Reality TV's Newest Frustration: Life Coaches

Ryan's entry yesterday about bad experiences working with coaches has catalyzed some interesting discussion in the comments.

Many of the comments make me wonder: Why are people so defensive about the coaching practice? Yes, people have wonderful experiences with coaches. Yes, coaches can help people improve their personal and professional lives. But it just stands to reason that there are also bad coaches out there — and that people have had bad experiences working with coaches.

Rather then react defensively, let's use this as a learning moment. If you're aware of any horror stories, email Ryan. Otherwise, leave a comment about how to select the right coach, how to work best with a coach, etc. We're not out to paint all coaches with a bad brush; we're just interested in cautionary tales and lessons learned.

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  • Michael Rice

    Personally, I was really amused. I'm not a coach, but as the editor of a small e-zine covering executive and life coaching for mainstream audiences called Anthrocoach (you can access life coaching specifically at Anthrocoach | Life Coaching). I enjoyed the "these people" comment referring to coaches because I think it's representative of how "real" people actually think about the business. Life coaching is a really new, and fast growing, field.

    Being an adolescent industry, it sometimes acts like I used to when I was a teenager... a little defensive and a little self-conscious. We didn't have the web when psychologists first showed up on the scene, but I'm sure the conversations would be similar.

    Like most new and fast growing fields there sure are a lot of charlatans out there. But it wouldn't be such a fast growing field if there weren't a lot of legit practitioners too! I hope you'll post the good AND the bad -- I want them for my 'zine too!!

  • James Smith

    I had the opportunity to speak with Ryan today, and he really was curious about the nerve that seems to have been struck by his requesting a horror story.

    I have to say that I to am a bit confused as well. I personally don't see it as a challenge to the profession of coaching. Nor do I see it as a challenge to someones experience of coaching.

    As a coach it seems to me that being open and having a willingness to listen is critical.

    I for one would like to see an open and public dialog about coaching. If the feedback isn't what we want to hear then we get to learn something.

    Coaching as whole is not understood by most and what an opportunity to give a voice to what we do as a whole.

  • Nancy Baker

    Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh......... we're not listening!
    Bad form for coaches!
    All Ryan asked for was a couple of horror stories. I've got one.

    Several years ago a woman called me in a panic. She had decided she was a coach because she wanted to help people (zero training). Her first client (probono of course) had an awful childhood and was hearing voices. She had tried to "coach" him through it but it wasn't working and the voices were getting louder. Could I, as a "Professional Coach" take over? She was beginning to get scared.

    I sent them both to a therapist I know. I don't think either of them stayed with it, but hopefully our coaching friend was cured of coaching.

    In the 7 years I've been coaching that's the only horror story I know of. Hope it helps Ryan!

  • Matthew Rochte, Working Intent

    Interesting discussion here. There are those offended, those who feel attacked, and those who want to further the discussion. I think I would fall into the last category.

    I have been coaching for a dozen years or so and in private practice for about three years. I serve on the Ethics and Standards Committee of the International Coach Federation and I am the incoming president of the Minnesota Coaches Association. The industry is still young and finding its way. There have been some great success and some disturbing trends. We are on path of self regulation with two organizations the ICF (International Coach Federation) and IAC(International Association of Coaches) leading the charge.

    It is generally felt by the coaching community that the fly-by-night coaching & fly-by-night coach certification programs are dangerous to the profession and community and we are concerned by their proliferation.

    The ICF and IAC establish high credibility standards both in member coaches and the institutions that instruct their coaches. Both organization websites have links to accredited coaching programs that usually involve 1-2 years of training. Both organizations have a Code of Ethics and Standards that their coaches must abide by to retain membership, accreditation, and certification. (Codes:ICF IAC) Both have stringent certification processes. The ICF Ethics Committee has a yearly review of the code to strengthen the coaching industry and has a coach and has the ability to revoke credentials. Our goal however is to educate rather than punish such an offender and thereby educate the community. It is a process that works.

    Onto your questions

    You have a preponderance of positive comments about coaches by coaches. That is understandable since any coach worth their salt has been coached and/or is being coached - just like any other service industry, we use our own kind to get better. A coach is more likely to have better understanding and a relationship with the coaching process and is willing to share it with a reporter than a client (see early issues of privacy).

    If you find a bad coach - FIRE THEM! And tell them why so they can learn. Same holds true for coaches - Coaches, if you find a bad client FIRE THEM and tell them why so they can learn and get the help or resources they need.

    Are their bad coaches - Yes! Have I hired any - Yes! Did I do my due diligence before I hired them - No!. Was I ready for that coaches style - Perhaps Not. Does that make them bad coaches - Perhaps, as they did not let me know I might not be a good client for them. Does that make me a bad client - ABSOLUTELY, sometimes :-)

    (Side note with respect the TV show - there have been members of the house "clients" who have been asked to leave as they were not ready to take on the responsibility of changing their own lives. That is what is at the core of all coaching, especially life coaching - Taking responsibiltity for your life)

    One of the things I emphasize with all perspective clients is to interview and get sample of coaching from at least three different coaches before choosing one or me. The magic of coaching is not in the coach or the client or in what is said. The magic lies in the relationship between the client and the coach. Who do you want to be in relationship with? Who do you want to grow with?

    If you want a successful coaching relationship Find a coach -
    a) That you feel comfortable with
    b) That you feel wants to be in relationship with you (not needs to be)
    c) That really gets you to think and reflect in new directions
    d) That stretches the heck out of you.
    e) That has a track record or credentials that mean something to you (testimonials, training, certification, experience, whatever matters to you)
    f) That you can say NO to and that can say NO to you.
    g) That has a coach of their own and/or has been coached recently - nothing like walking the talk.

