Thursday, December 10, 2015
By Julie Cohen, Professional Certified Coach
THE NEW YORK TIMES
NEW JERSEY WEEKLY DESK | July 13, 2003, Sunday
Coach or Couch, Choose Your Therapy
By MARILYN KOCHMAN (NYT)
For 20 years, Debbie Burns had basked in her jobs at the Xerox Corporation, culminating in the position of general manager of the life sciences business in the company’s global services division in Princeton. But three years ago she got a new boss and everything changed.
”He changed the focus of my job from strategic to administrative,” said Ms. Burns, 46, who lives in Hightstown. ”I was managing day-to-day problems instead of developing strategies and working with customers, which I loved to do. I knew I had to make a change.”
Today Ms. Burns has what she calls the job of her life. She is the senior director of sales for iMetrix, a health care technology company based in Carlsbad, Calif., that electronically connects patients who have chronic illnesses to their physicians for better monitoring. The position allows her to do what she loves most: traveling, interviewing customers, assessing their needs and developing strategies to meet those needs and win new business.
Ms. Burns attributes much of her success to her life coach, Julie Cohen. Until two years ago, Ms. Burns had never heard of professional coaching. But one day she tuned into a radio show and Ms. Cohen, president of the Philadelphia Area Coaches Alliance, was the guest.
”The topic was career transition,” Ms. Burns recalled, ”and Julie was emphasizing the importance of talking to someone objective to help assess professional strengths and determine career direction.”
Life coaching is a relative newcomer to the plethora of self-development options that have emerged over the last few decades. And it is taking New Jersey by storm, as it were, with more coaches than most other states in the nation and more people affluent enough to explore the possibility of happier lives.
Unlike traditional psychotherapy, which delves into the patient’s past to identify and correct emotional problems and destructive behavior patterns, coaching focuses on the present.
In traditional psychotherapy, the therapist is an expert and healer who diagnoses the patient’s pathology. But coaches do not claim to be specialists in human behavior or to have the skills required to treat emotional problems. Rather, they are partners, motivators and confidants who help their clients establish meaningful goals, create action plans and break them down into achievable steps.
Ms. Burns worked with Ms. Cohen for a year and a half. She talked to her by telephone about once a week, venting, reviewing the ups and downs of her career, describing her likes and dislikes and brainstorming about the ideal position.
Before each call, Ms. Burns faxed her coach a meeting preparation form, in which she described what she had accomplished since the previous appointment, major successes, areas of difficulty and tasks she had not completed. These items formed the basis of the conversation.
Ms. Burns landed her new job serendipitously. A former mentor called, offering her a position with a new company where he had just joined the board. ”Because of all of the work I had done identifying my strengths and career aspirations,” Ms. Burns said, ”I knew this position was for me and was ready to seize the opportunity.”
Ms. Burns paid $350 a month for three 30- to 45-minute sessions. The fee for life coaching generally ranges from $250 to $450 a month, although it can go to $1,000 for executive coaching. The cost, which is similar to what some psychotherapists charge, also includes unlimited contact with the coach by e-mail and fax.
Life coaching has its roots in the early 1980’s, when Thomas J. Leonard, of Phoenix, established a financial planning business and realized that people seeking advice on how to manage their fortunes seemed to be equally interested in discussing life options outside the financial realm. Heeding his entrepreneurial instincts, Mr. Leonard changed his practice to ”life planning.” By the late 1980’s, he was teaching others how to coach. In 1992, he founded Coach University, based in Steamboat Springs, Colo., the first formal coach training program.
Two years later, Mr. Leonard, who died last February, founded the International Coach Federation, a professional association of personal and business coaches to certify the graduates from his school.
Today, the federation says it has 6,000 members, affiliated with 145 chapters in 30 countries. Membership has more than doubled in the last two years, according to Dan Martinage, executive director. Estimates of the number of coaches worldwide — both members and nonmembers of the I.C.F. — range from 12,000 to 15,000, he said.
