Is the word "coaching" or "ka-ching?"
In the months since The Secret exploded like Monty Python’s unfortunate Mr. Creosote all over the cultural landscape, dousing everyone and everything within spewing range with its simplistic New-Wage wisdom about the Law Of Attraction, I have been receiving more than my share of spam emails from people claiming to be Law Of Attraction Coaches. Law Of Attraction coaching, of course, is merely one of the latest outgrowths of the burgeoning personal-coaching industry. And whether or not they use LOA as a hook, personal coaches, or "life coaches" as they more often call themselves these days, are swarming all over the place, with one of the largest breeding grounds being the famous Coach U. We are now faced with a veritable infestation for which, alas, no coach sprays or coach hotels exist.
More than ten years ago I wrote a piece that began and ended with a semi-facetious complaint about the overabundance of therapists in our lives. In retrospect my ire was a bit misplaced, especially since the meat of the essay was a summary of a personal experience I had, not with a real therapist, but with one of those pseudoprofessionals who all too often play at therapy: a life coach.
Things are arguably worse today than they were in the early 1990s when the event I wrote about took place. These days everyone who isn’t using a life coach of some variety is a coach, with many in the New-Wage culture being both coaches and coachees (the latter not to be confused with the famous Apache chief).
The ever-vigilant Tony Michalski, himself a reformed personal coach of sorts (more on that momentarily), alerted me to a thread on Marcy From Maui’s Powerful Intentions forum. The title of the thread is, "Sad... people explote others with the LOA," and though the misspelling of the third word somehow put me in mind of our dear departed Mr. Creosote, the topic had nothing to do with gluttony and flying entrails. And although the thread initiator seemed to have a bit of a challenge with spelling and sentence structure, the point was not lost:
Why people like to be exploted (sic)?...the law of atraction (sic) it is only one!...why do you need to pay for coach....coach what?... how to think?...or how to feel?... do you need to pay to learn how to dream?.. or how to vision your goals? or desires?... there are a lot of books…repeating the same thing , some of then are the copy or the others and some are just the way to sale the same thing with diferent (sic) name. The true is that you just need to read one to learn enough. I really don't understand....maybe I am looking the whole idea in a very different way that it is suppose to be.... Can somebody explain to me, is there something else to learn? about the Secret or LOA???
The first person to respond did so in typical Secremonious* fashion: "Your post makes me sad for you. You don’t get it."
The next reply, from a person named Gabriel, cut to the chase:
People who pay thousands of dollars for success coaching inevitably make a lot more money because coaching helps them get results. Hence it is an investment with a rich return, not an expense….
Steve Salerno presented a fine overview of the life-coaching phenomenon in his book SHAM:** How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless. In Chapter 6, "Put Me In, Coach, I’m Ready To Pay," he gives a brief history of the rise of life coaching as we now know it, beginning with the late Thomas Leonard, a Seattle financial planner who founded Coach U. Steve goes on to examine how the industry grew, and he takes a critical look at its effects on our culture.
Money isn’t the only issue, but it is probably the first one that comes to most people’s minds. So…is it true that "people who pay thousands of dollars for success coaching inevitably make a lot more money," as our friend Gabriel on the Powerful Intentions Forum contends? Do individuals or corporations normally get a good return on investment? According to Steve Salerno, feedback on life coaching is generally more positive than for other products and providers in the self-help industry. But in truth it’s hard to give an accurate assessment of the value of coaching. This is particularly the case with corporate coaching, partly because even with a lousy or unimpressive ROI, people who put out all that money are loath to admit it was wasted. As Steve writes:
…reckoning a coach’s provable bottom-line impact proves problematic, because companies often turn to coaches when they’re undergoing other organizational changes. This makes it hard to separate out the results of the coaching from the results of the structural tweaking. But corporate managers who pay top dollar for a coach’s services are inclined to view the process in the most favorable light; whether the payoff is quantifiable or not, there’s a strong incentive to report success, because the price of reporting failure is simply too high.
