Life coaching: Do you need it?

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“Life coach” as a term can seem imperious for some, as it sounds as though someone is so good at living life that they can coach people into fixing their own lives. But life coaches say that it's not about fixing a person; it's about helping people move forward. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — It’s an all too familiar story. A woman had it all figured out. She graduated from a top university, immediately had a job, then a husband, and a child. Life milestones were all within her timeline; plans were panning out as they should. But as is life, she was thrown a big curveball.

For Aurora Suarez, the curveball was her mom’s passing and her eventual separation from her husband — all of which happened within a year.

“I asked people who can help me deal with this grief, with this sadness, with all the turmoil in my life. And a friend recommended a counsellor,” she shares.

Suarez sought help at Ateneo de Manila University’s Center for Family Ministries, where she would go every week at 4 p.m. She was initially uncomfortable with the schedule as it would require her to leave work earlier than usual and work, she says, always came first.

“I told [my counsellor], why don't you have a 6 p.m. so I can leave work at 5 p.m. and it's not so bad, and he said, ‘Are you saying your work is more important than you?’” she recalls. “And boom. At that point, I'm more important. My healing was more important.”

She says that her sessions with her counsellor were big factors that contributed to her healing. “What a gift to have him do that for me and it was something that I said, ‘Wow I would love to do the same for people,’” she says.

Knowing that she wanted to provide some sort of assistance to people who were going through rough patches in life, she enrolled herself at the Courageous Living Coach Certification, a US-based life coaching program where the likes of Martha Beck, Oprah’s life coach, was one of the mentors. After finishing the 10-month program, she started coaching full-time.

Photo-3 (16).jpg “It's really a transformative thing to shift your mindset; to make you look at things about your life that you never considered; to help someone remind you of who you are,” says Aurora Suarez, a life coach who went into the practice after experiencing the power of counselling. Photo by JL JAVIER

Life coaching is not about fixing a life

A similar story goes for Gina Katigbak, a life coach affiliated with the I Am + Limitless Coaches, an organization that centers on “developing Life & Wealth coaches through personal growth, health and fitness, spirituality, productivity & mindfulness.”

Katigbak also hit what for her was rock bottom — piling debts, unfortunate relationships with her children, feeling stagnant at work — and she felt she needed change.

“I got into coaching because I needed coaching myself,” she says. “I've hit rock bottom so many times in my life that I said there's got to be a better way that I don't have to keep hitting rock bottom.”

The ‘better way’ for her was being with other students who also wanted to move forward in life. What she would learn in her life coaching sessions as a client, she would then apply to her team at her corporate job. She saw positive shifts in her work and personal life, and thought that it was time for her to pay it forward and support people by being a life coach herself.

You can confide with a friend when you’re going through hardships, but working with a coach will provide accountability. A friend or a family member can’t always follow up on you or your progress.

“Life coach” as a term can seem imperious for some, as it sounds as though someone is so good at living life that they can coach people into fixing their own lives. But Katigbak says that life coaching is not about fixing people, and is rather about creating a safe space where people can air out worries as well as set goals and plans on how to address these fears.

Vicky Herrera, a model and co-founder of the women’s conference She Talks Asia, also went into life coaching after being a client when she was only 22. The 31-year-old says that a life coach is akin to a gym trainer.

“When you’re at a gym and you have a trainer, they can spot you. They can push you; they can give you more weights; they can say, ‘No, I think you can do more,’” she says. “Coaches or life coaches can see things you can't or maybe something that you're just not aware of at the moment.”

Suarez, who has since reunited with her husband, agrees that life coaching is all about improvement; it’s about carving a very intentional path of creating the future you want. Katigbak also says that the skill set that life coaches want to impart to their clients is the ability to be better at self-reflection.

“It’s having a greater awareness to be able to coach yourself through the little things,” Katigbak says.

Suarez adds that it is indeed about creating a level of self-awareness that would be beneficial for one’s growth and to get to that next level of progress. “It's really a transformative thing to shift your mindset — to make you look at things about your life that you never considered; to help someone remind you of who you are.”

IMG_3323.jpg Gina Katigbak is a life coach affiliated with the I Am + Limitless Coaches, an organization that centers on “developing Life & Wealth coaches through personal growth, health and fitness, spirituality, productivity & mindfulness.” She has been in the world of life coaching for 15 years now. Photo by NIKKI BONUEL

What life coaches can or cannot do

When life coaching is essentially about talking to someone about your issues as well as helping people get past those issues, it can be confused with simply talking to a friend or a loved one or consulting with a therapist or a counsellor.

