How Does One Become a Life Coach?

Few individuals have done more to promote the field of personal life coaching than Oprah Winfrey. A virtual life coach to many in her own right, Oprah has introduced a slew of personal life coaches and motivators to her viewers over the last 25 years. Today, life coaching is as popular as ever, with an estimated 30,000 business and personal life coaches worldwide, many of whom consider coaching a full-time job. Here’s a closer look at the fast-growing industry.

What is life coaching?

Life coaches often define their livelihoods by describing what life coaching is not.

Life coaching is not psychotherapy, as most life coaches are not trained mental health professionals. While life coaches may occasionally work with individuals who have anxiety, depression, or other more serious problems, they focus on the present rather than delve into the past.

“The difference between life coaching and therapy is that psychotherapy is about helping people heal their wounds and coaching is about helping people achieve the highest level of their fulfillment or happiness or success, whether they're wounded or not,” psychotherapist and life coach Phil Towle told the Spokesman-Review in 2007. Life coaches may help high-achieving individuals establish a better work-life balance, improve relationships, or lose weight. In short, they help clients figure out what they want and how to get it through weekly sessions conducted via phone or e-mail.

When did life coaching become popular?

Dr. Winthrop Adkins, a former professor of psychology and education at Columbia University Teachers College, introduced “life skills training” to high school dropouts in New York during the 1960s as part of the war on poverty and later founded the Institute for Life Coping Skills. Executive coaching became more common in the 1980s, while personal life coaching as we know it today started to gain momentum in the early 1990s. In 1992, financial planner Thomas Leonard founded Coach U, an online training program for life and business coaches. Three years later, Leonard helped found the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a non-profit organization of coaches that offered training certification.

The Internet contributed to the industry’s growth, making personal life coaching more accessible for both coaches-in-training and clients alike. The 9/11 terrorist attacks, which led some people to reevaluate what was important in their lives, put life coaches in even greater demand. Leonard, who died of a heart attack in 2003, told the New York Times in 2001, “It will be as common to have a coach as it now is to have a personal trainer.” Indeed, some employers have started to offer coaching sessions to employees as part of their benefits package.

Who needs a life coach when I’ve got friends?

Chances are you serve as a de facto—and free of charge—personal life coach to someone in your life. If you’re going to pay someone for their coaching services, you probably want to know that they have the training and experience to offer support that your best friend can’t. As one means of legitimizing personal life coaching as a profession, the aforementioned ICF offers Associate, Professional, and Master credentials based primarily on an individual’s hours of client coaching experience. Receiving a Master Certified Coach credential, for example, requires 200 hours of coach-specific training, 2,500 hours of client coaching experience, 10 hours of work with a qualified mentor coach, reference letters from three qualified coaches, an oral exam, and a $575 application and exam fee. The organization nearly doubled its membership from 2003 to 2006 and now has more than 19,000 members.

Being certified is not a prerequisite for joining the ICF, however. The Institute of Coaching, an affiliate of the Harvard Medical School, opened in 2009 with the goal of “enhancing the integrity and credibility of the field of coaching.” The institute is dedicated to establishing a scientific foundation of coaching by evaluating and measuring the effectiveness of current coaching practices.

Where can I learn to become a coach?

Leonard sold Coach U to Sandy Vilas in 1996, but it remains the self-proclaimed leading global provider of coach training programs. The school boasts that it has trained over 30,000 coaches in 61 countries and has a yearly enrollment of more than 1,000 students. Coach U offers several different programs, including the Core Essentials Program and a Becoming a Coach Weekend Workshop. Tuition ranges from $2,500 to more than $6,000. Classes, which are offered online, include Guiding Principles, Listening, and Situational Coaching. Similar accredited coach training programs include the Coaches Training Institute and the Academy for Coach Training. The University of Sydney offers a graduate certificate in Psychology of Coaching.

How much does a personal life coach get paid?

Rates for personal life coaches vary depending on the coach’s credentials. According to Coach U, most coaches charge $300-$500 per month, with services typically including a half-hour phone call each week and occasional e-mail interaction. Executive and celebrity coaches may command much greater fees.

Who are some famous life coaches?

Here are a few life coaches not named Tony Robbins you may know, and a few others you may not.

• Jayson Blair: The former New York Times reporter, who was forced to resign along with editor Howell Raines after his 2003 plagiarism scandal, has been working as a life coach in Northern Virginia since 2007. “He can relate to patients just beautifully,” the psychologist who hired Blair told the Associated Press. “Sometimes you just meet people in life who have these electric personalities. Well, now Jayson is using his talents for good.” Blair previously founded the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance-Northern Virginia.