As for coaching rates, they’re all over the map, as pointed out in SHAM. Interestingly enough, Jane Ellen Sexton, the "intuitive life coach" mentioned at the beginning of Steve’s chapter on coaching, has apparently reduced her rates since SHAM was first published. Sexton’s intuitive life coaching sessions, which were formerly $150 an hour, are now only $25 per hour. And "channelings," where Sexton connects with "information that flows through me from dimensions outside of the earth plane for purposes of expanding reality," are now $50 per hour-and-a-half session. Formerly they were $250 per ninety-minute session. In addition, Sexton now offer a free initial half-hour consultation. She sells a range of other services too, such as past-life regressions at $50 for an hour and a half, "energy investigations and clearings," at $100 an hour (one-hour minimum), and "clairsentient communications with children and animals," surely a bargain at $50 an hour.
You probably can’t expect such low rates from Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale, who, besides being unwilling to let us forget for a moment that he is one of the stars of The Secret, has been spending a great deal of time for several months pushing his own "Miracles Coaching" program. He even suggested, one can only hope facetiously, that Denny Crane, William Shatner’s fictional character on the ABC hit series Boston Legal, should have availed himself of the MC program. Joe does not publish his Miracles Coaching rates, at least not on his web site. He does, however, include this caveat more than halfway down the page (immediately following the video clip of his famous "Universe as a mail-order catalog" spot in The Secret):
Before I go any further, I must mention the cost. This is not a free program. In order for me to develop and deliver this program, it required certified professional coaches, preparation, and a huge investment on my part. Because of this, there will be a fair investment on your part.
And for the truly ambitious go-getter who really has a lot of dough to throw around, Mr. Fire offers a program that combines his Miracles Coaching program with his Executive Mentoring program. Again, there’s no word on the cost, at least on the promo site, but one can only imagine, since the "diamond package" top-of-the-line product in the executive mentoring is listed on another of his many web sites at a cool $150,000 USD.
What doesn’t show up on the main pages, but is nonetheless a part of every one of Joe’s "miracle" promo sites, is a very lengthy disclaimer that basically says, "Caveat emptor." But hey, who needs to read that stuff? Act now, click here, because the Universe loves speed!
Lest you think I am suggesting for a moment that any coach or other service provider should give his or her services away for nothing, that is not what I am saying at all. The above-mentioned Gabriel on the PI forum concluded his message with this observation:
In the world of success breeding success, no-one will ever be exploited. From another angle, anyone who thinks they can get something for nothing has a very basic lesson to learn which I believe most people who are attracted to this forum have already learned.
Yes, Gabriel, in a perfect world, no one would be exploited. But in the real world, success doesn’t always breed success; sometimes it just breeds more suckers to contribute to the coffers of the successful. Furthermore, what so many Secretrons, LOAnoids and other New-Wagers still don’t seem to get is that few if any of us from the naysaying camp are objecting to people charging money for their products or services. We don’t even object to people charging staggering amounts of money for their expertise. After all, most of us are capitalists too. What we are questioning is the actual value of the products and services being offered. And that is very much up for debate.
However, as both Tony Michalski and Steve Salerno have pointed out, the potential cost of coaching isn’t even the biggest problem. In SHAM Steve writes, "What qualifies someone as a life coach? A better question might be, What disqualifies someone?…Virtually anyone, whether he or she has attended Coach U or not, can anoint himself a life coach."
The truth is that because there are no uniform standards for the industry, life coaches can and do cross boundaries that should not be crossed, sometimes practicing therapy without the proper license to do so, and, in the worst cases, emotionally or sexually abusing their clients. This is by no means to imply that all or even most life coaches cross these boundaries. But many, perhaps out of fear of losing business, fail to make a proper distinction between life coaching and psychotherapy, sometimes with unfortunate consequences.***
I recently had an email exchange with the aforementioned Tony Michalski, who has done a specialized type of life coaching in the past. Tony, who has given me permission to quote him, had several observations about coaching, the first of which was this:
Some don’t need coaching; they need therapy. I don’t intend that as an insult. Just a point of fact. For some people, issues are so deep-seated that anyone who attempts to "coach" them is playing the fool. It's dangerous, not to mention practically criminal, especially if something should happen.
