Life Coaching Isn't Just For The Mentally Ill: My Experience With Changing Perspective

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Mental health is an important aspect of overall well-being, and life-coaching can help keep this in check. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

When I was first offered complimentary life coaching sessions, I was skeptical, to say the very least. What on earth is a life coach and why would I ever need one? However, it’s not in my nature to turn down new experiences, so on Monday, March 9, at 7 p.m., I met with Frank Macri for my very first session of life coaching.

Positive Psychology

Life-coaching is a fairly new, though increasingly popular, type of therapy inspired by positive psychology. Positive psychology is described as "the study of how human beings prosper in the face of adversity," and unlike traditional psychology that tends to focus on the dysfunction or abnormal behavior, positive psychology maintains that the central concerns of psychology should include positive aspects such as love, courage, and happiness. As Macri explained to me, what sets apart a life coach’s positive psychology from traditional psychology is that rather than focusing on what went wrong in the past, life coaches will focus on how to make tomorrow better.  

Life coaches such as Macri are hoping to change the face of mental health by showing that you don’t need to be living with a serious mental health condition like depression to benefit from a bit of counseling. As reported by Psychology Today, life coaching first gained popularity in the business world. Those hoping to get a foothold in a new job or entering a new industry would utilize mentoring services to give them the mental support they needed to get where they wanted to go in life. Today, the service is open to absolutely anyone who’s interested.

My Sessions

Over the course of three weeks, I had three life coaching sessions. I was nervous during my initial session, but Macri instantly made me feel at ease. He offers complimentary consultation sessions for those interested in being coached via his website, TheFrankLife.com. For that first session, he subtlely felt out what my ideal “stress-free” life was and how I could go about obtaining this.

Imagine having someone who will listen with an open mind to everything you have to say, knows exactly the right thing to say at that moment and pushes you, though not too much, to achieve your goals, and you have the definition of a life coach. Although Macri’s coaching style is aligned with the standards set by the International Coach Federation, speaking with him was more akin to chatting with a close friend than a therapist.

We used tools such as the Life Wheel to figure out which areas of my life I may have felt less confident in. Along with listening to what I had to say, Macri presented me with a weekly “assignment” to help turn my goals into actions. Macri even offered to follow up with emails in order to help “hold me accountable” for my weekly goals.

Who Will Benefit From Life Coaching?

Life coaching transforms lives, not by giving people the resources needed to reach their goals, but by helping them to tap into the resources they already need. Rather than tell me what to do with my life or give me advice in current obstacles I might be facing, Macri offered me something much more valuable: perspective. And this is something absolutely everyone can benefit from. The only catch is that you have to be ready and open to coaching in order to actually benefit from it.

It’s not just me who felt that life coaching had merit. A 2009 study done by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development found that 90 percent of the organizations surveyed used professional coaching. According to the Harvard Business Review, in 2009 coaching was a $1 billion industry, with some coaches charging as much as $3,500 for an hour of their time.

You aren’t just paying for a change of perspective. These coaches will help you to develop your potentials, help you to adjust to a big life transition, and also point out derailing behavior in an effort to help you stop it, HBR reported. Outside of your professional life, coaching can help you to deal more effectively with relationships, stress management, and nearly anything else that’s currently troubling you.

“Having a coach doesn’t mean you’re broken,” Macri explains on his website. “It means you’re ready for the next step.”

A New Perspective

For my coaching sessions, I chose to focus on my college loans, the bane of existence for many early 20-something professionals. While Macri could not help me to pay off my loans, he did try and help change the way I think about them.

“Instead of all this dread you feel toward your loans, why not try feeling some gratitude for all that the money has paid for?” he said.

As simple as it was, I had never thought to approach my loans with gratitude, when in reality I had an awful lot to be grateful for. My college loans paid for four years of education at the University of Hertfordshire in England. During that time, I completed both my bachelor's and master's degrees, travelled to places I’d only ever seen in textbooks, met the man who eventually became my husband, and made countless happy memories. By attaching positive emotions to something which caused me anxiety, my problem seemed somewhat smaller.

There has been criticism of too many life coaches lacking in “life experience.” At only 24 years old, it’s quite possible that Macri has far less years under his belt than the majority of his clients. His youth is not a unique sight in the world of life coaching. In 2012, Terrence E. Maltbia, the director of the Columbia University’s Coaching Certification Program, told The New York Times that the demand for life coaching certification courses in younger people is a trend he’s been observing since 2007.

While this criticism is not unfounded, one doesn’t necessarily need to have shared a person's experiences to help him or her deal with them. Also, the younger generation is able to add new components to life coaching: technology. For example, my coach lives in Vancouver and I live in New York, yet we were still able to effectively communicate via Skype. The convenience of having my sessions from my own home made me feel even more comfortable.

While I’m sure that life coaching is not for everyone, I’ve firsthand seen the potential of this useful resource. Mental health is something people often only think of when something goes wrong, but in reality it’s an important aspect to our well-being, which deserves regular check-ups. Life coaching’s positive psychology approach is helping to transform how the world views mental health by showing that one doesn’t necessarily need to be “sick” in order to benefit from a bit of guidance.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly wrote that Macri was a fully certifed life coach by the ICF. It has now been amended to reflect his correct coaching qualifications.

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