Are You In Need Of A Life Coach?

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Around the time that Laney Castillo turned 30, she felt that things in her life were not quite right. Sure, she’d hit a number of milestones – she’d graduated college and had had a string of jobs at various nonprofits. But she felt that her career was beginning to stagnate.

That changed when, a few weeks ago, she ran into an old acquaintance, David Earles. The two went to grab coffee, and by the end of their hour together, Castillo (name has been changed for privacy) had a new, sharper focus on her future: She resolved to go back to school to earn a master’s degree in business, and by the time she got home that night, she was already looking into MBA programs. By that weekend, she was studying for the GMAT.

It might sound like a huge leap to take after just one conversation over coffee, but helping people take steps like that is what Earles does: In addition to his day job running his own marketing and fundraising consulting firm, he serves as a life coach on the side on an informal basis.

“During that talk, I had the realization that, wow, I have just been working,” Castillo recalls. “I knew I wanted to go back to school eventually, but was not really thinking of how to do it.

“I knew I wasn’t happy and wanted more,” she continues, “but I never stopped and talked with somebody who was able to give me the kind of guidance that he was able to.”

An entire thriving life coach industry has sprouted up around the promise of breakthroughs like that and the best part is that it is getting even easier to find an Online Life Coach who can help to give you a nudge in the right direction. The industry is relatively new – International Coach Federation executive director Magdalena Mook traces its emergence to the early-to-mid-90s – and right now, it’s having a bit of a moment.

Leadership and life coach Cynthia Yamasaki meets with a client in her home office BODIE COLLINS PHOTOS

Leadership and life coach Cynthia Yamasaki meets with a client in her home office BODIE COLLINS PHOTOS

ICF, the largest accreditation organization for coaches, estimates that the industry rakes in about $2 billion annually. Some companies even employ a career coach to guide executives or new employees in leadership development. And it’s lucrative: Top coaches can earn hundreds of dollars per session.

But what does a life coach actually do?

We took a look at this booming industry locally to explore the life of a life coach, what they do and how they can help.

THE ROLE OF A COACH

Taking cues from psychology, consulting and human resources, life coaching is eclectic – or abstract, some critics say.

Local coach Kellie Johnsen sums it up neatly: “Coaching essentially focuses on what are we doing now, what do we want to be doing, and how do we get there.”

As for the purpose of having someone else guide you through that, she points to the more common word association of her job title: “We would never think about a professional athlete to be at their best without a coach.”

According to ICF surveys, common reasons people hire coaches include to enhance work-life balance, attain business goals and improve communication. Johnsen, as well as Cynthia Yamasaki, another local coach, also find that clients come to them for reasons that they themselves can’t quite define: They know they’re not happy, but they’re not sure why.

Life coaches work with clients on a range of issues, from career dissatisfaction to relationship woes

Life coaches work with clients on a range of issues, from career dissatisfaction to relationship woes

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“Once we can really hone in on what you want and why you are not getting what you want, then we can focus on how do you get what you want and how do you eliminate the barriers,” Johnsen explains.

Many coaches choose a niche based on their own experiences or interests. Johnsen focuses on relationships in a broad sense, whether it’s an executive’s relationship with her staff or a couple’s relationship with one another. Earles, meanwhile, zeros in on young professionals looking to advance their careers. Yamasaki has a broader focus: Billing herself as a leadership and life coach, her clients include overworked executives trying to de-stress and aspiring entrepreneurs looking to ditch their 9-to-5.

To get clients in tune with their needs, coaches use various tools, everything from asking tough questions to in-depth personal assessment worksheets to creating vision boards.

While it may sound like therapy, coaches say it’s only a surface resemblance. Besides the fact that coaches can’t actually diagnose mental health issues, the crux of coaching is to make reaching goals achievable through specific, actionable ways.

Thinkstock photo

Thinkstock photo

“I suggest for people to dream big – and then chunk it down,” Yamasaki says. “Where do you see yourself in five years? Where do you see yourself in three years?

And then coming down to every year, you should have your strategic plan.”

“Most counseling is about helping people to get in touch with their feelings,” says Sunny Massad, who has a Ph.D. in psychology and runs a coaching school for women. “Coaching doesn’t … look at your relationship with your parents and what went wrong and why. We look forward into the future.”

“THE WILD, WILD WEST”

Yamasaki has had a varied career – she’s worked as a business loan officer, a financial manager at a startup and a human resources manager. She enjoyed these jobs, but over time, she realized more and more that her true desire was to help others optimize their lives. So in 2007, Yamasaki launched her own coaching firm, CMY Consulting. To supplement her career experience, Yamasaki has completed a few coach-training programs.

Johnsen, meanwhile, has a degrees in counseling and human services and currently is studying family therapy.

At Massad’s Women’s Leadership Institute for Conscious Coaching, graduates are required to have an established competence in their focus area. “If you are going to specialize in financial prosperity and you are broke, forget it,” she explains.

While these coaches have education and related experience, it’s not a requirement. The coaching industry remains largely unregulated – meaning that while coaches can opt to earn certification, it’s not necessary in order to write “life coach” on your business card. A 2014 Market-Watch article called the industry “the wild, wild West” for its lack of regulation. The writer had a point: A cursory Google search for training programs yields dozens of results – including certificates that can be earned in a couple of days.

Mook advises potential clients to shop around for the right coach, just as you might when looking for a doctor or lawyer. Use your discretion, she says, and ask for their credentials and references.

But some coaches worry that too stringent of regulations could put a damper on the way the industry is developing. With the current laissez-faire set up, it allows people to utilize their experience to help others. Castillo, for instance, found her session with Earles to be life-changing – regardless of the fact that he isn’t an “official” life coach.

THE MODERN COACH

ICF membership has tripled within the last decade, and the industry as a whole “is growing in leaps and bounds,” Mook says.

Technology has been a boost: Many coaches conduct sessions over the phone or via Skype with clients all over the world. And while Mook says having big-name celebrities acknowledge they use a coach certainly has had an impact (“When Oprah Winfrey talks about working with her coach, people kind of pay attention,” she quips), she goes on to suggest another reason that coaching has become so popular is because it fills a kind of void in modern society. Some people, she explains, “don’t have the networks of families and friends and the wise, sage elders who previously possibly filled that role.”

It’s a sentiment that Johnsen has seen echoed in her practice. “For some people, all they need is someone to listen to them and empathize with them,” Johnsen says. “For some people, all they need is somebody who is not via text or emojis to really listen to them and hear them out.”

For Castillo, she found her meeting with Earles useful not only in her professional life, but also in her personal life. From Earles asking her seemingly simple questions – like what does she do for fun, what makes her happy – it prompted her to take stock of her life.

“I was kind of panicking when he asked me that,” Castillo says. “I was like, ‘I have sh** answers to these questions – I feel lame!'”

It pushed her to start incorporating exercise into her daily routine, as well as expanding her social circle via networking events. Castillo had had all of these goals before – she’d always known she wanted a master’s degree – but now she has a clear path to get there.

“I was so jazzed about it,” she recalls of her meeting. “I am still hyped up – because I feel it is attainable.”