Life coaching is the new mantra of the ‘worried well’, the bold, new breed that’s bid adieu to therapists and counselors and ushered in coaches to help them solve life’s myriad problems and find self-fulfillment
“I can’t talk to you now. I have my life coach on the other line.” If you called a friend or business associate and they hung up after this curt, bizarre excuse, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was yet another flaky, New Age indulgence. But wait a minute. A session with one might just change your mind and your life.
Personal growth is hot. Diagnosis is not. That’s why the last few years have seen a boom in the number of people offering this new fangled ministration, and an equally ardent number embracing it with impassioned devotion. Forget old fashioned counseling and therapy, a growing number are opting for life coaching to solve life’s myriad problems from career changes, stuck-in-a-groove relationships or simply to get their act together. Surprisingly, a large number of successful, collected people are reaching out to life coacheseven on the phoneto help them think outside the box.
Life coaches are a new mantra for the worried well, people whose lives are only slightly askew (or so they’d like to think). No more sitting on couches, staring at ugly paintings on the wall and sharing their deepest fears while the therapist nods wisely from behind his desk. No more delving into the recesses of the past and confronting and dealing with painful memories. Get on the net, pick up the phone and voila, you’ve got a mental pick-me-up and dazzling clarity about where your life’s headed right there at the tip of your fingers.
Umang Sukthankar threw up a successful investment banking job a couple of years ago to become what else, a life coach. He attributes this career change not to a mid life crisis as most of you are probably thinking, but because he “felt a deep need to help other navigate this vexatious life” he declares. Two years down the road he has a kaleidoscope of clients, from ambitious sports personalities and harried business executives to glamorous society ladies and bored retirees. Most of his “students” as he refers to them are men because “It’s okay for a man to see a coach but it’s not okay for a man to see a therapist.”
He’s now branching out, even planning to hire some coaches to work with him so that he can cater to an entire gamut of needs and questions. “I intend to start family coaching, parent coaching, teen coaching and retirement coaching. There are a lot of specialty needs that haven’t yet been touched.”
Exploited more like it you’re probably thinking as you read this. Jayshree P., a successful painter phones her life coach in Singapore whenever she’s feeling stretched and going off the deep end. “Initially, my husband thought I was going barmy. He thought paying somebody to ‘coach’ me through my more tumultuous phases was the height of self aggrandizement.” Not anymore though. She says the change in her outlook is remarkable. “I’m more positive, energized and creative than I’ve ever been.”
While the idea of actually paying somebody to “coach” you through life does seem like just another weak link on the lifestyle chain, a crutch for the quick fix generation who’re unable to make the simplest decisions without someone prodding and cheering them from the stands, it isn’t as simplistic as that. The life coach has joined the ranks of the personal trainer, astrologer, masseuse and nutritionist on the must-have list of those who’ve arrived and wannabes waiting in the wings. While the numbers remain vague in India, the International Coaching Federation, an independent professional body of personal and business coaches says it has over 10,0000 members worldwide, and the numbers are steadily rising.
So what exactly is life coaching and how does it fit into the countless routes to self fulfillment, contentment and happiness? Sukthankar says for starters, life coaching shouldn’t be confused with counseling. “Unlike counseling that aims to help people cope with personal crises, life coaching is about where you’re now and where you want to go in the months and years ahead.” It’s a developmental process that offers users reflective facilitation. Typically, career changes and relationships are the most discussed issues. “For instance, if you’re having problems with your boss, I’ll help you develop the power of empathy so that you can work more harmoniously together. If you’re suffering from fears that are stopping you from realizing your potential, coaching will help you actualize change in that area.”
Ronita Roy voices the skepticism of many when she says a natter with friends over a cup of coffee is usually enough to solve problems pertaining to her relationship with her boss, significant other and kids. “Why should I spend Rs. 10,000 a shot to talk to someone thousands of miles away when I can solve my muddles over a Rs. 100 Cappuccino?” she asks.
If only it were as simple. Usually when the dilemma is too complex or close to home, then the value of bringing in a trained professional is plain to see. Rosina Ahmed, a closet writer and homemaker in Mumbai had toyed for years with the idea of writing a novel because “all of us have a story to tell”. It was a chance meeting with a coach who lived in Chennai and innumerable phone sessions later that Rosina mustered the courage to actually start penning her great epic. She was buoyed enough to approach publishers, find one and actually strike a deal. “My coach gave me the motivation and gumption to actually start writing. I now spend hours every afternoon and on weekends at my desk and I’ve never felt happier,” she says.
Sukthankar who describes himself as a “cross between a cheerleader and an athletic coach-cum-taskmaster” says he first interviews potential clients to get a feel of what they’re hoping to achieve. “If you think I’ll solve your problem, you’re wrong. I can’t do that. I don’t have a magic wand. Unless clients have a definite aim of where they want to be and do, I can’t help them actualize their goals.”
Himanshu Raja, senior executive in a multinational has had several telephonic coaching sessions with Sukthankar and says his initial skepticism was blown away by the end of the first session itself. Raja was initially petrified at what he thought would be an interrogation and role play. “Instead, it was like catching up with an old friend over what might have been a cup of coffee if we’d been face to face. I talked, he listened, and apart from throwing in a word or sign he listened, nothing more.”
The next session started where the first one left off. “It focused on one of the problems I had identified in the first call.” Raja says by the end of the call, he was actually able to make some practical changes that would help. “I learned delegation and time management techniques, and now actually have time for thrice weekly yoga classes and golf sessions on the weekend.” The beauty lies in the fact that Sukthankar and others of his ilk don’t actually offer solutions and answers to their clients. “I don’t tell them anything,” says Sukthankar. “You have all the answers to your questions. Once you answer one question, it has a domino effect.”
That and the fact that it’s an anonymous catharsis is what make phone life coaching so wonderfully therapeutic. . As Varkha Chulani, Clinical Psychologist, Lilavati Hospital, and Associate Fellow and Supervisor, The Albert Ellis Institute, New York City, explains, “Often, face-to-face contact with a therapist / life coach / shrink can be unnerving and intimidating. At the end of the day, no matter what the professional relationship, one does reveal one’s goriest details to a person who is a stranger. In the case of ‘mental’ and ‘emotional’ issues specifically, secrecy and privacy become important and phones / chats provide that cushion of secrecy where the person is not really ‘seen’.” She says the troubled person can even fake his identity and never really reveal himself. In short, he can have his difficulties addressed without ever coming out of the so called closet.
Coaching doesn’t offer quick fixes or short cuts. It’s essentially only an action-oriented, solution-oriented game plan that focus on looking ahead, not delving into the past or uncovering earlier traumas. “My clients are regular people who have regular lives but want help with uncovering their potential and thinking outside the box,” says Sukthankar. Not surprising then, that people from myriad walks of life seek the services of life coaches, from accountants and athletes to executive and doctors.
Sukthankar advises people looking for a life coach to scout around and do their homework first. “The best way to start is by asking people you trust for referrals. If that doesn’t net you a short list of candidates, try finding a good coach through doctor channels or online search engines. Once you fine tune a shortlist, look at credentials.” He says coaches need a minimum of 60 hours of study (on subjects like communication, ethics, and planning) and 250 hours of client experience to receive “associate” certification. “Master” coaches must have completed 200 hours of education and have 2,500 hours of experience. Finally, use your intuition, he advises. “The right chemistry is crucial for success.”