Whirled Musings

Across the Universe with Cosmic Connie, aka Connie L. Schmidt...or maybe just through the dung-filled streets and murky swamps of pop culture -- more specifically, the New-Age/New-Wage crowd, pop spirituality & religion, pop psychology, self(ish)-help, business babble, media silliness, & related (or occasionally unrelated) matters of consequence. Hope you're wearing boots. (By the way, the "Cosmic" bit in my moniker is IRONIC.)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

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.

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13 Comments:

Blogger Steve Salerno said...

Excellent work here, Connie! Downright investigative-reporter-like, in tone. (That's a good thing.) And thanks for the ongoing plugs for SHAM and SHAMblog. We're getting an unprecedented amount of hits, and more and more of those who contact me off-blog credit you for "making the introductions."

Sunday, April 15, 2007 2:24:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks, Steve! I definitely had some good source material for this one. :-)

Sunday, April 15, 2007 6:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Cheryl Fuller said...

I toyed with becoming a coach for a while about 4 years ago. I started looking around at "training" programs, which in fact are sales programs more than anything else. And I subscribed to a number of Yahoo groups for new and would-be coaches. I spoke briefly with a coach who, for 10% of anything I developed and earned, would be happy to coach me *gratis* (!!).

In the process I learned that only 10% or so of the thousands of people presenting themselves as coaches earn enough doing it for it to be a full-time income. Most them, I believe, earn their money from coaching would-be coaches and offering them classes in how to market themselves.

There is little if any attention paid to the limits of coaching or how to determine if a person is in fact in need of therapy rather than coaching. There is no sense of any problem being beyond the scope of life coaching. I have been a therapist for 35 years and I am very aware of what kinds of problems are beyond the scope of what i can do.

I appreciate what you posted. It aligns perfectly with my experience when I explored the "coaching industry".

Sunday, April 15, 2007 6:53:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Thank you, Cheryl. It really does seem that so many of the "coaching" programs are actually MLM (or similar) schemes. Many of the larger life-coaching web sites offer the option of becoming a life coach as well as hiring one. As Steve Salerno wrote in SHAM, "Imagine consulting a site for medical help and being greeted by the offer, 'Would you like to find a doctor...or become a doctor?"

Life coaching really does seem to be an "anything-goes" industry at present, with no clear boundaries or standards. I can only imagine how frustrating, and sometimes infuriating, that must be to legitimate therapists such as yourself.

Thanks for your input.

Sunday, April 15, 2007 7:12:00 PM  
Blogger Coach Davender said...

Hi Connie
Great post! And this coming from a full-time coach and consultant who trained with Thomas Leonard and Coach U back in 2000, and loved the experience!

I've been following your blog, and that of Steve's, since seeing "The Secret" last fall. I was both encouraged and disturbed by the messages in the movie and now the book, so your comments are helping me to steer a middle course through the "new-wage" minefield.

Right now, the state of the coaching industry is not healthy because of what you and Steve and others are pointing out: a lack of accountability, measurability and professionalism. The example of the "intuitive life-coach" you describe in your post is a perfect example of the problem. Coaching schools fail to equip their students with a personal foundation of discipline and structure. And I'm not convinced that the ICF (International Coach Federation) certification system can put accountability back into the industry (I am an ICF member). I myself would not hire many of the coaches I meet, be they credentialed or not.

I'm also very disappointed in many of the Secret teachers, and their overt hucksterism since the DVD - especially Bob Proctor and the "Secret of Science of Getting Rich" CD set at $2k. That offer really destroyed my respect for him.

I'm part of a network of coaches who want to put accountability back into the profession (www.coachville.com). Being an aerospace systems engineer and project manager in my pre-coaching life, I want to see practical, tangible results from my clients, and provide a practical, tangible system for doing so. I basically teach fundamental project planning skills, applied to life and business.

In the LOA area, I provide workshops and coaching for people who want to apply LOA to their business or life projects, stripping away all of the cosmic mumbo-jumbo and getting to the core: know who you are and what you want, align your environment to promote positive thinking and belief, then take deliberate, bold and consistent action to make it happen. Accountability is created by measuring the actions and measuring the results. It's simple, but not easy, because most people don't want to change or sweat (thus the "lottery mentality" promoted by The Secret).

I tell all my prospects that of course you can make it happen on your own. What I add is an accountability system (I like the "consigliere" description you mentioned) to make sure my clients do what they say they want to do, with the bonus of providing tools and tips from my own experience since I've been there, done that. I spend a lot of my time and energy to connect my clients with the resources the need, and to help them develop the skills to succeed. I make sure I more than earn my fees by giving my all to my clients.

Reading your posts reminds me to stay real, focused on giving value for money, and delivering results. Keep up the good work, and keep on keeping me honest!

Sunday, April 15, 2007 7:56:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Thank you very much, Coach Davender. In my usual rush to be clever and present a certain p.o.v., I think the one point I glossed over in my post was that personal or life coaching can be a valuable tool if used properly. It's good to know there are people who are working to bring a new level of professionalism to the field.

Sunday, April 15, 2007 9:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Coach Banana said...

The coaching industry is a mess. ICF has been pushing for standards and self-monitoring, but I don't think they can pull it off.

I'm a member of CoachVille. Here's an email from Dave Buck, CV President, about his near-appearance in The Secret. If you think it's bad now...

