My last winter in the frozen tundra of the Northeastern United States, otherwise known as Buffalo, there were plenty of days when the snow plows neglected to even attempt to plow my road. It wasn’t a good year; I was living in a cheap apartment on a dead end street, situated on the very fringe of the “bad” part of the city. My sweet digs featured a gas-hogging heating system circa early 1900’s, drafty windows and an ambiance rich with the sounds of screaming neighbors. All this I especially enjoyed on those days when the snow drifted up past my apartment door, imprisoning me inside the drafty hell. Add to this my brilliant idea to save some pennies on not investing in cable service, and this made for a pretty miserable snow day.
However, I did manage to get a few basic channels with a homemade antenna. The winter of 2003/2004 was a particularly snowy one and I got hooked on a TV show called “Starting Over”. Starting Over was a reality TV show which featured a houseful of mostly middle-aged women whom joined the cast in order to do just that, start over in life. They all had a variety of problems stemming from life situations, which they had come to the house to address via a “Life Coach”. A lot of the women came to conquer their fears. One woman came to get over her fear of water, another fear of driving a car. Still others joined the cast in order to get out of debt, loose weight, or deal with the death of a loved one. I found the drama on the same level as MTV’s “Real World”, because of the obvious attempt to put together people with such diverse views in order to purposefully cause conflict. However, “Starting Over” seemed more real to me in that it didn’t appear that the women were chosen with an obvious emphasis on physical appearance and the situations seemed more in-line with real situations woman faced as they got older. This differed from the pretty people on the “real world”, obviously chosen to entice a younger audience, where conflicts tended to arise from wild parties and rampant sexual urges.
As I watched “Starting Over” I was intrigued by the role of the Life Coach. First of all what is a Life Coach exactly? What kind of training does one need in order to become a life coach? What is the difference between a Life Coach and the various other kinds of counselors? Finally, at this time of year when so many people are; beginning journeys of self-discovery, promising to become fit, save more money, be nicer, be more productive, improve their relationships with loved ones, etc…what value, if any, could life coaching provide?
I found the following definition of what life coaching is at wikipedia.com; “Life coaching is a practice of assisting clients to determine and achieve personal goals. A coach will use a variety of methods, tailored to the client, to move through the process of setting and reaching goals. Coaching is not targeted at psychological illness, and coaches are not therapists (although therapists may be coaches).” Wikipedia goes on to say that life coaches should be chosen based on their success in a specific area to which the client wishes to concentrate on. Basically, if your goal is to become more physically fit you would select a life coach who has is physically fit themselves. So far the definition of a Life Coach sounds pretty much like a mentor to me. But I’m still trying to figure out how a Life Coach telling you how you should handle a specific situation is any different then say, your mother.
What about the credentials of a life coach? According to my research, there are no official regulatory standards. Excuse me? All I have to do is coach someone on one aspect in which I’ve had success in life and I don’t need to go to school for this? How much does this job pay and where can I sign up? Better yet, maybe my friends should just start paying me for the advice I extol to them everyday.
As for how similar coaching is to therapy wikipedia had this to say;
Coaching is not therapy. Neither will tell you what to do but rather help you discover your own goals. There are many different types of therapy, some of which may be, in content, quite similar to life coaching. However, some locales require a therapist to have obtained Masters or Doctorate degree in Psychology, therefore undergoing some formal training in the workings of the mind and therapeutic methodology. Similar requirements for coaches do not exist. Some kinds of therapy, such as those for a phobia, tend to be problem focused and treatment ceases when the symptoms cease or become manageable for the client. Analysis is another type of therapy. It is long term, and works at uncovering the roots of issues—understanding the client’s emotional history and possible past psychological trauma—in order to enable the client to move forward. Thus, there are a wide variety of therapeutic options, ranging from quick and narrowly focused to long and broad-scoped and everything in between, but all are regulated. A therapist will also have malpractice insurance, whereas a life coach, in most cases, does not.
From what I’ve found, it seems to me that having good social support through friends and family is just as efficient as a life coach. Granted, your friends and or family may not have expertise in an area in life you wish to improve upon and it looks like that’s where a life coach fits in. I’m still pretty uncomfortable with the label “Life Coach”, to me it implies some time of formal training and so I’m much more comfortable the idea of a mentor. I guess it doesn’t matter what you call it though, for most people anything that helps keep them on the road to improvement, is well worth it.