EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 22, 2008

Focus: Coaches help those who 'feel stuck'

By Rebecca Correa

In seven hours, a group of professionals say, they can change a life.

The certified staff help clients find a goal and reach that goal — but they're not counselors, they're life coaches.

Life coaching began in California about 20 years ago, and it's slowly becoming an everyday word for New Englanders.

There are about 20 certified coaches in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. And although most are located near Boston, life coaches can be found in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire as well.

Methuen resident Cecilia Robinson opened her life-coaching business, Positive Contact, in 2002. But Robinson said she was acting as a life coach long before she even heard the term coined and earned her certification.

"I'm the type of person that was always consulted for advice," she said. "After a while, I realized I had been coaching without realizing it."

She's helped people find new careers and overcome obstacles in personal relationships — but she's not a therapist.

"This is not hard therapy for ill people; it's for well people that need some motivation and clarity," Robinson said.

And she's not afraid to tell a client that she can't help them — that's part of what it means to be a life coach.

"Absolutely, I've referred clients onto therapy," she said. "If it appears to be more clinical or serious, I will be honest and suggest not to waste the time or money because I may not be able to help you."

But other life coaches are counselors. Marcia Nicoll of Exeter, N.H., a counselor, became certified as a life coach because it's another way to "help people come unstuck."

She said the root of almost all life-coaching problems comes from a lack of confidence or self-esteem. Counseling problems are often related to a deeper issue.

"That's what I look for right away," she said. "If we can learn to feel good about ourselves and gain self-esteem, our relationships, our personal and professional lives are so much better."

As Robinson and Nicoll see an increase in clients, they've also noticed their clients aren't just those in a mid-life crisis. They've served clients as young as college kids to those in their 50s — but there haven't been any senior citizens yet.

"It has not caught on with them, which is odd because that's where I wanted to direct my practice," Nicoll said. "It may just be because coaching, like counseling, is private, and those in their 70s or 80s, boy, they could use it, but it's a privacy thing."

Similar to counseling, life coaches recommend that their clients see them once a week for as few as seven sessions. Some coaches, such as Robinson, prefer to coach on the phone.

"I'm not adverse to seeing people one on one; I find it isn't necessary," she said. "But for some, it's more desirable. They're freer on the phone, and, really, it makes it convenient."

Others, such as Nicoll, have an office for their coaching clients.

As the profession continues to grow in this area, there are still obstacles to overcome.

For one, Nicoll believes there should be stricter regulations about who can or cannot become a life coach after a certification course.

"Someone with a math degree, for instance, may need more than that training," she said.

Both she and Robinson agree that someday soon, health insurance companies need to start covering the cost of coaching sessions, just as they do for counseling.

"I think it would be wonderful, and these costs should be with health insurance," Nicoll said. "This is preventative care, and these things would all lead to a better life and be wonderful in the workplace."

Life coaching sessions range from $60 to $120, depending on the coach.