• Derek Boyer: A seven-time World’s Strongest Man qualifier from Fiji, Boyer also dabbles in acting and life coaching.

• Rhonda Britten: Star of Starting Over, the first reality show to win a Daytime Emmy Award for Best Series, and the author of Change Your Life in 30 Days, Britten founded the Fearless Living Institute, which “helps people master the emotional fears that keeps them from being their very best.”

• Sylvia Lafair: Life coach of Jon Gosselin. A Pennsylvania judge recently ruled that Kate Gosselin must pay Dr. Lafair more than $10,000 for services rendered in March 2009 as part of marriage counseling for the former reality TV star.

• John Lucas: The former NBA player who overcame drug addiction began serving as a life coach for troubled quarterback JaMarcus Russell after the former No. 1 draft pick of the Raiders was released in 2010. Lucas cut ties with Russell in April because he reportedly stopped working hard and wouldn’t listen to advice.

• Cheryl Richardson: The best-selling author of Take Time for Your Life: A Personal Coach's 7-Step Program for Creating the Life You Want was a regular guest on Oprah.

• Mel Robbins: The author of Stop Saying You’re Fine and host of a syndicated radio show, Robbins left her career as a criminal defense attorney to start a coaching business.

• Phil Towle: Performance enhancement coach has worked with former NFL coach Dick Vermeil among other famous clients. His work with Metallica (for $40,000 per month, according to the Spokesman-Review) was chronicled in the 2004 documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.

• Lauren Zander: Star of A&E’s Celebrity Life Coach, Zander co-founded the Handel Group, a corporate consulting and private coaching company. She has also taught a class at MIT titled “Designing Your Life.”

• Danny Bonaduce: OK, so he’s not really a life coach, but he plays one on TV. Bonaduce was featured in the animated CBS Mobile series, Danny Bonaduce: Life Coach, which mocked the ridiculous lives of celebrities from 2007-2008.

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Who Started Casual Fridays?
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For employees at the mercy of an office thermostat, Casual Fridays provide some much-needed relief during frigid winters and the scorching months of summer. Though many offices are beginning to loosen their dress codes permanently, plenty of employees still cling to this one day a week when wearing shorts won't raise any eyebrows and that T-shirt won't result in an email from HR. But Casual Friday didn't begin just as a cure for discomfort in the workplace; there was also money to be made. 

In the 1960s, Bill Foster, president of The Hawaiian Fashion Guild, plotted to find a way to sell more of the colorfully designed Aloha shirts to their residents with the launch of "Operation Liberation," which gave two shirts to every member of the Hawaii House of Representatives and the Hawaii Senate. The purpose of this campaign was to persuade the politicians to allow government workers to wear the lightweight shirts not only to beat the heat in the summer months, but also to support the state’s garment industry. The custom took off in 1966 and was given a familiar name, "Aloha Friday."

Technology giant Hewlett-Packard claims to have sparked the spread of casual wear in the workplace around the same time in the San Francisco Bay area. Called "Blue Sky Days," this Friday custom wasn't just limited to clothing: HP's founders—Bill Hewlett and David Packard—wanted people to take these days to think of more creative ideas and initiatives outside of their normal routine. This idea soon caught on throughout Silicon Valley and, eventually, into other industries.

However, the spread of this casual trend on the mainland resulted in haphazard, sometimes sloppy attire in the workplace. To help clarify the issue, and to promote his own brand, Rick Miller of Dockers stepped in with an ingenious marketing plan. In 1992, he sent an eight-page “Guide To Casual Business Wear” to approximately 25,000 human resource managers to distribute to their employees. This kickstarted the Dockers brand by popularizing the khaki pant and redefining what is acceptable attire in the workplace.

Now, many nations adopt a Casual Friday approach for similar reasons. In 2005, Japan implemented a Cool Biz policy that granted a summer dress code during hot weather months, in exchange for a more moderate temperature in office buildings. This meant offices were saving energy by keeping their temperature at no less than 82.4°F, but workers could breathe a bit easier in business casual tops and sneakers.

Blame the fashion industry, the unbearable heat, or simply an evolving cultural attitude. The likes of Bill Foster’s Aloha Friday and Rick Miller’s “Guide To Casual Business Wear” gave employees permission to dress for comfort on the job—for at least one coveted day of the week.