New Jersey has one of the largest chapters in the country, the New Jersey Professional Coaches Association, with about 200 members. And there may be 200 more coaches in the state who are not affiliated, according to Donna Gerhauser of Scotch Plains, the president of the chapter.
Coaches help people accomplish goals as modest as finding an extra 15 minutes a day for relaxation or as monumental as finding the perfect new job, as in Ms. Burns’s case.
Ms. Gerhauser says it is no wonder that the New Jersey chapter is one of the largest.
”Many people in the state are living very comfortably,” she said. ”There is a huge corridor of corporate headquarters, especially from the pharmaceutical industry. People are educated, they have professional-level jobs, houses and luxuries. Because this segment of the population is not struggling to meet basic needs, they have the freedom to think about how to lead more fulfilling lives and to look for direction in achieving that.”
So, can a coach really help you find that direction? It depends. In Ms. Burns’s case, it helped tremendously. In addition to finding a new position, she wanted to channel her energy in positive ways so she wouldn’t ”spiral downward” from anger and frustration.
”I wanted to continue in my current position until I chose my new employer and career path,” she said. ”Julie allowed me to vent about my boss and then helped me focus on what I wanted to accomplish for my team. My staff loved me, and I had a real passion about the pharmaceutical industry. I just needed help in getting my boss out of my mind and out of my way.”
Jonathan Reese, 26, from Salem, is another New Jersey resident who has benefited from life coaching. While in college, he studied to be an opera singer, but then he decided to pursue something that was more practical and easier to attain — he became a computer expert at a social service agency. After a few years, though, Mr. Reese yearned for a more satisfying career. In August 2002, on a recommendation from his roommate, he began working with Bonnie Hall, a life coach based in Haddonfield.
”She helped me make decisions, create a vision and integrate all areas of my life,” Mr. Reese said. Through weekly phone conversations and voracious reading of books like the current ”Rich Dad, Poor Dad” (by Robert T. Kiyosaki with Sharon L. Lechter, Warner, 1999) and the 1910 classic ”The Science of Getting Rich” (by Wallace D. Wattles), Mr. Reese decided to pursue a career in real estate. ”In three months, I contemplated getting a new career, decided on one and got involved in it,” he said. ”When opportunities came along, I pounced on them.”
Today Mr. Reese is a top sales agent at Century 21, Weaver Realty, in Pennsville, and has bought one investment property in Lindenwold and another in Salem. ”In five years, I expect to earn my entire living from real estate investing,” he said.
Two years ago, Dawn Roxas, 28, from Milltown, was working as the coordinator of services for Alternatives, a social services agency in Raritan. ”This was an entry-level position, and not exactly what I wanted, but I needed a job,” she said.
A year and a half ago, Ms. Roxas was hired as the program director of Cerebral Palsy of New Jersey, based in Trenton. Today she is the director of the organization. Her salary has doubled, along with her responsibilities. She attributes much of her rapid career rise to her coach, Deborah Micek, a former resident of Neshanic Station who now lives in Oahu, Hawaii. ”I wouldn’t have moved up as quickly without my coach,” Ms. Roxas said.
For a year and a half, Ms. Roxas talked to her coach weekly to discuss some of her difficulties at work. ”I always felt like I knew things and had the answers, but was hesitant about presenting them,” she said. ”I didn’t want to be perceived as a ‘know-it-all.’ I was afraid to shine.”
Through her sessions, Ms. Roxas developed techniques to help her be less concerned about what others thought. One, for example, was reminding herself, ”It’s O.K. to do a good job,” whenever she became anxious. Eventually, her anxiety dissipated.
”Coaching helps you make a decision about where you want to go, and what you want to be,” she said.
Sometimes, coaching does not always produce the expected results. Donna Steinhorn, from Rumson, was coached on finding a new career and ended up in the life coaching profession herself.
