Life can be like a river, flowing over and in between rocks, expanding wide or squeezing narrow, fast or slow, but always moving. We constantly struggle with how to navigate the river, knowing that at some point along the way we will encounter rapids or waterfalls. Career choices, relationship guidance, or even managing the stress of a pandemic, are all various parts of life where a life coach can be helpful.
A row of snow capped mountains peak through the backdrop of the video call with Stephanie Larson, a certified catalyst life coach. Stephanie is bundled in a grey fleece blanket with long frizzy hair, wearing black framed glasses, and holding a steaming cup of coffee. There is a four-hour time difference between Alaska and Connecticut, so it’s only 8 a.m. for Stephanie. Her move to Alaska was fueled by a longing to feel home. Prior life choices allowed her to explore many landscapes like New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, Kenya, and a few summers in Alaska almost six years ago. Her desire to return never faded.
Contrary to popular belief, life coaching is not a privilege available only to celebrities and CEOs. It is a mental health and self-growth toolkit, used to set and achieve personal goals, and is accessible to anyone at any stage of life. However, it is different from therapy or modern medicine. Coaching involves a certified coach and a person seeking guidance with any aspect of life, such as finances, personal relationships, career choices, education assistance, and even guidance on life’s deeper issues, like childhood trauma.
“It’s a variety of roles. It’s a support system. A sounding board. Your biggest cheerleader,” says Stephanie as she sips her coffee and pushes her rectangular glasses up her nose. “It can also be a mirror for your greatest strengths, and maybe some areas of your life that you want to change.”
A sounding board would provide assurance during the crushing pandemic. The Washington Post recently coined the USA as the “United States of Anxiety,” surrounding the election. This year has forced change and uncertainty on all humans, and a little help navigating those changes could smooth out rapids.
Clients of life coaching surveyed in a study by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), indicated that 80 percent improved their self-confidence, 73 percent improved their relationships, 72 percent improved communication skills, and 67 percent of clients improved their work-life balance. These improvements can be through a few short sessions, or for some individuals, sessions can continue for months to achieve more complex goals. While each coach has their own niche like relationships or careers, they have their own style of operating.
Life coaching doesn’t require a license by law, however, there are certification programs recognized by top coaches around the globe that should be evaluated when choosing a coach. The ICF is considered the gold standard in the coaching field, and provides legitimacy and excellence in coaching. Stephanie’s certification required a four-month intensive training program through a company called JRNI (pronounced “journey”), founded by two certified therapists. Recognized along with ICF via Continuing Coach Education, JRNI is also part of the Association of Coaching Training Organizations.
“The training I went through is focused on positive psychology and a very strength-based approach.” She adds that there is power in people sharing and utilizing their stories to help others, empowering them, however she warns against the imposters; life coaches who might just be flashy social media influencers. Her concern is there are far too many people out there who claim to be a life coach, but lack important certification or training.
“It’s a support system. A sounding board. Your biggest cheerleader.
When serious issues that require a licensed therapist arise, professional training and tools are necessary for a client to receive the appropriate help. Untrained influencers often provide incorrect guidance or try to give advice when a person is experiencing serious trauma. It’s important to decide which is best, and the right coach will guide clients between coaching or therapy, but they should know the difference.
Other considerations when choosing a coach should include personal preference related to comfort, areas of expertise, such as relationships, careers, and a coach’s own experiences and testimonials. Time should be taken when choosing the right coach. Social media is a good place to start your search, however research into certifications, and again, testimonials from previous clients, is important. It can also be useful to visit ICF’s website and find a coach through their system.
When Stephanie begins working with someone, a short fifteen-to-thirty-minute consultation takes place, which is typically virtual, followed by an introductory email detailing her unique positive psychology and strength-based technique. Most of her clients are from referrals or through social media, but when she first started, she was introduced to many of her clients through health and wellness retreats and events, such as the Wanderlust Festival held in Stratton, Vermont. Following the introductory email, a questionnaire is sent out allowing the client to identify and write out the areas of concern they wish to discuss and what they wish to achieve.
As a former client of Stephanie’s, my own experience with the questionnaire really highlighted how perspective can have such an effect on something like life goals and what is truly standing in the way of achieving them. Although therapy has become an integral part of my life during the past ten years, the career obstacles I faced were a priority for me that needed to be answered soon. I couldn’t wait for years of therapy. Stephanie sums up her questionnaire by asking new clients where they are and where they want to be. Her job then becomes creating that path and guiding her clients along the way.
Compassion and empathy glow on Stephanie’s face as she elaborates why she believes everyone should have a coach. Tools like coaching, therapy, or even learning how a few minutes of breathwork can reduce anxiety and boost immune systems, ultimately improving quality of life. When discussing the current pandemic and how it is affecting all aspects of society, her excitement turns to concern. “I think one of the shifts that’s happening is that the human race, at least in Westernized society, is facing the most amount of stress we’ve ever faced, especially with the current social and political climate. I think that our nervous systems,our brains, our physical bodies, and our mental and emotional bodies, are having trouble figuring out how to deal with all the external stressors that we live in.”
Today’s generation has placed a higher priority on mental health and wellness. The movement towards mindfulness continues to grow as our lives become more infused with the innovations of technology. There are smartphone applications, like Calm, which are designed to help manage stress and increase quality of sleep. Our phones also keep track of the steps we take to bring awareness around physical movement and can notify the amount of screen time spent on a device. These mindful habits are also met in the form of yoga, regular exercise, nutrition and meditation.
With the sun beaming through the window, Stephanie has to go and get ready for her day. She compares our mental stimulation of our hunter-gatherer ancestors to the continuous stimulation of the information age with constant access. “Over time this takes a toll on your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. So I think that’s why people are almost being forced to, or just have an interest in trying to, figure out something that’s going to make them feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally.” Life coaching is just another tool, she concludes, for navigating the rapids of life.
Billie Sue McCarthy is a staff writer for Blue Muse Magazine