From Dave:

The BIG Secret - I was almost in "The Secret"

We Will Show "The Secret" on Friday at the Annual Conference
Followed by a group discussion lead by Dave Buck
Coaching = Attraction + Action: the real secret

Hey there! Coach Dave Buck here.
I can still remember the moment. I was in Colorado in August 2005 for our bi-annual gathering of the Transformational Leadership Counsel; A group formed by Jack Canfield for folks who run companies that do transformational workshops and training programs. Jack had attended our Annual Conference in New Orleans in May 2005 - As a participant! - and after seeing the work that we do he asked me to join the group.

Rhonda Byrne was there to talk with us about a project that she was working on and to enlist our support. She showed a video clip that she had produced to introduce her idea for a movie called "The Secret". The scenes from the video became the dramatic scenes in the movie.

As she was talking about the movie clips and the project the energy in the room was building and the BIG QUESTION was begging to be asked: "What is the darn secret?"

Finally, after about 15 minutes she said: "OK, I'll tell you the secret: It's the law of attraction".

THE FIRST THING THAT POPPED INTO MY MIND... "The law of attraction is not a secret, we have been using it in the coaching industry for years!" I am such a pragmatist sometimes. We were all quite excited about the project and many of the documentary segments that you see in the film were shot that weekend

So, many of us had experience with the laws of attraction and we had a schedule of who was going to be filmed at what time. When my time arrived I visited the make-up station to get ready. I went to the film room and got the news. They had just run out of film!
It was OK. I got the message that it wasn't my time yet.

And, I am very happy for all of my colleagues who are in the film and the great work they are doing and the recognition they are receiving. A benefit of being a part of the TLC group is that we can screen the film at the Annual Conference.

Still I REALLY feel very strongly that the Law of Attraction alone is not the secret. In my experience it takes attraction AND action to bring our dreams into reality. AND for most people and most situations having a coach who knows the principles of attraction is the secret.

Coaching = Attraction + Action

Conference info:
http://tinyurl.com/29w6k7

Sunday, April 15, 2007 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Hey, there, "Coach Banana!" (Your blog looks very familiar. :-)) Thank you for sharing the message from "Coach Dave." If nothing else, it offers yet more evidence that Miss Rhonda didn't just wish, hope, think, and feel "The Secret" into existence. She actually did a some pretty aggressive "enlisting" of supporters.

It's good to hear info about the coaching industry from insiders. It will be interesting to see how things shake out in the next couple of years.

Sunday, April 15, 2007 10:29:00 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Hi Connie,

When people ask me "What is Life Coaching?" I tell them "It's a is an action-oriented kind of counseling. I focus more on helping people design their future than heal from their past."

No doubt about it, the coaching industry does need more standards and regulation. I used to make the excuse that "it's an industry in it's infancy" and that's why it is so unregulated...but it's time to grow up now.

As for the distinction between coaching and therapy, I do remember learning about that,(I trained with Coach U about 7 years ago) but I'm sure that not everyone takes it as seriously as I do. (My husband has a Ph D in Psychology - we talk about this stuff all the time.)I do screen all of my potential clients to see if therapy would be better for them. If someone who really needs therapy manages to "slip through" it usually shows up in the first month, at which point I refund their money and give them a referral.

Anyway, great post, as usual. I especially appreciate that you don't paint us all with the same brush. It seems as though you have some legitimate concerns about coaching, but would be more open to it as a profession if it were better regulated. I agree.

Monday, April 16, 2007 8:49:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Thank you, Sarah, I really appreciate your comments. As for my own experience in that essay I linked to, if the "test" (pre-screening) that "Ms. Coach" gave me indicated I really was as messed up as she said I was, she *should* have suggested I see a therapist, instead of trying to push me to take her "training."

It's good to hear from people in the coaching biz who really want to turn into a respectable profession and not just a magnet for dilettantes. Thanks for writing to me.

Monday, April 16, 2007 9:36:00 AM  
Anonymous moi said...

"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."

Hey Connie, this is exactly the issue I was trying to comment about on Steve salerno's blog but somehow jumbled it after a glass of wine. So, I will try to make sense here: I think what you describe above is what happened to me- not the sexual abuse, but the emotional. I think the LPC I had experience with is really better described as a life coach, cause he did not observe professional boundaries, in fact did not even believe in them. In addition, I later found out that he did not even have a license in the state where he was working. From this experience, I am thinking that many people who would have otherwise gone into the practice of psychotherapy may be becoming life coaches instead because it is easier, they are not as accountable, and can bend the rules. I have no problem with coaches treating people who just want to rev up their creative juices or deal with lightweight problems, but this trend bothers me because , as one of your bloggers said, they do not recognize their limitations. I recently read a scholaraly article about the difference between group therapy and those larger off spins like EST. The problem with the spinoffs is the same as the problem with life coaching- there is no accountability, and they often don't distinguish between those who basically have healthy egos and just need a little social interaction, and those with more serious problems who need targetted interventions. Most people do not read up on the current research in psychology, and therefore do not know how to distinguish between one method and another. This is what could be potentially dangerous. IMO, any one who goes to a life coach should ask exactly what kind of training he/she has had for the specific problems the person is seeking help for, then go to the library or look up on the web what other options are available.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 9:37:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Excellent points, Moi. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 9:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe's prices range form $1500-$2500for one hour of time,and its not even with Joe himself.
That's one person said on the internet that did the program.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 7:30:00 PM  

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