Tue, Mar 10, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Training to be a life coach

Once the butt of late night television jokes, life coaches are trying to move beyond their reputation as ‘a really expensive friend with limited credentials,’ to accredited and specialized professionals

By Alina Tugend  /  NY Times News Service

Clients work out at The Exercise Coach in Houston, Texas, last year. Life coaches are increasingly specializing, identifying themselves as health coaches, executive coaches or leadership coaches.

Photo: Reuters

Leslie Yalof Garfield, 54, a professor at Pace Law School, faced an empty nest as her last child headed off to college. Ilona Shinkar, 42, is a former French teacher living in Larchmont, New York, with three children at home.

Shinkar wanted to find a new career. Garfield wanted to pursue a new challenge. So both decided to become life coaches.

Cue eye rolls. The term life coach has evolved over the last few decades from a curiosity to a punch line. Nine years ago on The Daily Show, Demetri Martin called a life coach “a really expensive friend with limited credentials.” And the jokes haven’t stopped since.


But they also haven’t stopped people from becoming coaches. (The word “life” is fading somewhat, as many prefer to identify themselves by specialty — executive coach, health coach or leadership coach, for example.)

The nonprofit International Coach Federation, which is considered the main accrediting and credentialing body for both training programs and coaches, estimated in its 2012 Global Coaching Study that there were 47,500 coaches worldwide, about a third of those in America.

But the numbers have no doubt increased, said Magdalena Mook, executive director of the federation. In the two years since the study, her organization’s membership has grown to 25,000 from about 20,500, in 126 countries. (A member of the foundation need not be credentialed; about 15,000 coaches worldwide are credentialed, she said.)

“Every year we’re looking for signs of leveling, but it keeps growing in different parts of the world,” Mook said. “Asia is booming now.”

So what if you want to join this expanding group? You can just print up some business cards and call yourself a coach, but if you want training and credentials, how do you find your way through the more than 446 programs (132 in the US) accredited by the federation, let alone the hundreds of others that may be accredited by other organizations or not at all?


To be accredited by the International Coach Federation, a training program must meet a number of criteria. Among them, it must offer a minimum of 125 hours of contact between students and faculty, six hours of observed coaching sessions, 10 hours of mentor coaching and a performance evaluation.

“There are hundreds of different coach training schools and certification programs, which ultimately diminishes each certification’s credibility,” said Molly George, an assistant professor of criminal justice and sociology at California Lutheran University who has written about the professionalization of coaching.

After all, such programs can range from weekend courses for a few hundred dollars to yearlong US$20,000-plus programs offered at prestigious universities.

The first step is to figure out your parameters. What do you want to spend? What, if any, specialized interest do you have in the coaching field? How much time do you have? Do you care if the course is accredited or not? Do you want a marketing component to guide you in setting up a coaching business?

Shinkar knew she wanted “more hands-on experience, and a more holistic/mind and body approach,” as well as sessions that took place face to face, not online.

In the end, she chose Leadership That Works, which offers a “Coaching for Transformation” certificate and is accredited by the International Coach Foundation. The course cost US$7,495 and took about nine months. That included six monthly classes that lasted all day Saturday and Sunday, with about 25 to 30 people in her group; weekly 90-minute phone coaching by a mentor with her classmates; 10 mentor hours; and four hours of practice coaching, as well as homework and exams. She also had to submit recordings of part of some of her coaching sessions for evaluation.

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