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How to find a life coach, not a quack

How to pick a life coach
Is your coach worth the cash?

When I realized that I had a case of procrastination so tenacious that even admitting it took forever, I decided try a life coach instead of returning to my psychotherapist’s too-cozy couch. I’d talked about action long enough. I just needed to act.

Loosely defined, a life coach helps you structure a process to meet your goals. As life coaching quickly gains both credibility and popularity, it’s creating a thriving market. Anyone—former CEOs, HR execs, actors, self-help-book mavens, even disgraced journalist Jayson Blair—can call themselves one. Even although most people report positive experiences, you still need to be wary of quacks and hacks.

The recession is only making coaching more popular. “In the last year, I’ve seen more and more people still out of work, frustrated, and fearful,” says Bernie Siegel, an executive coach and president of the NYC chapter of International Coach Federation (ICF), the leading certifying body in the field. “Yet they’re finding some money to invest in themselves through coaching.” And the service is no bargain: an average life-coaching client spends 13 months and $3,700, according to a recent ICF survey.

So how do you find a coach that’s worth the cash? We canvassed a number of NYC coaches and clients to bring you these tips:

  • Ask around. Almost half of clients find their coach through word of mouth, according to the ICF. If a coach helped somebody you trust, start there.
  • Do a background check. “Find out their training,” recommends NYC coach and consultant Rachel Ciporen. “For life coaching, you’ll want one with a background in psychology, organizational development, or another foundation in how people learn and change.”
  • Seek a certified coach. A good bet is to find a coach whose training has been certified by ICF or another reputable entity, such as Columbia University Teacher’s College’s new Coaching Certification Program, where Ciporen and my coach, Anibal Cerda, got their creds.
  • Be specific. Since time is money, be clear on why you’re there. “To have a productive conversation, you and your coach need to agree on what you want to accomplish,” says Ciporen.
  • Not all problems are coach-appropriate. Depression, anxiety, deep-seated family issues—these are the realm of psychotherapists. A reputable coach will tell you to seek other options if your needs fall out of the scope of their training.

Despite the potential quack factor, most clients we spoke with felt that they had found a great coach and made real progress—including me. After several months of guided discussion, a weekly action plan, and a process to catch counterproductive behavior and test assumptions, I’m staying on track with my goals—and putting off procrastination for another day.

Ever done life-coaching? Tell us about your experience, here!