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Coaching danger signs and how to find a great one

Before we begin our discussion about coaching, I want to check in with you.

How’s your heart?

With the unprovoked war against Ukraine, everything can feel extra heavy right now. The news is heart-breaking and that can leave us feeling anxious, sad, helpless, and remembering our own heartbreak. Be gentle with yourself. If you’re feeling less motivated or able to carry on as usual that’s normal. I’ve got suggestions for dealing with this anxiety here.

Today, I want to talk about coaching. CBC Marketplace recently aired an episode called Testing Life Coaches: Undercover Investigation and it got my attention. My first reaction was “FINALLY, we’re gonna talk about this”. In it, they highlight the problem with the coaching industry – that it’s unregulated. And this lack of regulation means someone can take a weekend course and call themselves a “life coach”. They show-cased “coaches” who made sky-high promises and gave some bad or even harmful advice.  Ugh, every industry has ‘em.  

I’ll be honest, I didn’t love the episode like I thought I would. I think they fell short of providing a balanced perspective because they didn’t show what’s possible with a well-trained coach and they didn’t help you figure out what to look for. We’re going to fill in some of the blanks today.

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had poor experiences with coaches in the past. I’ve spent thousands on coaches, programs, and courses that I now realize didn’t have the depth to help me get the results I desired. They were great with the “how” but missing the skills to help me figure out the “why” that was keeping me stuck.

I know coaching can change lives.

Listen, anyone can tell you what worked for them and give you the playbook on HOW they did it. And the self-help section of the bookstore is filled with insightful books and step-by-step instructions to recreate their success/health/relationships.

So, why isn’t the HOW enough? Why can’t most people spend $30 on a book and transform their lives?

Two reasons

1) Because we’re all unique individuals. Your circumstances, lived experiences and relationships are unique to you. Even people who have experienced the exact same event react to it in different ways. In other words, what worked for them may or may not work for you.

2) Because taking action is scary. Change requires us to be vulnerable and step into emotional exposure, risk, and uncertainty. And sometimes we aren’t even aware of the fears and limiting beliefs that are keeping us stuck. That’s why we can read dozens of self-help books and our life still looks pretty much the same. We all on some level know WHAT to do but we don’t do it.

That’s where a coach comes in. A great coach will help you take focused ACTION to achieve the results you desire. And they’ll help you dig beneath the surface to understand WHY you keep repeating the same patterns, feel stuck in grief, or can’t bring yourself to launch all the courses you’ve created (shout out to my amazing coach Kat, who helped me figure that last one out).

They’ll help you identify the sabotaging thoughts (this will never work, I’m always behind, why bother, I suck anyway) and irrational fears (if I try I’ll lose everything, who am I without the pain I’ve been carrying for decades). Because when we bring these thoughts, fears, and beliefs into the light we can begin to heal and rewrite the script in our minds. And when the script changes…so do our actions.

So, how do you find a great coach?

You want to find someone who is worth the investment of your time, energy, and money. Someone who is supportive, non-judgmental, and worthy of hearing your story (and avoid the kind of coaches they highlighted on Marketplace 🥴).

Do your research. Sorry, but without regulations or a governing body, there are no shortcuts here. You may have to have several discovery calls before you find the right coach for you. Your coach doesn’t NEED to be certified by The International Coaching Federation but it’s a good sign to look for because it means they’ve completed training that meets the high standards of the ICF.

For example, to be an ACC level ICF coach you must have completed a min of 60 hrs of coaching-specific education or training, a min of 100 hrs of client coaching experience, and 10 hrs of mentor coaching over 3 months. Then, you must also pass a performance assessment and a written exam. (Weekend coaching certifications won’t cut it.)

Other skills and certifications are important too. And that might depend on what you’re looking for in a coach. For example, I have a friend who chose one because she also has a degree in mysticism so my friend knew it would be safe to talk about her spiritual practices without being labelled “out there” or “crazy”.  Also, look for a coach who is always upgrading and learning new things or expanding their skills.

A great coach knows when to refer on. For example, coaches are not qualified to diagnose or treat mental illness – it’s beyond the scope of their training. So if a coach tells you that they can “cure” your depression, anxiety, or addiction – that’s a BIG RED FLAG. A great coach will recognize you’re perhaps more aligned with therapy at this time and hopefully send you some recommendations on where you CAN get help.

So, what about you Tammy?

Each coach brings their own mix of expertise and skills to their clients. Here are mine.