    Lastly I would extend the same offer of James - Take on a coach yourself to work on your life for 3-6 months and blog on it if you like. Give me a call and see if we would make a good match if not, I can suggest a few more.

    Matthew Rochte
    Working Intentionally

  • James Smith

    Ryan, I have to say I find it interesting as well, why the reaction versus the response?

    Why shouldn't coaching as a profession be questioned?

    Why would a coach take such questioning about the profession so personal?

    This subject will be discussed, like it or not. Why not be proactive and take it head-on.

    Coaching isn't new, at least in it's purest sense. People have been coaching one another since the beginning of time.

    I would love to see this dialog break wide open. Quit worrying about the words and start focusing on what the question is asking.

    Ryan, once again I am making the offer:

    --- start repeat ---
    I see the path of this blog having the following possibilities;
    1. You find your ultimate "horror story," and
    send coaches around the world into a panic.
    It's possible, it happens with doctors, it
    happens with attorneys, and it even happens
    with leaders of faith.

    2. You continue to receive input much like
    you have already received. An interesting
    point here and there will be shared, and
    still little will have been answered.

    3. You put your cynical curiosity and your
    words to the test...;-) Experience your
    question first hand and blog your heart
    away...if you dare!

    Yep, this is a challenge, an opportunity, a call to action.

    As Tarzan might say; "Me coach, you client!"
    --- end repeat ---

    Fees waved, just an opportunity to embrace the question of coaching with reporter eyes and personal curiousity.

    What do you have to lose, it's a learning opportunity right? You could gain an unique insight into the horror story, you are seeking, and report accordingly.

    One last thought Ryan, you mention that "it stands to reason" that there does exist the "bad coach;" why would it matter to you that "the bad coach" is real or not?

    Have fun, live it with everything you have, NOW!


  • David Beverly

    As a certified empowerment coach (Institute for Empowerment Coaching IPEC) one of the first "rules" I learned was "do not coach anyone who thinks they need coaching, work with those who want to be coached." That statement has helped me clarify, along with the client, if coaching (at this stage of their growth/development) is right for them. Our class was also trained to recognize mental health issues, so we could guide a client to the proper help if needed. There is a distinct difference between coaching and therapy work, one that is often blurred by a lack of understanding, and some clinical professionals threatened by what coaching offers.
    Coaching is in a phase of growth and development, this phase will filter out the "wanna be" and lead into a service that has a structure, and practicioners that have creditinals.
    As already noted you can find poor performers in almost any industry. I encourage clients to talk with people who have experienced coaching, and I explain the many coaching niches found today.
    As a service the public (clients) will help mold what coaching is today, and what coaching will be in the future.

  • Jennifer Warwick

    Oops, I think you just made it worse..."let's use this as a learning moment"?!? Excuse me? Remember, we can't see your tongue in your cheek on the web...

    I do believe Ryan's actual intention was to write a balanced story from the client perspective, rather than rewriting coaches' self-promotion materials. Great idea.

    The assumption that there was an abundance of untold "horror stories" out there and his solicitation of them gave the impression (however unintentioned) that he was trying to dig up bad press against a profession that, by and large, does nothing but celebrate the human spirit. That's bound to push a few buttons.

    So. How about starting a thread called "Reality TV's Newest Innovation: Life Coaches?" After all, how many reality shows teach people that they are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole, and can transform their lives and relationships without major surgery, eating vile concoctions, or stabbing allies in the back?

  • Troy Angrignon

    I read Ryan's annoying request for horror stories and was almost prompted to comment yesterday but let it pass. Now that it is being discussed again above, here are my thoughts on why I thought that his very question was call for a strong response.

    I take issue with the fact that as a reporter he should be reporting on trends and issues instead of trying to falsely identify conflict. (Okay, there is a key assumption and he and I may disagree strongly about.)

    He said: "It got me to thinking, we here at Fast Company get inundated with life coaches telling us their success stories all the time. But rarely do we hear from people who actually worked with a life coach. Are they really that great? Surely there must be some horror stories out there."


    WHY would he insist on only hearing the "horror stories"? Don't we have enough conflict around without generating more artificially?

    I worked with a life coach for 9 months two years ago and it was a pivotal period of time and allowed me to get a lot of clarity about my life and my work. I think that the field is young and because so many young coaches with little life experience are flocking to the field, that the quality is not very high for many of the beginning coaches.

    If you are really interested in doing a proper story on coaching, I would highly recommend contacting Steve Mitten, one of the grand-daddies of the coaching business. He is at

  • Christopher Bailey

    It's not even that the profession is being called into question (sure there are lousy coaches who attend a weekend seminar and feel they are fully qualified just as there are lackluster professionals practicing in all lines of work). My problem with Ryan's earlier posting is there was such a condescending tone to it that it's hard as a coach to not be defensive. I'm all for learning, but part of the purpose of these public forums is to address issues, share ideas, and occasionally critique the media, right?

    With that said, as a practicing coach in the US specializing in helping folks find careers of significance and meaning, I would be very interested in what we coaches can do to improve how we work with others. And I promise not to get defensive anymore (unless someone brings up the psycho life coach from Nip/Tuck) :)

  • Kathy Woody

    The defensiveness is probably due to the fact that someone's entire profession is being called into question! The pen can indeed be mightier than the sword, even though the proliferation of venues for wielding the pen may cause us to forget this.