Suarez says that you surely can confide with a friend when you’re going through hardships, but working with a coach will provide accountability. A friend or a family member can’t always follow up on you or your progress.

“Sometimes your best friend would be like, narinig ko na ‘yan or o diba ginawa mo na ‘yan dati?” she explains. “But a coach doesn’t do that. It's really a judgement free space. And sometimes that's all you need. From talking, you get clarity. You get to know the next steps; the next right steps.”

Suarez and Katigbak also explain that life coaching — where sessions usually last for an hour and clients pay around ₱2000 to ₱3000 — is different from therapy or counselling in that coaching is more about addressing what can be done to your future rather than solving past issues or traumas.

However, Dr. Mary Grace Orquiza, a clinical psychologist at the Gray Matters Psychological Center, says that therapy can also involve goals that assist their patients for a better future. “We apply psychological principles and goals and apply it in their lives,” she says. “Psychology is an established field as compared to coaching, and coaching is really just an approach of psychology.”

These days, the coaches see a spike in their clientele who are experiencing a quarter-life crisis, meaning people in their 20s.

Orquiza also adds that as practicing psychologists, one cannot call themselves as such without having the proper degree and credentials. Life coaching, on the other hand, is more lenient in terms of qualifications, as at the end of the day, it is an unregulated industry.

“It's an unlicensed industry so actually, tomorrow, if you want, you can call yourself a coach,” explains Suarez. “But that's the danger. It's really up to the coach to see [and ask,] ‘Am I connecting? Is this damaging for me?’”

Herrera admits that if there are issues that a client raises that she knows she is not capable of addressing, she politely declines or refers someone else. “A trainer in a gym will help you with your spotting, your pushups, and your pullups, but if it's a broken bone, you go to a doctor,” she explains. “Know where you're at, and know how to refer.”

There are also concerns, particularly relating to mental health, that life coaches like Suarez, Katigbak, and Herrera usually opt out from.

“For example, suicide. If there's a heavy emotional content going on, we would stop the session,” Katigbak shares. “You can sort of gauge by the level of conversation, where it's going and so as a coach, intuitively, you would know if you're not creating a safe space for this individual. Our professional obligation is to refer her to someone who can handle this kind of situation.”

IMG_2985.jpg Vicky Herrera, a model and co-founder of the women’s conference She Talks Asia, also went into life coaching after being a client when she was only 22. The 31-year-old says that a life coach is akin to a gym trainer. “When you’re at a gym and you have a trainer, they can spot you. They can push you; they can give you more weights; they can say, ‘No, I think you can do more.’” Photo by NIKKI BONUEL

All up to you

What these life coaches like to emphasize is that if someone is looking for a life coach, it should be with someone that fits you. Katigbak, Herrera, and Suarez all talk about recognizing a certain kind of connection that they feel once dealing with a client for the first time. Herrera says that while credentials and certifications are important, these would not matter if a life coach cannot connect with his or her client.

Suarez also has particularities when it comes to the kinds of people she takes in. “For me, I don’t coach men. I really coach women, especially women achievers,” she says. “And I feel like that's the language I speak, that's who I know, and that excites me if you yourself are a woman achiever and you inspire me.”

These days, the coaches see a spike in their clientele who are experiencing a quarter-life crisis, meaning people in their 20s. Katigbak, who has been coaching the longest out of the three, says that 15 years ago, she would get more clients who were going through a midlife crisis.

“There’s this huge shift of moving away from corporate and being your own boss. And that's fearful, people get afraid of that,” she says of why there seems to be a younger demographic on the kinds of clients she has now.

Suarez has also seen younger women come up to her more often. “I think it’s because the possibility mindset is stronger. The desire to want to do it for yourself is stronger and you have the time, you have the energy to work on yourself and you have the commitment,” she says.

The most crucial fact that these coaches often highlight is that no matter how good their coaching is, no matter how often they follow up, or no matter how doable the set goals are, it is up to their client to create the change that they want in their lives.

“We have no control over people's desire for change. And so you will come in with your own set of expectations and as a life coach, we set it up so it's very clear: it's very clear that we're not here to fix you,” explains Katigbak.

Herrera adds, “At the end of the day, the empowerment comes from them. There's a responsibility around that and taking ownership of your life. They have to save themselves too.”