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Ever felt like you needed a personal coach to whip your life into shape? For $250 to $700 a month, you can hire one. Ideally a coach is a mentor, taskmaster, motivator, business consultant, and sounding board, according to the International Coach Federation. Coaching differs from therapy in that "it focuses on the present, while therapy is past-oriented," says Sue Teer Howarth, a personal coach in San Francisco. Also, 99 percent of coaching occurs via e-mail or telephone. But sometimes the boundaries between coaching and therapy do get blurred. "A person might come to me because she's having trouble speaking in public, but then I realize the problem lies in low self-esteem," Howarth notes.

Critics worry that coaching breeds dependence. But metal sculptor Pierre Riche, who spends more than two hours a week talking to his coach, disagrees. "My coach has a vested interest in my success. If I don't get where I want to be, I'll fire him."

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