Personal Coaching is a discipline that helps you to define your specific life goals and strengths, and then provides direction, support, companioning, and accountability as you move toward completing those goals. Coaching involves the same elements of good psychotherapy-empathic listening, confidentiality, and skillful intervention-but, while the goal of psychotherapy is to relieve the suffering of people with mental illness, coaching focuses on making healthy people stronger and happier and more effective in their lives.
The issues that come up in my coaching practice are diverse. Some clients consult with me to get “unstuck” on the job or in relationships, to optimize their physical health, to realize financial and professional goals, or to manage stress and time more effectively. Others are concerned with caring for aging parents, dealing with mental illness in the family, adjusting to divorce, dealing with a stressful or toxic work environment, overcoming writer’s block, or managing the symptoms of ADD. I work with a group of articulate, accomplished midlife women who are concerned with entering into the second half of life. They are redefining themselves according to their own yearnings, body rhythms, and hidden creative talents.
Sometimes coaching is a matter of mindset more than method. If I were wearing my therapist’s hat among my “wise women,” for example, I might be asking questions like, Why have these women been so concerned with defining themselves according to the needs of others? What is the root of the anxiety that they are facing as they make life-changing decisions? And what might be the underlying feelings-of anger, for example-that come with sacrificing one’s own wants and needs in the service of others?
As a coach, I am free of the need to be preocccupied with such diagnostic questions. I assume that all life choices have been useful to the client at one time or another, that anxiety IS a normal part of change, and that the task is to own the wisdom that has come from life experience in order to move into the next stage.
The list of challenges that can be addressed through coaching are endless, but the one commonality in all professional coaching is the belief that the client has it within him or her to meet personal and professional goals when given the right combination of resources, direction, support, and companionship.
Although it is possible to effectively approach problems through either psychotherapy or professional coaching, coaching has a number of advantages:
- Since it is not “illness” oriented, you will begin right away with an assessment of strengths and resources that might not be obvious to you.
- While therapy and mental illness unfortunately continues to carry some degree of stigma, personal coaching is a wellness model which makes a pro-active, positive statement about the client from the outset.
- The role of Coach has sometimes been defined as “silent partner,” in business, health, negotiating tricky family or work situations, and moving through transitions. When you enter into a coaching agreement, you automatically enter into a relationship in which your coach becomes actively invested in your success in whatever you seek to achieve.
- Personal coaching can be more cost-effective than psychotherapy. It can be done by phone, which means a great deal of convenience, freedom, and access to your coach no matter where you are — at home, at work, on vacation, or in the car.
Finding a Coach
So, you’ve decided a coach might be worth a try. How do you go about finding one? My primary advice is to start locally, then expand to a global search. Network with people in your community who have overcome challenges similar to the ones you now face. What has been helpful to them? They may be able to refer you to a coach.
After your local search (or if concerns about confidentiality make a local search inadvisable), search the Internet. Look under the keywords “professional coaching,” but also search words that are related to your particular challenges–“writer’s block,” for example, or “dealing with bullies,” or “midlife crisis.” Your search may lead you to an expert in a distant city who is uniquely trained to provide you with help.
After you have located someone, schedule a telephone appointment. Most coaches offer a 20 to 30 minute initial consultation at no charge. Ask specific questions: What training, education, or certification does the person have that qualifies him or her to be a coach? What knowledge base and/or personal experience does he or she have that will help you with your particular goals? Is he or she willing to let you speak with other coaching clients who can attest to the level of service they received?
Ask about financial arrangements, too. Most coaches require an up-front monthly fee to cover two to four telephone sessions per month. You pay for missed appointments if you fail to call in (or show up) at the agreed-upon time, but most coaches give a full refund for any unused portion of a month’s services, should you terminate the contract. Ask, too, about group rates. Many coaches offer group sessions by way of conference call. These sessions blend the best elements of support groups, peer supervision, and business consultation-and, because telephone meetings are not limited geographically, you benefit from the expertise of people all over the world who are working toward goals that are similar to your own, but who will not be your competitors.
Professional coaching is not for everyone. It takes strength, ability to follow through on tasks that are assigned, and a capacity to work collaboratively as a full partner in the process of moving toward your goals. But when the time and fit are right between client and coach, professional coaching can help you to envision your dreams–and then transform them into a reality.