A Change in Direction
'Life coaches' help
people explore a different path
"To be yourself in a world that is
constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest
accomplishment." - Ralph
By JOHANNA CROSBY
Two and a half years ago, Terri Maney of Falmouth
Illustration by JAMES
Her business needed a boost and she wanted out of debt and a bad
relationship. She needed more order in her life and in her house.
All of the above objectives seemed unattainable until she started
working with a personal life coach. With the coach's guidance and support,
the self-employed real estate agent quadrupled her income, became more
organized, and paid off her debt. She ended that unhealthy relationship and
began traveling, a longtime dream. She's now working on her next goal:
gaining financial freedom.
"I knew there were many more things I wanted to do with my
life," says Maney, 38 and single. "But
I didn't know how to get them. My coach helped me see the possibilities and
realize my dreams."
Many Cape Codders are finding they
can enhance the quality of their life and achieve greater success with a
personal life coach in their corner - a new kind of professional who is a
combination cheerleader, mentor, advisor, and guide.
Coaches help people set goals and reach them, help them tap their
natural strengths, and support them in making life-changing decisions,
according to the International Coach Federation, a professional group based
in Washington, D.C.
that accredits coaches. Life coaches work with clients in all areas,
including career, finances, health and fitness, and relationships. There
are even specialized "parent coaches" who help clients with
specific problems - like blending families or school choice - or general
Coaching first came on the scene about a dozen years ago in the
corporate world. The idea was that if sports professionals have coaches or
trainers to motivate them to reach their optimum performance, why not use
coaches to prod people to shape up their professional and/or personal
Hiring a coach
The International Coach
Federation offers these tips for finding the right life coach:
Educate yourself about coaching by reading
articles or checking Web sites on the Internet such as:
www.coachfederation.org and www.lifecoaching.com.
Know your objectives for working with a
Interview three coaches before deciding
on one. Ask them about their experience, qualifications, training, skills and for at least two references.
Relationship is an important ingredient
in coaching. Make sure there is a connection between you and the coach
that feels "right."
Life coaching has become a growing trend around the country in recent
years. Some reports estimate that up to 10,000 people from almost every
professional background now work as "personal life coaches" -
twice the number there were in the early '90s. There are likely more than a
dozen on Cape Cod, based on recent advertising and those connected to the
www.cherylrichardson.com Web site created by Cheryl Richardson, a life
coach, life-makeover expert for "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and
best-selling author (" Take Time for Your Life," "Life
Makeovers"). Trained to listen
As with many developing professions, there is no licensing requirement
or law to protect consumers from untrained or incompetent coaches. But most
coaches become certified by a coaching school after they've completed
courses, logged a certain number of paid coaching hours and passed a test.
"Unfortunately, at this time anyone can hang out a shingle"
and claim they're a coach, says Mie Elmhirst, a life coach based in Falmouth.
Over 140 schools around the country, though, including some universities
and colleges, offer life coaching training. The courses can take from 18
months to two years and are given in person, over the phone, or on the
"Some of the best coaches I know haven't had formal training,"
notes Marie Sultana Robinson, a life coach based in West
Barnstable who is a professional astrologer and published
writer. She has worked as a stockbroker and insurance agent and was trained
by Coach U.
"Some of what makes a coach is intuition. Some of it is skill. It's a
mix of things."
In searching for a coach, Robinson advises people to be aware of their
training but also look at their skills and how their style works for you.
Some coaches are more aggressive, while others are "warm, fuzzy,
feel-good coaches," she adds.
Professional coaches say they are trained to listen and observe and ask
probing questions. Unlike a therapist, a coach doesn't work on
psychological issues or focus on understanding human behavior. Instead of
delving into the past, they concentrate on the present and the future.
Coaching isn't meant to take the place of therapy to relieve psychological
pain or emotional disorders, according to the International Coach
"We aren't interested in why something happened, but what people
can do now" to get what they want out of life, says Morgaine Mary Beck, a spiritual coach who, like Elmhirst, was trained by Coaches Training Institute.
Coaching is solution-oriented; coaches help a client create a plan of
action. Typically, they assign homework between sessions and follow-up with
phone calls or e-mails.
