What Are Life Coaches Doing?
They're everywhere. They promise transformation, momentum, vision. Life coaching as a business has burst out over the past twenty years, with tens of thousands of practitioners ranging from psychotherapists and physicians with decades of clinical experience to youngsters whose advertised claims are their only claims to fame. There are educators, trainers, and credentialers galore, ranging from Maia Berens' "YOU University" to the Harvard-McLean program, whose life coaches are asked to explain and coach "wellness." As someone who's seen patients attended by life coaches who ranged from entrepreneurial consultants to apartment based Svengalis, one question which merits an answer is what goals life coaches should have for the people they're trying to help.
An Extremely Attenuated and Prejudiced History of Life Coaching:
1. Advisers have been around since there were people to advise
2. Spiritual leaders have been doing life coaching for several thousand years
3. Sports coaches have been around for centuries, and sports performance metaphors still pervade much of life coaching
4. Many famous life coaches came out of the ferment of the "human potential" movement of the fifties and sixties; Werner Erhard's EST, which eventually spawned the Landmark Corporation and Forum, was an important influence; Thomas Leonard, another influential life coach, worked in business with Erhard
5. Much of the emphasis of American life coaches has been on business success
6. Life coaches often try to differentiate themselves from psychotherapists by arguing their work is "emotion free" yet will often burrow deeply into personal lives where emotions are constantly manifest
The Not Quite Wild West
With anybody and still anybody setting themselves up as life coaches, anything human appears to fit itself under life coaching's remit. Data on the movement is sometimes as hard to obtain as the trading information of Goldman Sachs. Yet many life coaches recognize the dictum of Calvin Coolidge - "the business of the nation is business" - and have focused on entrepeneurship and management consulting on a personal basis. As management consulting is itself a giant industry, they appear to have had considerable success with individuals achieving specific business goals.
Yet to achieve real life coaching, further goals should be addressed - there's more to life than business.
Health and Life Coaching
The Greeks were right - aim for a healthy mind in a healthy body. If people are going to claim life coaching skills they need to pay attention to the overall health of the people they're coaching. No matter how good the advice, the client has to be alive and well to use it.
Several areas need particular address:
1. Food. The standard American diet appears almost designed to wreck the public health of the nation. Whole foods, especially in great variety, appear to fit the epidemiologic goal of a healthy population. Many approaches, from Michael Pollan's Food Rules to the Mediterranean diet to East Asian diets, appear to work to maximize overall lifespan.
2. Activity. Not only does lifespan appear to maximize with sixty to ninety minutes of some kind of daily physical activity, brain cells grow and mental performance improves. Ordinary activities like walking work very well.
3. Rest. Sleep is necessary for life, but active rest - its physical, mental, social and spiritual elements, appear to maximize healthiness and minimize many of the main killers of mankind. Taking a walk with the family after dinner is the kind of active rest that can provide multiple life benefits to many.
4. Body clocks. Though business is now 24-7, humans are not machines. Shift and overwork is a major issue for life coaching, areas where human design need to be carefully understood and explained.
5. Information is physical. Providing the right kind of information to the body can do as much for many people's "success" as can specific business advice.
Mental Health and Life Coaching
Many life coaches seem to shy away from many mental health issues, and it's no surprise. Lots of people prefer to see a life coach rather than a psychotherapist, avoiding the stigma of "mental health treatment." However, consigning their work to specific "performance tasks" does not absolve life coaches from recognizing that emotions always will color their work. Some of their clients will use life coaching to avoid rather than tackle serious mental health issues. Even if life coaches eschew treating mental health themselves (which many of them do without naming it) they have to recognize what suffering major depression, anxiety, addiction and psychotic disorders create, and tell the people they see where help is available. In my experience, they have sometimes been so eager to keep clients that serious personal problems have been neglected.
Life coaches often do not have a background in the life sciences. Though aiming for "transformation" they often do not realize that this exactly what the human body does every second of the day - even when people are asleep.
Most of your body is replaced within weeks. The large majority of tissue in the heart is replaced inside three days. You get a completely new gut lining in two days. The brain is constantly rewired and reworked, and every memory is remade whenever retrieved.
You're quickly new - whether you know it or not.
Recognizing that humans survive through active, changing regeneration should be a trope for life coaches. The body is constantly transforming itself. Much of that process can be individually directed.
So there should be more to life coaching that addressing specific performance goals, including getting more time with one's spouse. The original transformative technology is inside every human being.
Your body regenerates itself, and rebuilds better if you know how to use it. That aspect of life should be part of all life coaching.