One of the reasons I chose the International Coach Academy to do my training is because it was an ICF affiliated school and it was the only online program at the time…this was back in 2010 (they’re based in Australia) so it allowed me the flexibility I needed to keep putting on corporate events while doing my training. And now I’m happy to be mentoring and facilitating the Life & Wellness Coaching program with Canada Coach Academy  

I’m an Advanced Grief Recovery Specialist® with the Grief Recovery Method, which means I follow the only step-by-step, proven, evidence-based grief program in the world. And they have a track record of helping millions. Along with my recent certification as a Grief Educator with renowned grief expert, David Kessler.

I also trained with Brené Brown and her team in Texas to become a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator which gives me even more research-based proven modalities in my toolbox.

And I have my 500hr (RYT) yoga and meditation training which means I can share movement and breathing practices that have been around for thousands of years.

Currently, I’m taking the Heart-Centred Facilitator program with Danielle LaPorte and I’m excited to integrate even more tools and perspectives for healing our hearts. Yep, I’m pretty sure I’ll be 80 yrs old and still taking some kind of course…what can I say, I love learning and tickling this grey matter of mine.

That blend of certifications, of science + heart, will be perfect for some and a complete turn-off for others. When you’re looking for a coach look at the whole skillset they bring and ask yourself if they’re the best person to help you.

Don’t forget to ask about their process.

Every coach worth their salt will also be able to walk you through their process. And that will give you more clues about whether or not they’re the right fit.

For example, here’s what my process looks like for grief coaching…

1. All clients (1:1 or group) begin with a Discovery Session to see if we’re a good fit. And everyone who books a Discovery Session gets my Core Values Assessment so even if we’re not a good fit they walk away better able to understand who they are and what they stand for moving forward.

2. If we both decide to work together (🙌 💃 🥂) I’ll send through my Client Services Agreement that outlines everything we agreed to so that we’re both crystal clear on expectations, fees, timing, etc. Then, I’ll send you any materials you need in the mail and get you set up on my virtual, password-protected client portal so you have access to everything else you need.

3. We begin with the Grief Recovery Method (GRM) which means in our first 2 sessions we’ll talk about the myths of grief, how it was specifically modelled for you growing up (because we’re all individuals) and how it’s holding you back from healing your heart.

4. I’ll ask LOTS of coaching questions (think 80/20 rule) that will help you dig deeper to find out WHY you’re feeling so stuck and alone. (This is definitely something I look for in a coach. Understanding the WHY and asking questions rather than giving advice. It’s important because it aligns with the definition of what it means to be a coach according to the ICF. They define coaching as “Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking creative process that inspires them to maximize their potential. Coaches honour the client as the expert in their life and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole.” Notice how it said nothing about telling them what to do? Or believing you’re the expert on their life?)

5. At this point, I usually blend in some Brené work on trust-building since relationships have often suffered and a lot of this is building back trust with yourself.

6. We talk about short-term energy-relieving behaviours (aka numbing and distractions) and how we’ve been taught to deal with difficult emotions like grief. No shame in this game because we ALL have ways of numbing, we simply want to become aware of yours so you can be mindful of them moving forward.

7. Then we dive into the emotional work of looking at your Loss History so we can understand the roots of your grief. This is different than therapy – we’re not really delving into the past and dissecting what happened – we’re identifying the pain, the scars on your heart, and bringing it into the light so we can honour it, acknowledge it, and begin to heal it. We look at specific relationships you’d like to complete the pain of so you can lighten your emotional load and move forward.

8. The greatest gift of this program is that it teaches you the tools you need to process your own grief because grief, like all emotions, wants to be seen, heard, and know that it matters. We might be conditioned to ignore it and soldier on but I guarantee you that it takes less energy to stop and face it than it does to try and outrun it. Learning to complete your own grief allows you to compassionately witness the grief of others. When we understand how to process grief we can help those around us better navigate their own. For example, being able to support a friend whose partner has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Only you can determine when you’re ready for a coach. In my opinion, it’s never too late and never too early to heal your heart. But again, do your research. Have more than one discovery session. Beware of high-pressure sales pitches and too-good-to-be-true promises. Coaching may be unregulated (for now) but there are some amazing people who are providing life-changing value to their clients. Look for the right mix of credentials and experience that will support you.  

A great coach is like a trusted park ranger who knows the terrain and shines a light on the path forward. They walk WITH you without judgement or unsolicited advice because they know you are whole, you have the answers inside you and you are the only one who can take action to change your life – you just need a little support along the way.

p.s. If you think I might be the right coach for you and you’re ready for this work you can book a discovery call here.

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