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How Does Catnip Work?
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If you have a cat, you probably keep a supply of catnip at home. Many cats are irresistibly drawn to the herb, and respond excitedly to its scent, rubbing against it, rolling around on the floor, and otherwise going nuts. There are few things that can get felines quite as riled up as a whiff of catnip—not even the most delicious treats. But why does catnip, as opposed to any other plant, have such a profound effect on our feline friends?

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is a member of the mint family. It contains a compound called nepetalactone, which is what causes the characteristic catnip reaction. Contrary to what you might expect, the reaction isn’t pheromone related—even though pheromones are the smelly chemicals we usually associate with a change in behavior. While pheromones bind to a set of specialized receptors in what’s known as a vomeronasal organ, located in the roof of a cat's mouth (which is why they sometimes open their mouths to detect pheromones), nepetalactone binds to olfactory receptors at the olfactory epithelium, or the tissue that lines the mucus membranes inside a cat’s nose and is linked to smell.

Scientists know the basics of the chemical structure of nepetalactone, but how it causes excitement in cats is less clear. “We don’t know the full mechanisms of how the binding of these compounds to the receptors in the nose ultimately changes their behavior,” as Bruce Kornreich, associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, tells Mental Floss. Sadly, sticking a bunch of cats in an MRI machine with catnip and analyzing their brain activity isn’t really feasible, either from a practical or a financial standpoint, so it’s hard to determine which parts of a cat’s brain are reacting to the chemical as they frolic and play.

Though it may look like they’re getting high, catnip doesn’t appear to be harmful or addictive to cats. The euphoric period only lasts for a short time before cats become temporarily immune to its charms, meaning that it’s hard for them to overdo it.

“Cats do seem to limit themselves," Michael Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss. "Their stimulation lasts for about 10 minutes, then it sort of goes away.” While you may not want to turn your house into a greenhouse for catnip and let your feline friend run loose, it’s a useful way to keep indoor cats—whose environment isn’t always the most thrilling—stimulated and happy. (If you need proof of just how much cats love this herb, we suggest checking out Cats on Catnip, a new book of photography from professional cat photographer Andrew Martilla featuring dozens of images of cats playing around with catnip.)

That said, not all cats respond to catnip. According to Topper, an estimated 70 percent of cats react to catnip, and it appears to have a genetic basis. Topper compares it to the genetic variation that causes some individuals to smell asparagus pee while others don’t. Even if a cat will eventually love the smell of catnip, it doesn’t come out of the womb yearning for a sniff. Young kittens don’t show any behavioral response to it, and may not develop one until several months after birth [PDF].

But some researchers contend that more cats may respond to catnip than we actually realize. In one 2017 study, a group of researchers in Mexico examined how cats might subtly respond to catnip in ways that aren’t always as obvious as rolling around on the floor with their tongue hanging out. It found that 80 percent of cats responded to catnip in a passive way, showing decreased motor activity and sitting in the “sphinx” position, an indicator of a relaxed state.

There are also other plants that have similar effects on cats, some of which may appeal to a wider variety of felines than regular old catnip. In a 2017 study in the journal BMC Veterinary Research, researchers tested feline responses to not just catnip, but several other plants containing compounds similar in structure to nepetalactone, like valerian root, Tatarian honeysuckle, and silver vine. They found that 94 percent of cats responded to at least one of the plants, if not more than one. The majority of the cats that didn’t respond to catnip itself did respond to silver vine, suggesting that plant might be a potential alternative for cats that seem immune to catnip’s charms.

Despite the name, domestic cats aren’t the only species that love catnip. Many other feline species enjoy it, too, including lions and jaguars, though tigers are largely indifferent to it. The scent of the plant also attracts butterflies. (However, no matter what you’ve heard, humans can’t get high off it. When made into a tea, though, it reportedly has mild sedative effects.)

The reason Nepeta cataria releases nepetalactone doesn’t necessarily have to do with giving your cat a buzz. The fact that it gives cats that little charge of euphoria may be purely coincidental. The chemical is an insect repellant that the plant emits as a defense mechanism against pests like aphids. According to the American Chemical Society, nepetalactone attracts wasps and other insect predators that eat aphids, calling in protective reinforcements when the plant is in aphid-related distress. That it brings all the cats to the yard is just a side effect.

Because of this, catnip may have even more uses in the future beyond sending cats into a delighted frenzy. Rutgers University has spent more than a decade breeding a more potent version of catnip, called CR9, which produces more nepetalactone. It’s not just a matter of selling better cat toys; since catnip releases the compound to ward off insects, it’s also a great mosquito repellant, one that scientists hope can one day be adapted for human use. In that case, you might be as excited about catnip as your cat is.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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