a past memory, or a belief about your inability to connect with others that prevents you from engaging socially.


What kind of support is needed after a breakthrough session in transformational coaching?


In some cases, a single breakthrough session may be all that´s required for those facing a persistent limiting belief that affects their behavior. This is more likely to occur when the beliefs are affecting the areas of communication, productivity, or daily habits. However, even with a successful breakthrough session, the key to locking in a new story is reinforcing and supporting it in the weeks immediately after the breakthrough session. Continued guidance for the first few weeks following the breakthrough session, whether in the form of email or messaging coaching or 15-minute laser-coaching calls, can help clients integrate their new story into their lives more deeply and reinforce it in tangible ways that inspire greater commitment.


An effective schedule may be a single breakthrough session followed by a month of weekly check-in sessions for both accountability and guidance. Because the client will be practicing their new skill in recognizing and eliminating limiting beliefs, they are likely to discover other stories that impact them. They will need encouragement to apply the same process in order to create new possibilities in that area. Unlike long-term coaching contracts, a breakthrough session with follow-up support should be an option that the transformational coach offers for those who wish to become self-guiding within a short period of time (for example, one month) rather than rely on repeated sessions.


For clients focused on long-term physical results, such as weight loss or fitness, a lengthier process is required. The transformational coach and client will work together over several months in order to continue to integrate the new belief and support motivation during any setbacks and challenges that arise. 


Who are the best candidate for breakthrough transformational coaching? 


Anyone can benefit from the process of examining limiting beliefs and understanding the impact of those beliefs on their habits, choices, and dreams for their future. It can be particularly helpful for those facing a barrier in their professional life, as these are often rooted in feelings of inadequacy, such as imposter syndrome, or habits such as procrastination. For those seeking guidance related to their personal lives, transformational coaching can offer fast, effective, and lasting results in eliminating persistent limiting beliefs that lead to choices which limit personal growth and keep the client stuck in a repetitive pattern. 


Can transformational coaching help trauma survivors? 


Trauma survivors can experience positive results with transformational coaching when guided by a skilled trauma-informed facilitator who understands the complexities of trauma-based beliefs and persistent behaviors. In fact, transformational coaching has become a popular option among those who are becoming aware of how their past traumas may be affecting their life choices and possibilities for personal success.


However, those who are facing acute trauma-based challenges (due to sudden loss, injury, or transition, for example) may find multi-modal therapy to be a better option than transformational coaching. And while many transformational coaches are trauma-informed and provide skilled guidance to help clients recognize the role that their trauma has played in creating their limiting beliefs, not all transformational coaches have training in this area. It´s important that clients and coaches have a discovery or clarity call prior to engaging in a breakthrough session so that this is clearly understood before the process begins. 


Transformational coaching can be a fast, effective, and lasting way to change your story into one that builds confidence and increases opportunities for personal growth and professional success. Whether you choose to start with a single breakthrough session (with or without subsequent support) or opt for a series, transformational coaching may be a more appropriate choice for those who feel competent in most areas of their lives but require assistance in one particular area. However, it has also been shown to be effective for those who are facing a questioning of their lives in general, especially during midlife transitions, in order to reveal the assumptions that may be limiting their level of fulfillment and excitement about their future.


If you feel that you may be blocked or limited in your life due to a persistent belief, transformational coaching can help you break through your barrier quickly and allow you to move forward with greater confidence and the skill to recognize and eliminate other limiting beliefs on your own. For those who wish to acquire the ability to be self-guiding in a short period of time, transformational coaching offers an affordable opportunity to learn, grow, change, and create your most fulfilling life.



Maya Frost is a creative breakthrough transformational coach and the owner of Switch Transformations. She helps women over 50 achieve bold creative breakthroughs that amp up their innovation, success, and FUN. Her uniquely effective Breakthrough Series includes a powerful Breakthrough Session followed immediately by 30 days of ongoing coaching, actions, and accountability.  

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