COACHES ALL THE RAGE
By Karen S.
Peterson, USA TODAY
growth is hot. Diagnosis is not. That is one reason America has seen a
boom in the number of people offering their services as "life
coaches." These guides give clients the confidence to get unstuck
— to change careers, repair relationships, or simply get their act
together. They also raise some eyebrows because they work in a field
that is virtually unregulated.
are not talking about being incompetent or weak. They are everyday,
normal people who have their lives together. They realize the value of
having somebody to help them think outside the box." — life coach
Laura Berman Fortgang.
coaches are a new option for the worried well — those whose lives are
only slightly askew. No longer do they need a diagnosis from a
psychotherapist who delves into the painful past. Using the telephone or
Internet, they can sign up with an upbeat life coach who becomes a
partner in defining a better future.
especially popular with men, who respond favorably to a term from
sports, says coach Patrick Williams, whose Institute for Life Coach
Training is based in Ft. Collins, Colo. "Seventy% of the caseload
in therapy are women; 60% in coaching are men," he says.
OK for a man to see a coach," says Martha Beck, a popular life
coach who guests on The Oprah Winfrey Show and writes a column
for O — The Oprah Magazine. "It is not OK for a man to see
trend is life coaching for teens, Williams says. He encourages
therapists to take his training program and switch careers to life
coaching. "We are training people to do family coaching, parent
coaching, retirement coaching. There are a lot of specialty
coaches of various types are working in the USA alone, according to a
review in the current Psychotherapy Networker, a magazine for
professionals. Many have signed on in the last five years to what has
become a flourishing — and unsupervised — industry that excites some
trend watchers but deeply troubles others.
many coaches take extensive courses, many others are without
credentials. Virtually anyone can declare himself a life coach, says
David Fresco, a psychology professor at Kent State University, Kent,
Ohio. "There are no qualifications, no unified approach to
coaching, no oversight board. Basically they fly under the radar screen
of any sort of oversight." And the virtues of what many offer are
unproven, he says.
experts also worry that untrained coaches will not realize when they are
dealing with someone who is truly troubled, someone who needs more than
a "good lesson plan and an enthusiastic cheerleader," writes Psychotherapy
Networker editor Richard Simon. "Coaches do not, nor do they
intend to, meet us in the dark places where we're most desperate,
lonely, enraged and fearful — home turf to most
The need to
recognize the wounded is one reason Williams encourages mental health
experts to enter the field. A coach must be able to recognize when he is
being asked to "step into the realm of therapy — or healing and
uncovering — rather than the realm of discovering and creating."
It must be clear therapy is not being offered.
began as a motivational tool for the corporate world. "It has been
OK to have an executive coach for some time," says the Psychotherapy
Networker's Jim Naughton.
business concept was based on organizational research "with
intellectual heft," he says. The practice has proliferated to
become the equivalent of having a personal trainer, he says.
coaches focus on enhancing the lives of clients, often talking about
balancing or "integrating" one's life, as Beck puts it.
usually begin by asking extensive, specific questions and honing in on a
precise set of goals. Homework may include writing in a journal, doing
various exercises including building a "life blueprint," and
reporting on progress with various "action plans."
There is no
quick fix, Williams cautions. Coaching often takes place over the course
of several months, often in half-hour, weekly sessions. Costs vary
widely. Williams says some coaches charge $300 an hour, while others say
charges are more typically $350 to $600 a month. Most insurance
companies won't pick up the tab.
coaching is "action-oriented, solution-oriented, concentrates on
forward motion," not looking at the past, says Laura Berman
Fortgang, a life coach based in Montclair, N.J. and author of Living
Your Best Life. Her clients, she says, "are smart, educated
people who want to make radical changes," many of whom are now
reassessing their goals following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
are not talking about being incompetent or weak," Fortgang says.
"They are everyday, normal people who have their lives together.
They realize the value of having somebody to help them think outside the
Sauers, 33, of Grand Haven, Mich., says Fortgang has helped her
"make a leap of faith" to a different career. She is leaving
her job in sales with an office furniture company to return to school,
concentrating on "something in sports psychology." She plans
to help local athletes, which will help her give "back to the
she says, "like I have more to offer. Laura has helped me tap into
my own genius, what I am naturally good at. This is my life. It is not a
dress rehearsal. I might as well be happy."
Fortgang's clients is reassessing life after Sept. 11. She has been a
coach herself but has decided to delve more deeply into the helping
professions. "Laura helped me ask myself the questions I had been
thwarting asking myself for 22 years," says Jennifer Van Zandt, 37,
of Princeton, N.J. "She helped me listen to my calling." Van
Zandt enters the seminary at Princeton University in about six weeks.
health professionals are debating whether to add life coaching to their
services. They are drawn to the field in part because they don't have to
deal with paperwork, insurance companies or managed care, Williams says.
They don't have to "pretend something is wrong" with a client
to satisfy an insurance company's demand for a diagnosis, he says.
keep their full fee, Fresco adds. The field is sometimes touted by
trainers who say coaches can make big bucks. "I am offended by the
fact they have emphasized profitability over the efficacy of their
profession," he says.
says life coaching will "change the face of psychotherapy, helping
people live a better life without the stigma of needing a diagnosis or a
visit to a psychotherapist they don't want or need."
much more skeptical on behalf of clients who may not know they need more
than a quick fix, Naughton says. "Positive thinking can only take
you so far."
Thornton is a licensed psychotherapist
AND a life coach. She is a member of the International Coach Federation
and President of the ICF Connecticut Chapter.
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