In order to become a coach, Dana Warren needed a little coaching herself. With a long career in the film industry that culminated in a top career in advertising, Warren was, by all accounts, a successful 40-year-old woman. But she wasn’t quite convinced.
“I was feeling this level of manageable dissatisfaction,” says Warren. “It was OK because I could still do all of the things I wanted to do, but I was really, really tired of just giving it out all the time.”
Then tragedy struck.
“I wanted to have a baby and do all of these things that I had sidestepped for a career,” she says. “And the man with whom I was building all of these plans dropped dead. You can imagine what that was like. So, I sort of fell on the floor at that point in my life and when I opened my eyes, I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ I was sitting there, spinning this wheel in this job, and I thought, ‘I can’t live this any more. This is not what I need to do and where I need to be.’”
Warren came across an article about life coaching written by Dr. Amanda Wintink, a personal life coach with a Ph.D. in psychology and neuroscience.
Like a lot of people, she was suspicious of the term “life coach,” which is often thought of as a new-agey, soft-science trend. But Wintink used the science of the mind to help people establish and achieve their goals.
“Her approach to coaching is through neuroscience, psychology, mindfulness and meditation,” she says. “So the first thing I did was call this woman and say, ‘I think I need a coach. And I like you, because you’re not the hokey part of coaching.’”
Warren and Wintink started to work together. Warren was so impressed with Wintink’s approach, and the results she saw in her own life, that she signed up for life coach training in Nova Scotia at the Centre for Applied Neuroscience Coaching, which is run by Wintink.
She underwent a six-month intensive study that included courses in psychology and neuroscience.
“I had always had this secret desire to be a psychologist,” she said. “I’d attacked that a couple of times, but it was a long career path. I had also started to look around at what kinds of opportunities there might be where I could include my life experience.”
Now, two and a half years later, she’s a personal life coach at her company, DMW Coaching, and working towards certification with the International Coach Federation.
Her acceptance of life coaching as a legitimate practice reflects a growing trend.
“Life coaching is more than legitimate,” says Dr. Don Morrow, a professor at Western University’s faculty of health sciences who studies life coaching as an intervention method for health problems. “It’s accepted.”
Morrow says that personal life coaching is common practice in Britain and in many European countries. It’s now catching on in North America, too.
“Unfortunately, I think it’s like what the fitness industry used to be, in that anyone can call themselves a life coach,” he says. “But it’s becoming increasingly professional in that there’s the International Coaching Federation, which has over 20,000 members and a standardized accreditation system. I think that’s as critical for life coaching just as it is for medicine or any other profession.”
All members of the ICF abide by a set of core ethics, and have had certified training and have been practising for a specified time. People interested in a personal or business coach can look up certified coaches in their area or write to the ICF about what sort of coaching they’re looking for and ask to be referred to a coach. And that coach need not be close by: Morrow estimates that 80 to 85 per cent of coaching takes place over the phone.
While many members of the ICF have backgrounds and even qualifications as psychologists and therapists, life coaching isn’t therapy. If coaches think a client could use the expertise of a psychologist, they will refer them to one.
“Where therapy might go back and ask what happened to create a situation, most coaches aren’t qualified or certified to do that,” says Morrow. “Coaching starts with where are you now and where you want to be. I’ll be frank and say I think a lot of life coaching is not common sense, but it’s common in the sense that the skills that are taught are the skills that should be taught in school.”
Warren echos that philosophy.
“It’s not like we learn how to not procrastinate when we’re in school,” she says. “We learn how to conform, how to be quiet and do well, but we don’t learn a lot of the skills that we need to be self-motivated. People are usually motivated with a small ‘m.’ They come to me wanting to change, but they’re not sure how to attack it. Coaching, in its simplest form, is about now and moving forward. It’s not about the fixing, which is traditionally what the psychologists do.”
She says the growth of her life coaching practice has been slow but, like the profession itself, it’s catching on.
“I think that people are lacking mentors in their lives,” she says. “The thing that I took for granted about living here was this multi-generational life, how you could go to an art opening and see people who were 16 years old and people who were 71. But here, now, there’s less of that.”
“I also think that people are realizing that they don’t necessarily need psychologists,” she adds. “They need help with accountability and motivation and clarity in their lives, and there’s an answer for that.”
And while she’s found the answer that works for her, and has provided the same for others, she’s not claiming to have it all figured out.
“I think I’ll be in the ground before that happens,” she says, laughing. “I think that’s the definition of dying. But I am more fulfilled than I have ever been in my life, on an emotional level and even on a physical level. I live a truer life in terms of that connectedness to who I am and what I want to be doing. I do fall, but getting back up again is easier.”