At a keynote speech to a conference of therapists last November, Steve Salerno spoke about the same problem.
Tony pointed out that the problem is not just with the life coaches themselves but also with their all-too-willing clients. And he has a point. After all, if there weren’t a market, the coaches would be spreading their wisdom in some other way.
Many are looking for the "silver bullet." Many have the impression that there is some silver bullet or "secret" to success, so they get a coach. It's silly, but look at how the coaches market themselves. Crazy stuff! So, people shell out the coin, get the "coaching," and [what else?]... Probably nothing.
Some folks, however, spend lots of money with no apparent or measurable results, but still find the experience valuable. Tony writes:
I know people who went through five coaches and THOUSANDS of dollars…Well, they SAY it was great and a good experience and they learned a lot. What about more money, success, etc.?? Nothing. BUT IT WAS STILL GOOD!
Hey, in the New-Wage world, "it’s all good."
Tony believes that for a subset of "business people looking for an edge," coaching can be of value. He adds that if he opts to "coach" again, it will be with the understanding that he is a consigliere – "someone who can look at things objectively for you and offer advice" – rather than a life coach. That kind of service, he says, makes sense.
Tony’s opinion of the life-coaching industry as a whole, however, is that it "plays on peoples’ hopes and fears and can really deliver very little other than ...MORE COACHING! Or another SEMINAR! Hey! Why not BOTH!" Indeed, that seems to be the pattern with most of the New-Wage practitioners, whether or not they are openly selling "coaching" programs.
Tony concluded with a remark that you won’t hear from too many life coaches: "Frankly, I tell people who come to me for coaching to put their money into a few college level classes and actually LEARN something that will help to make them successful rather than a life coach program."
So is life coaching worthwhile? Returning to the Powerful Intentions forum where I began, I saw this comment from a person named Seamus Ennis:
To paraphrase an old saying, one person's sucker deal is another person's money well spent. And the true point here is that you can't judge that from the outside…
…And if there are charlatans out there using any teaching, then they will be perfectly balanced out with the people who need to be taken. A Perfect example of like attracting like.
It could be argued, then, that people who get suckered deserve what they get. But that doesn't let the hucksters off the hook. And it doesn't negate the need for some standardization of the life coaching industry.
One thing is certain: As long as there are so many gluttons for the artificial wisdom and mostly empty calories of New-Wage thought, there will be life coaches around to serve up heaping helpings of pricey counsel. Endlessly adaptable, they will alter their shtick to match every exciting new miracle-breakthrough trend that comes along. Witness, for example, Coach Kate, a Law Of Attraction Life Coach, just one of dozens if not hundreds of life coaches who are riding the Secret wave. And when The Secret has gone the way of all bad trends, and new bad trends rise in its place, the coaches will adapt yet again. The good coach, like the solicitous waiter, knows that no matter how many courses the true personal-growth gourmand has consumed, there will always be room for just one more "waf-fer-thin mint…"
As for the rest of us, we are best advised to duck and run.
* Secremonious (seek-ruh-MOH-nee-us): Another Cosmic Connie neologism, referring to the sanctimony of Secret zealots.
** Amazon’s "also-bots" are really not very bright; according to the info currently on the Amazon page for this book, customers who expressed interest in this title also shopped for Wamsutta pillow shams.
*** I’ve noticed that on most of the "life coach" or "miracles coach" web sites there are very detailed disclaimers warning that potential clients may not achieve the type of financial success hyped in the program. But there’s nothing that says, "Under no circumstances should coaching be considered a substitute for the attention of a qualified therapist, counselor, and/or other healthcare professional." Perhaps these disclaimers are present in the actual contracts once the
sucker prospect has signed up for the program, but they don’t seem to be in the promo copy or the disclaimer pages.