Four years back, when Priya Mary Mathew was asked by her company to attend a personal life coaching session after being promoted to a leadership position, she was taken aback a little. The then academic course head at Delhi’s Pearl Academy, a design college, was apprehensive about the need for a life coach. “But the first session was an eye-opener. That one hour made me realise the things I was missing in my life. He taught me how to look at a situation objectively and not be judgmental about things,” says the 42-year-old. Last month, she even resigned from her job and is now going to fulfill her long cherished dream of becoming a social entrepreneur. “Life coaches show you the mirror without any prejudices,” she says, adding, “My life changed drastically after following my personal coach’s advice.” Mathew isn’t alone. There’s a growing tribe of Indians today who are hiring life coaches to counsel them to move ahead in their careers, forge new relationships and be successful in whatever they aspire to do. What was earlier an accessory associated only with celebrities and high-flying corporate honchos has now become a necessity for many urbane professionals. “A personal life coach is like a sounding board who helps me improve myself,” asserts Mathew.
She might have a point. Today, many Fortune 500 companies are using ‘life coaching’ as an essential aid to help executives scale the next level. The growth of the personal life coaching industry, in fact, highlights how these coaches are in great demand these days. Mid-level executives, entrepreneurs, students and even housewives are availing their services. Insiders claim that the industry is growing by 50% currently and is estimated to grow at a similar rate for the next four-five years. According to the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, there were approximately 17,500 professional coaches in North America as of 2015, contributing a total annual revenue of $956 million. In Asia, there were around 3,700 coaches, contributing $113 million in total annual revenue. The study was commissioned in 2015 by the International Coach Federation (ICF)—a Kentucky-based non-profit organisation, which accredits programmes that deliver training in life coaching— and was undertaken by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) Research. It highlighted how the industry has grown by leaps and bounds, with India being a significant market.
Around 89% people in India are aware of life coaching and around 59% have partnered with a life coach at some time, with 97% being satisfied with the experience, revealed the 2017 ICF Global Consumer Awareness Study, which was also conducted by PwC Research. “The life coaching industry in India is growing rapidly. In the last five years, ICF membership in India has increased by 150%—from 249 members in June 2013 to 622 members in June this year. And the number of ICF-credentialed life coaches in India has increased from 130 in June 2013 to 610 in June this year,” says Magdalena Mook, CEO and executive director, ICF, adding, “Consumers in India want to partner with coaches who are committed to ethical practice and have the training and experience necessary to help clients unlock their potential and achieve their goals.” Zelam Chaubal, director of Pune-based Kesari Tours (a tour operator), can vouch for their effectiveness. Having spent 12 years with a personal life coach, the 50-year-old has even motivated many of her family members and friends to follow suit. “In 2010, my company had a turnover of `200 crore. I dreamt of scaling up to `1,000 crore. And in seven years, I managed it. The dream couldn’t have been realised without my coach,” says Chaubal, who has 16 regional offices across India. “My coach, Manish Gupta, the founder of Chrysalis (a Pune-based life coaching organisation), helped me turn my small family-run business into an over 1,000-employee organisation,” she adds. As per Gupta, a life coach is someone who has the ability to empower individuals. “They must be able to empower individuals, so that they can meet and exceed personal expectations in every spectrum of their lives,” the 47-year-old says.
Coach as catalyst
Life coaches conduct sessions with clients through personal meetings, telephone and, at times, even email. “First, we do a complete analysis of a client’s present situation and understand why he or she needs us… then we come up with our prognosis. It’s similar to when you enrol yourself in a gym. We suggest a module that will help them in achieving the desired results… we give them complete clarity on how each module will help them and what the outcome will be,” says Gupta of Chrysalis, who has, in the past 22 years, mentored over 1,500 people. The charges vary as per the duration of the session and services offered—anywhere between `10,000 and `1 lakh per session, depending on the coach’s credentials. “Each of my sessions is one-hour-long,” says Milind Jadhav, a Mumbai-based life coach. “Usually, I work with anyone for a period of eight to 10 weeks (the sessions are weekly). The fee varies between `28,000 and `60,000, depending on the type of package a client signs up for,” the 48-year-old says.
