My Personal Challenge With Life Coaching
As a third-year Psychotherapist-In-Training, I’m increasingly aware of the overwhelming amount of Life Coaches popping up all over social media, predominantly LinkedIn and Instagram. From all intensive purposes, it appears anyone can become an “Insta-Coach,” promising all sorts of pathways to prosperity, happiness, and wellness. The lack of experience, credentials, and governing ethical body may cause more harm to clients than good. In addressing my concerns, I am coming from a place of genuine curiosity instead of condemnation. Please help me understand the Life Coach phenomenon and whether there is a hint of accuracy to my following observations.
The Current Climate
I believe we are living in desperate times, and one with two converging issues. First, we have an overwhelming societal need for mental health care providers to supply the increasing demand. How do I know this? Our Toronto Gestalt Psychotherapy Student Clinic is beyond capacity, to the point where I will begin to see clients through a mentoring process in October 2021, at least six months earlier than what was planned pre-Covid. Our expertise is needed in the field.
Second, Covid has driven up to record unemployment levels. To illustrate this point, as of Feb 5, 2021, The Statistics Canada website reports:
Unemployment rate increases to highest level since August 2020. The unemployment rate rose 0.6 percentage points to 9.4%, the highest rate since August 2020.
In January 2021, Statistica demonstrates the United States showing a rate of 6.3%, double from the year prior.
We have the perfect environment where there is a high demand for mental health services and a skyrocketed percentage of the population seeking employment. To address this need, the Life Coaching industry is taking notice and helping to fill in the gap. In a LinkedIn article from 2019, author Umesh Venkatesh reports:
The estimated market size of the Coaching Industry is $15 billion in 2019 with a total of $7.5 billion worth of market value in the US alone. I expect the market value to reach $20 billion by 2022 with a 6.7% average yearly growth rate from 2019 to 2022. Moreover, according to PwC, the Coaching Industry was the second fastest-growing sector in the world.
People require mental health services more than ever before, particularly as the stigma disappears and the topic is at the forefront of the national conversation. While I believe our shift in belief systems is positive, what concerns is the number of Coaches flooding the market who are not trained to work with people in the mental health space. And knowing human nature, I believe many clients are seeking a quick fix to problems and may be attracted to the promises some Coaches offer when the reality is deep personal change requires hard work, time, and perseverance.
Life Coaching — An Unregulated Profession
One of the fundamental challenges I have with Life Coaching as a profession is its unregulated nature. If I am a client of a Life Coach and receive improper or questionable care, who can I speak with to ensure the individual’s practice is investigated? No one.
For example, what if a Life Coach is working with someone who experiences anxiety, yet the Coach doesn’t possess in-depth clinical knowledge of the symptoms and underlying issues. Here, we may have a recipe for lousy guidance with the possibility of harming the client. Without a governing body, the Coach can continue to practice and unintentionally make a situation worse. Umesh Venkatesh shares how the consequences can be dire:
The biggest challenge facing coaches today is that untrained and incompetent Coaches are damaging the reputation of the industry. The coaching field is unregulated. No license is required. Consequently, anyone can call themselves a Coach. The profession is painfully aware that inept coaching makes the field look bad.
Speaking from a Canadian perspective, registered Psychotherapists, Psychologists, and Psychiatrists are accountable to governing bodies with established codes of ethics and represent and protect the public interest. For example, the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario, whom I will soon become a member of:
investigates and addresses complaints and reports. If you have a concern about care you received from your Registered Psychotherapist, we want to hear from you.
In the 2019 Inc.com article, 7 Ways to Know if a Business or Life Coach is Legit or an Imposter, author Andrew Thomas summed it up best:
There are dangers present with this new dynamic. If you fake-it-till-you-make-it as a coach, you’re not just being an imposter, you are misleading people at best, and potentially harming their lives at worst.
If you are a current Life Coach, I’m curious to learn your opinion on the unregulated profession and hear about your personal experience.
Wait? What Is The Role Of A Coach?
The present dangers lead to my next challenge with Life Coaching — the unclarity of the role. Let’s take a look at three different definitions:
- Oprahmag.com — a Coach is an action-oriented mentor who can help you reach your goals. Life coaching focuses on what’s happening right now, what a person wants next, and how that gap can be bridged.
- Verywellmind.com — A life coach is a type of wellness professional who helps people progress in their lives to attain greater fulfillment. Life coaches help their clients in improving their relationships, careers, and day-to-day lives.
- tonyrobbins.com — The life coach definition is someone professionally trained to help you maximize your full potential and reach your desired results. They are like a supportive friend and trusted advisers rolled into one. They’re someone who will push you to identify your goals, hold you accountable, and encourage your journey to become a better version of yourself.
