How to choose your life coach

“First of all, a natural talent is required; for when Nature opposes, everything else is vain.”

Hippocrates c. 430 B.C.

After twenty years of working as a positively-oriented, humanistic psychotherapist, I have developed some ideas of what works in a developmental relationship.

My basic belief is that virtually anyone can help anyone, under the right circumstances, to a limited extent. However, clients have the right to expect much more than this from their paid collaborator.

A coach should have the capacity to maximize the depth and breadth of the developmental process while minimizing the investment of time and money required of the client. In other words, a professional should deliver a significantly better return on investment than your best friend!

While this may seem obvious, it has not necessarily been the norm with conventional forms of personal growth processes. For example:

Psychotherapy, or counseling, tends to:

  • be too closely allied to the medical model, encouraging the notion that uncommon or distressed behavior is sick behavior;
  • work against true collaboration and partnership by putting the therapist into the position of assuming s/he knows more about the client than the client does;
  • lack direction and urgency, assuming that the act of attending regular sessions will of itself provide an adequate rate of change.

Meanwhile, conventional life coaching tends to:

  • be somewhat superficial and task oriented;
  • ignore the realities of human nature, especially the power of the unconscious;
  • fail to understand and capitalize on the real power and value of a collaborative partnership;
  • foster dependency by using the coach’s energy to overcome the reluctance of the client;
  • be more like management consulting;
  • sometimes offer little more than can be gained by reading a book.

I recognize that these are generalizations, and that there are many psychotherapists and coaches who are genuinely effective change agents on behalf of their clients. However, there are many others who are not. The result is that clients can be in psychotherapy for years without registering a significant change, while ‘instant’ changes made with a life coach often prove unsustainable.

In order to protect yourself and your investment, you must in your evaluation ensure that your collaborator offers the greatest possible range of experience, skills and intuitions. Then you will have a rich and safe ground for your own development.

Here are some key features that I believe must be present if true growth is to take place:

  • Your coach will ideally conform to Hippocrates’ criterion, quoted above. To find out, ask what psychometric tests reveal about him or her.
  • The coach must live the approach to life s/he is advocating, because:
    • We communicate at deep unconscious levels and you are quickly going to ‘know’ whether the positive-sounding supporter is rooted in conviction or merely in hope.
    • Even if you are not consciously aware of a lack of authenticity in your coach, you will be aware of a lessening of your investment in the process and will eventually pull out. This will be time lost forever.
  • The coach must, as far as humanly possible, be aware of their motivations for doing the job. These will not all be altruistic.
    • An unaware collaborator can be damaging to a client by leading the partnership in a way that meets the coach’s needs rather than the client’s.
    • These needs might be material, such as money or referrals; or psychological, such as love, a need to be needed, a need to feel superior, and so on.
  • The coach must recognize the difference between a life and a life goal: the one is a multi-level continuous process while the other is a discrete opportunity for the expenditure of resources.
    • A linear series of life goals does not add up to a life: the goals are only the punctuation points in a life.

With these kinds of thought in mind, it is worth seeing if there is some external measure that might be an indicator of whether a coach or therapist is adequately prepared to do the job you deserve.

In order to be a dynamic life coach, I believe a practitioner must have the following:

  • Substantial life experience of an exploratory nature. It is not generally sufficient to have held a safe job for twenty years. Dynamic life coaching is about encouraging others to take risks. It is virtually impossible to do this effectively if one is afraid of risks oneself.
  • A history of actively pursuing personal development as the result of a recognized need.
    • Typically, this means your coach or therapist ought to have entered a collaborative partnership in order to resolve some essential issue(s) before they became a practitioner.
    • It is not sufficient to have taken the client’s role simply to fulfil a training requirement, although some people do enter training only to discover that they really wanted the therapy or coaching.
    • Practitioners who have not acknowledged their need for external help are bound, unconsciously, to regard their clients as either superior or inferior to themselves. Either way, it is not possible to have an equal relationship with them.

    I would expect a Dynamic Life Coach to be able to display a history of:

    • at least five years continuous individual therapy, so as to have gained some personal insight; and
    • at least two years of group therapy so as to have gained a modicum of experience of interpersonal dynamics.

    In terms of training, I would expect a Dynamic Life Coach to have completed:

    • a substantial psychotherapy preparation;
    • a substantial coaching preparation.

    Finally, I would want some evidence of an ongoing commitment to rigorous self-examination and self-development.

    It bears repeating that the right coach can free you up to live a life that is truly fulfilling. The wrong one can waste your money and, effectively, steal part of your life’s time from you.

    I hope this information has been helpful to you. If you would like to find out more about Dynamic Life Coaching or myself, please use the form below to schedule a free 50-minute ‘phone or Skype discussion.

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