Coaches say they believe a client can get better results and make
quicker progress with their guidance and support than going it on their
"Change is hard," Beck says, "and people often sabotage
Maney is convinced she couldn't have revamped
her life without Beck.
"It's important to have somebody on your team to encourage
you," she says, "and who makes you accountable to yourself."
Answers are Inside
however, question what a life coach can do for a client that a trusted
confidante or perceptive friend can't do just as well. Others think a
client can fare as well with a licensed therapist knowledgeable about, for
example, career issues.
The fact that coaches may work with clients who have psychological or
emotional problems concerns some observers, too, including therapists.
"The danger is that some of these people don't have the training or
experience" to handle what might come up, says Paul Laemmle, a Centerville
psychologist. Laemmle thinks coaches can deal
with work and career issues, "but when they get into more personal
issues, they have to be careful they are not overstepping their
People generally hire a coach because they feel stuck and want more out
of their lives, Robinson says. Coaching involves asking the right
questions, she says, to help people identify what they want and then help them move forward.
"I'm a mirror," Robinson says. "I'm showing you what is
happening in your life."
In coaching, the client is the expert, Elmhirst
says. The basic philosophy of coaching is that clients aren't "broken,
but people who are whole, naturally creative and resourceful, and have all
the answers deep inside themselves," she adds. Her job is to help
clients uncover those answers.
"People come to coaching because they want change. I hold them to
their dreams," she says.
Like other professionals, life coaches have their area of expertise or
specialties. One Cape coach specializes in working
with gay clients; another does divorce coaching.
Elmhirst focuses on 40- to 60-year-old women
who are in transition and men and women who have lost their life partners.
Robinson's niche is working with entrepreneurs and people in creative fields
including actors, artists and writers.
Linked by Phone
herself a "personal trainer for the soul." People come to her to
lose weight, attain balance in their life, have more quality time with
their children, or organize a life that is out of control and chaotic. Many
of her midlife clients feel bored, stressed out, or are in a job they no
longer find stimulating or satisfying "and are ready for a
change," she says.
Coaching particularly appeals to Baby Boomers who want more out of life,
Beck says, and have more disposable income to attain it. Coaching works
best for people who are extremely motivated to change and take action, Elmhirst notes.
Coaches typically don't meet with clients in person. Instead, they
conduct 30- to 45-minute weekly sessions by phone. Phone coaching is more
convenient and fits better into people's busy lives, Beck says. It also
helps both parties stay more focused and increases a client's comfort
"People often open up more on the phone," she says.
"There is a deeper ability to open up about hard things. We are
trained to listen in between the lines, to what is in their voice."
There are often e-mail exchanges, if needed, between calls.
Coaching costs aren't covered by health insurance. Monthly fees range
from $250 to $600. Some coaches offer special financial packages, and some
offer free coach support groups in person or online.
Most coaches offer potential clients a complimentary "sample
session" to see how the process works and whether they have the right
chemistry to work together. They may ask general questions like "What
three goals/dreams (professional and/or personal), have you wanted to
pursue, but haven't acted on?" and "What are the obstacles that
prevent you from pursuing these three goals?"
Coaches generally ask clients to make to a three- to six-month
commitment, but may work with clients for up to two or three years.
A year ago,
Lee DeStefano of Dennisport
was looking for direction. She credits coaching with turning her life around.
"I spent a lot of time doing something I didn't want to do,"
Coaching gave her the courage to quit her high-pressure, stressful job
in sales and become a merchandising representative for a national company.
The mother of six says she's also learning to take care of her own needs.
"I used to let the little things get to me. Now I let it go,"
she says. "I don't beat up on myself anymore."
Thanks to coaching, DeStefano finds her life
is more meaningful. She has more self-esteem and a greater sense of
Most coaches have been coached themselves and continue to maintain a
coach after they start working professionally.
"Some of us have all been doing this throughout our lives in
different ways," says Beck, who formerly had her own communications
business, taught parent workshops, and worked in sales and marketing.
"I was born to do this," says Elmhirst,
a former physical therapist. "I get a complete thrill out of watching
people grow and become fulfilled human beings."
(Published: October 5, 2003)