Whether it’s upping your sporting game, planning an election campaign or simply kicking your takeaway habit, it’s the job of a life coach to map the road to your success.
Life coaching has always been favoured by the elite, with Bill Clinton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Oprah Winfrey and Serena Williams all crediting it as part of their success.
But in 2022, more people than ever are jumping on the coaching bandwagon, and the UAE is among the countries leading the charge.
In its latest Jobs on the Rise report, LinkedIn lists “professional and personal coaches” as one of the 15 career categories showing the fastest year-on-year growth from April to October 2020, with a 207 per cent growth in these roles in the UAE since 2019.
Of this number, 61 per cent were filled by women, the majority of them being self-employed, each promising to change not only our habits but our way of thinking.
But does plotting your future actually help you achieve the life you want?
A boom in the pandemic
For Dubai resident Ellie Keene, life coaching was something she had considered for years, but the stresses of the pandemic pushed her to take up virtual sessions last month.
“I feel like 2020 and 2021 were such a strange time and I was struggling to have conversations with people because everyone had so much going on,” says the public relations entrepreneur.
“I think my mental health took a bit of a hit because I was ready to start my new business but I wasn’t able to get going because of the pandemic. Really I should have had it sooner.”
Keene isn’t alone in reaching out for extra support, though the increase in coaching was on the incline long before the pandemic began. Globally, the number of life coaches went up by 33 per cent from 2015 to 2020, according to the ICF Global Coaching Study 2020.
Coaches based in the UAE say there has been more demand in the past four months than ever before.
“Since November last year the demand for life coaching has been extraordinary,” says clinical therapist and life coach Anne Jackson, founder of One Life Coaching. “I’ve been coaching for 10 years and I’ve never been so busy.
“Now more than ever, people aren’t leaving their lives to fate, they are making their own decisions about how they want their lives to be.”
Heather Broderick agrees and recently gave up a 15-year career in teaching to pursue life coaching after reaping the benefits from her own coaching sessions.
“People are realising that they don’t have to live unhappily anymore,” says Broderick, who lives in Dubai. “I started life coaching myself after losing my father and going through some personal struggles and I wanted to help other people.
“It’s completely changed my life.”
For clinical psychologist and coach Karen Andrews of BE Psychology Centre for Emotional Wellbeing, the pandemic has changed the industry.
“There’s been a huge social revolution,” she says. “Everything is different and we’re facing a new normal and people need help processing all these changes.
“In Dubai especially, there’s a lot of expats and being away from family is difficult at the best of times.”
What does life coaching entail?
There are many reasons why people start life coaching, from setting career goals to overcoming fears and limiting behaviours. The main objective is to make a proactive plan to reach life goals by setting out a step-by-step trajectory of achievable milestones.
For Ananda Shakespeare, life coaching is a helpful way to keep her life on track.
“I'm a goal-orientated person and love self-development and achieving,” says Shakespeare, who owns her own public relations company and co-founded Dubai Vegan Days.
“I think coaching is becoming more popular, the pandemic has made us all reassess what's important in life and taught us that we need to embrace the present and not waste our lives by enduring a job or relationship that doesn't bring us joy.”
One of Keene’s main reasons for starting coaching was to change her mindset and bolster self-belief. “I’ve got really bad impostor syndrome so I feel like I’m not good enough all the time and I constantly doubt myself,” she says.
“It helps to offload. It’s so good for your mind and it stops you from overwhelming your loved ones with things they can’t help you with.”
In Jackson’s professional opinion, more people than ever are facing the same struggles and are only just starting to realise.
“A lot of people use distraction methods in order to discard insecurities,” she explains. “People throw themselves into work, shopping, going out — whatever it may be — but take all of these distractions away, and it forces people to take a look at themselves.
“This is exactly what happened during the pandemic and some people didn’t like what they saw and decided to make a change.”
How to choose a legitimate coach
Self-improvement and personal success is always an attractive prospect, but is this unregulated industry all it’s cracked up to be? And do its practitioners actually have better lives?
For Jackson, it’s a firm yes.
“It’s completely changed my life,” she says. “I practise the same techniques that I teach my clients and my life only gets better and better.
“It’s a relatively new practice so people were a bit hesitant to believe in it, especially because life coaches are not a regulated industry, so you do get charlatans doing a quick online course and calling themselves qualified life coaches.
“These cowboy coaches damage the reputation of the entire industry and I’d encourage anyone considering taking up coaching to check whether the coach is registered with a governing body, like the International Coaching Federation or the Association for Coaching.”
For those considering hiring a life coach, Broderick recommends chatting to a few different practitioners to find a good fit.
“You have to feel comfortable opening up to someone and there should be some level of connection,” she says. “Often coaches will do a complimentary introductory call so you can see if you’re compatible.”
In Andrews’ opinion, life coaching doesn’t have the credibility it deserves.
“I think psychotherapists tend to look down on life coaching because it’s not regulated,” she says. “But it’s a different offering altogether and it’s not something I’d recommend for people with clinical mental health problems.
“Life coaching is a much more collaborative practice. It’s predominantly goal-driven and clients have to do a lot of work themselves.
“That being said, there are a lot of people who claim to be certified coaches who have literally just spent a couple of hours online.
“Each country has a recognised body for coaching and it’s worth checking your coach’s credentials.”
The risk is amplified by the expense, with hour-long sessions costing anything up to about Dh1,500 ($408) a session.
Globally, the life coaching industry is worth $2.85 billion global industry, according to ICF, and in the UAE, people are happy to shell out for the benefits.
“It is absolutely worth investing in yourself and I get so much from it,” says Keene. “When you think about how much you spend on brunches in a month it puts it into perspective.
“Coaching sees where we are now and looks forward, seeing where we want to be in the future. I’m happy to spend my money on that.”