In therapy, the expert provides the client with a solution, while in life coaching, the coach guides the client to the solution. Life coaching, hence, is not therapy and a life coach can never prescribe medicines. “In life coaching, the client is the expert of his/her life, while the coach is an expert of the process. This is the basis of the partnership. The coach’s role is to ask powerful questions, provide objective assessment and observations, listen fully and actively, challenge the client’s blind spots and foster shifts in thinking that reveal fresh perspectives,” reveals Mook of ICF.
Simply put, life coaches are people who help others deal with their challenges. Jadhav describes life coaching as a series of conversations, “which help people see their problems and obstacles in a whole new perspective”. Life coaches are individuals who inspire people to change their habits and realise their potential for personal and professional growth. “Life coaches act as catalysts for their clients,” says Ruchi Gera, a 35-year-old human resource professional working with a French multinational company in Delhi. Gera first heard about life coaches from an acquaintance and was interested in becoming one herself. The desire took her to life coach Peyush Bhatia’s doorstep in Faridabad last year. “It was only when I spoke to her that I realised what was missing in my life. I was carrying old grudges and my personal life was filled with negativity,” says Gera. “I took around seven sessions and that helped me mend my relationships… My coach also helped me resolve issues with my husband,” she confesses. Gera is now planning to pursue training in business coaching (pertaining only with the professional aspects of one’s life) to help others. “Personal coaches offer practical solutions not philosophical gyaan. That’s how they differ from spiritual gurus,” she asserts. Life coaches maintain that most people seek them out due to “stressful lives” and a “work-life imbalance”. Bhatia believes the discontinuation of the joint family system has left many feeling isolated. “Life has become fast paced… expectations and competition with oneself and others are getting fiercer than ever. People don’t have time to pause and take a breath,” she says. They, hence, seek answers from an outside source. “People are now in search of inner peace that can help them enjoy the material benefits. Life coaching helps them look inside and be happy within,” says Bhatia, who practices neuro-linguistic programming—a form of coaching where communication, behaviour and psychotherapy are combined to achieve specific goals—to help her clients.
It’s not always professional angst or personal trauma, however, that brings people to a life coach’s couch. Bhatia recalls counselling a 45-year-old senior manager in a large corporate firm who had it all professionally. “But he was struggling with anxiety. This was affecting his health, negatively influencing his work-life balance and his divorce seemed imminent. He was even suicidal. At the time he met me, he was taking various medications to combat his condition, but after a month of regular sessions, he was weaned off his medications. Soon, he was back to normal… and the change reflected in his work, as well as in his relationship with his wife. He continues to be my client even today,” she says. At times, there are particular kinds of challenges for which people seek help. Most commonly, it’s about regaining lost confidence and self-esteem, procrastination and lack of productivity, stress, relationships and conflicts, finding life’s purpose, among others. Doing away with a client’s long-held beliefs is the toughest challenge faced by a life coach. “I have to get people to unlearn many things to create space to learn something new,” says Jadhav.
Licence to preach
A major challenge, however, remains that anyone can declare himself a life coach, as the profession doesn’t require a licence to practice. And many have done so. “Our study cited untrained individuals calling themselves life coaches as the number one obstacle to the profession. The ICF requires that an individual completes at least 60 hours of life coach-specific training before applying to join the ICF or obtain an ICF credential. Obtaining coach-specific training is essential for professional practice,” asserts Mook. She is right. Untrained life coaches can not only give you wrong advice, but can also leave you scarred for life. “The second life coach I had made me rethink the need for a personal coach. He used to be judgmental and I started doubting my abilities. He sapped my self-confidence completely,” says Delhi-based Mathew, who then hired another coach who came with good recommendations and credentials. “A life coach is not a combination of a spiritual guru, fitness expert, nutritionist or a motivational speaker. In fact, he/she need not know spirituality, fitness, or have great motivational skills,” Jadhav argues. “A life coach is merely a facilitator whose job is to help the clients generate their own solutions by helping them look at the problems from a completely difference perspective,” Jadhav says.