”It was a terrible experience,” she said. ”Although someone had recommended the coach to me, I never checked her credentials. It turns out she didn’t have any. She talked about herself most of the time; she gave me the name of a book and told me to read it and discuss it with her, but I didn’t have time to read a book — that’s why I hired her. She also used the word ‘should’ a lot. It was extremely frustrating. I ended up coaching her. I’d ask her questions about why she wound up coaching, and I even suggested that she get more training.”
Margaret Krigbaum, vice president of the International Coach Federation, agreed that, as in any profession, some practitioners are less professional than they could be. ”Because anyone can call himself or herself a coach, they may not be properly trained or abide by professional standards,” she said.
Of the current 6,000 members of I.C.F., she added, only 20 percent are certified.
I.C.F. standards consist of an ethical code, philosophy and core competencies in four main areas: setting the foundation (meeting ethical guidelines), co-creating the relationship (establishing trust), communicating effectively (active listening, powerful questioning) and facilitating learning and results (creating awareness, planning and goal setting). Fifteen training organizations certified by I.C.F. teach coaches around the world to develop these competencies.
”Because coaching is a relatively new profession, I.C.F. certification has been available for only about four years,” said Patrick Williams, who heads the federation’s regulatory committee. ”There are actually far many more coaches practicing who are not certified than who are.”
The International Association of Coaches, organized last March, is another certifying body.
Coaching draws people from diverse backgrounds — lawyers, corporate executives, teachers and accountants. Many mental health professionals are also developing coaching practices to supplement their primary area of focus. They have also started coach training schools, in some cases to escape the hassles of managed care or to relieve professional burnout.
”Coaches help people create a future, not get over a past,” said Lynn Meinke of Philadelphia, who has a background in psychotherapy and who teaches at one such school, the Institute for Life Coach Training in Fort Collins, Colo. She is also head of the Life Coach Committee of the I.C.F.
Dr. Jeffrey Berger, president of an executive coaching company, Princeton Global Consulting, and a former psychology professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, said: ”Managed care is cumbersome. There is a lot of paper work and bureaucracy.” Besides, he said, unlike traditional psychotherapy, ”coaching is based on a wellness model” — an assumption that clients are capable of managing their emotions.
Barry Silverman from East Brunswick is a licensed clinical social worker who has started a separate coaching practice called Successful U. He enjoys the action orientation of this specialty. ”People who seek coaching are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work,” he said.
Despite their members’ growing interest in coaching, traditional mental health organizations have been slow to acknowledge its impact. The American Psychological Association recognizes the coaching profession and offers coaching workshops at conferences, but it does not formally endorse coaching. The American Psychiatric Association has included presentations on coaching at its annual meetings but has no official opinion about the merit of coaching.
”It is a boutique service,” said Dr. Nancy Block, president of the New Jersey Psychiatric Association. ”Coaching is not well defined. Who is doing it? What are their credentials? Clear-cut goals need to be established.”
Dr. Jeffrey P. Kahn, a Manhattan psychiatrist who is chairman of the Business Relations Committee of the American Psychiatric Association, said that ”although coaching can do some good, it doesn’t do as much good as people hope it does.”
”It is not so easy to give good advice, and it is not so easy to receive it,” Dr. Kahn said. ”It is possible to teach people to do things differently, but they may be uncomfortable with the new behavior, and the underlying issues and emotions will still be there and will work themselves out in another way.”
Sometimes, he said, therapy and medication can be far quicker and more effective in achieving the desired change.
”Coaching is a noble enterprise,” Dr. Kahn said, ”but is not aware of its potential limitations.”
Limitations notwithstanding, Ms. Burns and others are sold. As she put it, coaching can help people wind up in ”career heaven.”
Correction: July 20, 2003, Sunday An article last Sunday about the rise of life coaching as a self-development option misspelled the name of a company in Carlsbad, Calif., where Debbie Burns has what she calls the job of her life. It is iMetrikus, not iMetrix.
Copyright © 2003 by The New York Times Co. Reprinted with permission.
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