The profession is vague and open-ended in terms of the level of deep personal work a Life Coach can enter into with a client, one that can head into dangerous territory if the Coach is untrained. Let’s return to anxiety. Take a moment and open up the Coach.me and you will find a plethora of Life Coaches who are seeking clients in this area. Yet anxiety is a medical condition, and as the Mayo Clinic reports:
Sometimes anxiety results from a medical condition that needs treatment.
Life Coaches need to be extremely careful to “stay in their lane” and leave the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety to the psychologists and psychiatrists who are trained, medical professionals. Once again, certain Life Coaches may not understand where the line exists and too easily provide the wrong kind of care to their clients without proper training.
Global Recognized Accredited Coaching Programs
When I scroll through the sea of Life Coach and Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) Success Coach social media profiles, I am fascinated to see what certifications support their career endeavor. 90% of the profiles I have come across lately have limited to no education or experience.
While I recognize certifications are not a defining factor of an individual’s competency, it shows me that this person has invested time and money to learn a specific framework or modality and may possess the qualifications to aid clients in their journey. When I see an international certified Coach, I feel a greater sense of confidence in their abilities.
Two globally recognized accredited coaching programs are the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and CoActive Coaching — the latter certification I will be embarking upon this year. I appreciate ICF and CoActive’s individual Code of Ethics and the requirement to spend hundreds of hours in the Coaches chair practicing the methodologies before entering into the public domain with clients. When I see either of these certifications on a person’s profile, I know the Coach is serious, given the vast time commitment and thousands of dollars spent.
While there are other Coaching programs on the market, taking a weekend crash course does not prepare a person to start a coaching business and begin immediate work. Unfortunately, the current practice can lead to misrepresentation of credentials and experience, ultimately harming the client and the industry as a whole.
My Social Strategy And MLM Life Coach Challenge
In my twenty-plus-year technology career, I’ve been fortunate to work alongside some super-savvy social media marketers. While I do not claim to be amongst the sharpest social strategists, I am well attuned that being a Psychotherapist and Coach is not enough — for me. I will market my capabilities and personal brand through original, practical, and purpose-driven content.
My strategy is a delicious cocktail of combining Gestalt Psychotherapy, CoActive Coaching, and gaining the Digital Marketing Institute certification to learn SEO and implement a successful social media strategy to build a client network.
However, not everyone is as passionate about social media marketing as I am and may quickly seek the guidance of a “Success Coach,” a souped-up term for a Multi-Level Marketing or MLM Marketer. MLM Success Coaches are distinct yet related to Life Coaches. Austerityhealth.org defines the role as:
An MLM coach is a unique subset of a business-focused life coach. They take many of the foundational life coaching skills and target them specifically to the entrepreneurial business world of network marketing to help their clients meet their goals for optimal success within their chosen company.
Based on my above observation, if an MLM Success Coach promises advanced marketing techniques to secure clients yet has zero previous lead generation, sales, or marketing experience on their LinkedIn profile — buyer beware! And there is an enormous and ever-growing presence of people entering the MLM Marketing space during our time of Covid.
A limited number of lucrative MLM Success Coaches exist, and for every person, there are a thousand who are not. In my observation, I strongly recommend accredited professionals in the mental health and wellness field to seek alternative, organic methods to grow your client base and will dedicate a post to this topic in the coming month.
Let me make myself clear in our hypersensitive age — I am not against the Life Coach profession. However, I have some legitimate questions and concerns over the rise of “Insta-Coaches” and people practicing who have limited to no credentials or experience. The last thing we want to do is make our clients’ lives worse off than when they started the Coach-Coachee relational process.
In Canada, we have a shortage of mental health care workers coupled with rising demand for services. We are also experiencing a high employment rate lending itself to the rise of people gravitating towards Life Coaching. And to make matters worse, the Life Coaching profession is unregulated — it’s evident to me we have a severe problem on our hands, and I hope to see a governing ethical body established to ensure clients’ safety and well-being.
While there are well-established and globally recognized coaching certifications such as the IFC and Co-Active, most Life Coaches I’ve encountered on social media platforms do not possess credentials.
And finally, I expressed concern over the rise of MLM Success Coaches and, in particular, people entering the profession with little to no experience yet offering big promises for established professionals to grow their client base exponentially. There are other, cheaper ways to reach the right audience without spending a lot of time and money.
If you are passionate about this topic as much as I am or have an opposing view, feel free to share your thoughts. While the above post is based on personal experience and observations, I remain curious and open to a healthy dialog to better understand the Life Coach profession.