I have been doing a lot of reading lately about those who call themselves “life coaches.” Now, not all life coaches are bad. In fact, some are quite good. But one in particular has ruffled my feathers, to say the least. One woman, who will remain nameless as I just simply can’t inspire others to look for her, has written a book indicating that counselors should be killed – that they are not doing any couple or individual any good. I still can’t decide if she is saying this to be funny or not. She claims that all that is really needed is for people to take her advice, as she has been married for twenty plus years and her experience is all you need. She claims that all you have to do is take her advice based on her experience and you will live a wonderful life in a wonderful marriage. She writes about numerous couples who have taken her advice and lo and behold, it simply works. What’s interesting is she uses no evidence based practices, has had no academia or field training except of her own volition, and uses no scientific backup for her claims and technique whatsoever.
So, kill me and use her marriage as your catch all for you and all other couples and individuals everywhere and we’ll all be good.
This kind of thinking makes me cringe and, if truth be told, makes me angry.
She is a writer, and tours constantly as a motivational speaker, and has more money than I can even imagine thinking about having.
Some may call jealousy. A little. Sure. I’m not a saint.
But, what really irks me is how she is derailing the work that therapists do as a whole. I am also concerned about what the heck she’s selling and how she’s bamboozling clients who trust her.
I use techniques that have proven to work under scientific scrutiny that experts in the field have studied and revamped and made available for all sorts of diverse couples and individuals. The techniques I use are upheld by multiple associations, doctors, and scientists that have worked with hundred upon thousands of people to make sure we, as a field, are doing no harm. I went to school for two Masters degrees and am getting my PhD to be able to make sure I am doing no harm. I have had over 1700 hours of training.
Did I mention she made her technique up with no studies to show for it? Or that she has no degree? Or is not held accountable by any governing bodies? I could go on and on.
I worry that she is doing harm.
I worry that she does not understand constructivist narrative perspectives or what those in the field call CNP. This is when a therapist and client focus on the stories that clients tell about themselves and others about significant events in their lives. By knowing these stories, clients appreciate how they construct their realities and how they author their own lives. The client, not the therapist, is the expert and the interaction of dialogue between the two is used to elicit perspective, resources, and unique client experiences. I worry that this life coach does not understand the role of questions that therapists are taught to ask that empower clients to speak and express their diverse positions. The therapy based on such evidence based practices supplies optimism and support in the process. The goal is to generate new meaning in the lives of clients and co-develop, together, solutions that are unique to the situation while also enhancing awareness of the impact of various aspects of the dominant culture on the individual.
Such a therapeutic technique helps people develop alternative ways of being, acting, knowing, and living. The key concepts of this narrative perspective derive from a social constructionism theory in which the assumption is that there are multiple truths and that reality is subjective and based on the use of language. Such an approach is considered postmodern as it strives for a collaborative and consultative stance. Does this life coach know this?
There are so many theories that I would gather to think this life coach does not utilize. She only talks at people, making her solution all encompassing, making each couple and individual the same. Therapists realize this is not the case. This is never the case.
For instance, does she know that solution-focused brief therapy is grounded on a positive orientation whereby people are considered healthy and competent? That the past is downplayed, while the present and future are highlighted? This therapy is concerned with looking for what is working and the therapist assists clients in finding exceptions to their problems. There is a shift from problem-orientation to solution-focus and emphasis is on constructing solutions rather than problem solving. There is the assumption that people can create their own solutions and that small changes lead to large changes. Here, the client is again the expert on his or her own life and the therapist merely collaborates. Questions from the therapist allow clients to utilize their resources while focusing attention on solutions. Questions are geared to create change that can be useful and help clients to take note when things were and are better – it helps them pay attention to what they are doing and open up possibilities to do something different.
There are three kinds of relationships in solution-focused therapy. There is the customer-type relationship whereby a client and therapist jointly identify a problem and a solution to work toward. There is also the complainant relationship in which a client describes a problem, but is not able or willing to take an active role in constructing a solution. Lastly, there is what is called “visitors” – the clients who come to therapy because someone else thinks they have a problem. There are many techniques/questions used in these relationships depending on so many variables. There is no one way to do it all. A therapist has to consider everything from the type of questions to ask to how much to ask. There are pre-therapy change questions whereby a therapist may ask “What have you done since you made your appointment that has made a difference in your problem?” There are also exception questions such as when the therapist directs clients to times in their lives when the problem did not exist. There is also my favorite – the miracle question. This is the one by which a therapist asks “If a miracle happened and the problem you have was solved while you were asleep, what would be different in your life?” Therapists may also ask scaling questions – “On a scale of zero to 10, where zero is the worst you have been and 10 represents the problem being solved, where are you with respect to the issue now?” Does someone who had not studied these therapies and theories and more along with the rigorous tests behind them know truly how to help someone that will create lasting change and do no harm?
Narrative Therapy is another postmodern approach in which the therapist listens to clients with an open mind while encouraging them to share their stories with curiosity and persistence. How does that happen when you are lecturing someone and making everyone the same? The truth is, you simply can’t. The focus of narrative therapy is that the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem. The therapeutic process in narrative therapy involves collaborating with the client in identifying and naming the problem, separating the person from his or her problem, and investigating how the problem has been disrupting or dominating the person. Then, there is a search for exceptions to the problem. Therapists may ask clients to speculate about what kind of future they could expect from the competent person that is emerging. The functions of a therapist in narrative therapy is to become an active facilitator and demonstrate care, interest, openness, empathy, contact, and fascination. A therapist must adopt a not-knowing position – image that! This allows for the client to guide by his or her story, helping them to own their story and their life. This helps clients construct a preferred story line and creates a collaborative relationship between the therapist and the client. The client is the senior partner – they are in charge.
Questions in narrative therapy are used as a way to generate experience rather than to gather information and they are always asked from a position of respect and curiosity. By asking questions, therapists assist clients in exploring dimensions of their life situations which can lead to taking apart problem-saturated stories. The focus is to relate to problems in life but not be fused with them, a process call externalization. Externalization is a process of separating and freeing the client from identifying with the problem. Externalizing conversations can lead clients to recognizing times when they have dealt successfully with the problems in other ways. This can occur through deconstruction and creating alternative stories. New and alternate stories that are co-created indicate that clients can continually and actively re-author their lives. Questions that explore possibilities enable clients to focus on their new life and the way they want it to be.
You simply can’t get that kind of collaboration, that kind of care, that kind of respect from a step by step guide book from a woman whose only claim is she has been married for 20 odd years. And you certainly won’t get it from someone who touts that her way is the only way.
So, my point? Please, buyer beware. When looking for help, when looking for someone to walk with you through your life, make sure they know what they are doing. Make sure they are there for you – not simply to make a buck or a book. A good therapist – even a good life coach – will not tell you their story and give you a one solution for all gimmick. They will ask for your story. Then, you will work on it together, with your story leading the way.