The Basics: Why Life Coaching?

I was recently called in to help an anxious and depressed 11-year-old. When his mother ushered me into his room, I saw an overweight, sad-looking kid. I also saw a guitar and asked him if he played. He immediately brightened up, and we launched into a discussion about music. After a while, and with the expected coaxing, he picked up the guitar and started to play “Stairway to Heaven.” No, correct that: he CRUSHED the tune. When he was finished, he was able to tell me that he wowed everyone when he played it at his school talent show, and we were able to start a discussion about how he was able to do that: what gave him the confidence? And then we were off and running on what was bothering him and how to deal with it.

Put that kid in a therapist’s office, and he might never have opened up, no matter how skilled the practitioner. To be perfectly honest, many of the kids I see come to me because they are not comfortable with traditional therapy. This is not an effort to impugn well-intentioned, talented people who still practice that way: it’s just been my experience.

I do home visits

Getting out of the office and into the home is one of the main reasons why I switched from being a therapist to being a life coach. People—both kids and adults—are more comfortable. I am able to get a bead on what’s happening in the client’s life and family quickly. And I am able to make real-world suggestions—because I have seen the client’s real world!

I work with the entire family

That leads to another reason why I prefer life coaching: I get to meet and talk with the client’s entire family. People rarely have emotional difficulties in a vacuum, and that is especially true of kids. With life coaching I can get everyone’s perspective, either through individual conversations or in a group discussion, and then help the parties concerned figure out a way to move forward together. I can also consult with other professionals who are involved, whether it be school personnel, a psychiatrist, ed consultant…the more coordinated we can be, the better the outcome.

Coordination is especially critical with kids and parents. As I have said many, many times, often the best predictor of whether or not a kid will get significantly better is the parents’ willingness to change. So when I can work with both the kid and the parents, sometimes together, sometimes not, things often get better much more quickly.

There are no time or scheduling constraints

In addition to allowing me to be flexible where I meet clients and about which family members should be included at each point in the process, life coaching also allows me to be flexible about how often I work with clients. A lot of my work is done on the phone: a parent will call me because they’ve gotten into a sticky situation with their teenager and don’t want to blow it. A teenager or 20-something is struggling, and they know they can reach me, so contact me for help. I can communicate with a client in the way they feel most comfortable: in person, of course, but when I have someone who is really upset, sometimes it is easier for them to “have a session” by phone, text, or via Skype.

This also goes for the amount of time I spend with clients. Some kids and their families who are really struggling may need five or ten hours of work per week for a few weeks. Or perhaps someone who has worked hard and is doing great may only need a 15-minute Skype session to stay on track with the plan we mapped out together. Life coaching allows me to give clients the time they need, whatever that is.

A different way of problem solving

Not only are the “who,” “where,” and “when” different, but the “what” and “how” are different, too. Life coaching is about problem solving so people can get on with their lives. The psychological reasons why the problems exist are important and are examined—briefly. But life coaching is not the format for extensive looks at past relationships. That’s what therapy is for, and I recommend it all of the time when it is appropriate to take that sort of look back. For instance, therapy is often great for parents whose childhood issues are getting in the way of their own parenting. But for coming up with practical solutions to get our hearts and our minds in a place where we can move forward, that’s life coaching. And that is a big reason why it is so effective with teenagers, many of whom are not ready for in-depth looks at their relationships. But they are interested in connecting with their families and friends, learning about themselves, and incorporating those things about which they are passionate in their lives. Life coaching is often a great fit for them.

My years as a therapist help in a lot of ways, of course. One of the main ways I use it is to quickly assess situations. So, usually, it only takes a session or two before I have a pretty good idea of what is going on. If life coaching would be helpful, great; we move forward with that. If someone is a drug addict and needs rehab or there’s another kind of deep trouble, then we can talk, and I can help with an intervention and/or finding a suitable detox or program (although, as a life coach, I can take someone to an AA meeting), help parents make some tough choices about how to best help their kid, or help the family find the resources they need. It is often a huge relief just for families to face these problems head on, sometimes after months or years of avoiding them or being stuck. Ditto for psychological testing, medication…although those are outside my purview, I can certainly recommend other professionals who can help with these things and work in concert with them to help families.

Life coaching can’t help everyone, but it can help an awful lot of people, one way or another. It’s a great place to start to help your child and your family.