MC writes: “My sister has been going to a “life coach.” Can you tell me where did the Life Coaching movement come from? How is it tied to the New Age?”
Great question, MC!
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From what I have been reading, life coaching started out as a New Age fringe movement about 10 years ago but eventually morphed into other areas to include coaching in business, career, personal finance, etc.
A life coach serves as a kind of personal motivator to help a person set goals in life and accomplish them. A recent cover story in Newsweek called life coaching “the Wild West of the career-development and therapeutic world” and described it as being “Part psychotherapy, part Oprah, and part common sense.” Coaches bill themselves as “listeners and cheerleaders who help clients figure out how to move their lives in a particular direction.”
Life coaching began in the 1980’s with a successful financial planner named Thomas Leonard who noticed that his clients “seemed to need more from him than just the usual tips on how to invest.” He began to mentor them and, in 1992, founded Coach University, a “school” for life coaches which boasts of training 7,000 coaches in 38 countries thus far.
Two years later, he founded the International Coach Federation, which is an association of more than 15,000 professional coaches in over 130 chapters worldwide.
Leonard died suddenly in 2003 of a heart attack at the age of 47.
The field of life coaching is still growing in spite of the fact that it remains the domain of the well-to-do with hourly sessions costing anywhere from $75 to $300. A client typically signs a contract for three to six months which includes at least one weekly meeting.
What I find surprising (if not a bit reckless on the part of the client) is that most of these coaches are not professionals in fields you would typically associate with this kind of counseling – such as psychologists, social workers, or other counselors. The vast majority go to work as a life coach after receiving a certificate from one of several life coaching “schools” that have no standardized credentials or academic disciplines. The industry itself is completely unregulated with no ethics codes – an important ommission in a field where people are directly influencing the personal lives of others.
No wonder this field is full of hucksters of every size and shape!
Some are blatantly New Age, such as Divine Purpose Coaches who advertise themselves as being able to help a person “discover their own inherent sacred space . . .”
Typical New Age Coaches teach their clients things like how to use the chakra system, telepathy, psychometry, clairvoyance, meditation, etc.
One Metaphysical Life Coach claims to teach how “to facilitate spiritual growth and insight in Cosmic Laws for the ‘searcher’ that he/she may expand their current reality and consciousness.” (Say what?)
But at least with these coaches, you know where you stand. The problem is with those who don’t advertise their New Age backgrounds, such as one “Self Esteem” coach I came across who is also a yoga instructor and a “Career Coach” who doubles as a Reiki Master.
Another Life Coach and clinical social worker, says she left the field of social work because she wanted to create a position that would allow her to “engage in the pursuits that nourish my soul (knitting, spiritual pursuits, energy work, astrology, painting, gardening).” When you visit her website, you discover she’s also a Reiki Master.
In fact, the New Age is so prevalent in this field many Christian coaches state upfront that they will not promote New Age beliefs (whether they carry through on this in practice is a risk one would have to assume).
I’m sure there are many fine and upstanding life coaches out there, but before signing a contract it is highly recommended (by the International Coach Federation) that a person speak with three prospective coaches and request two or more references from each. Prospective clients should ask lots of questions of the coach during this hiring process, such as how much experience they have, what success they’ve had in helping their clients.
I would add to this list a very direct question about the person’s faith background. What is their faith and how do they practice it? If they’re Catholic, are they in good standing with the Church, attend weekly Mass, etc. If Christian, do they attend regular services, read the Bible daily? Where does God rank in their life in order of importance? How much does their faith inform their life? Of course, you’re going to have to take their word for it, and hope they’re telling you the truth.
See how risky this is? Personally, I would never do it. God is my “life coach” and He does a great job directing my path – either through Scripture, the Sacraments, or just plain old fashioned inspiration. Not only is He free, but His credentials are out of this world!
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