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Life coaches telling us how to live
Life coaches telling us how to live

Life coaches telling us how to live

Coaching in the News

Gillian Mountwinter - IT professional, artist and volunteer wildlife rescuer - just couldn't squeeze more time out of her day.

She wanted to give more attention to marketing her artwork, but had never got around to setting up a long-promised website to show her work. So, when she saw an advertisement for a study into the effectiveness of life coaching, she put up her hand.

"I was looking to use time more efficiently, so I could do more on the creative side," said Ms Mountwinter, of Chatswood.

Aware that "anybody can hang up a shingle and say they are a life coach", she was sceptical of this form of help - which aims to assist people to clarify and reach personal and professional goals.

She only took part in the study because it was being conducted by the University of Sydney's coaching psychology unit.

The study recruited 64 people, who were randomly divided into three groups. The first (including Ms Mountwinter) received one-on-one coaching for 10 weeks, the second received group coaching for 10 weeks and the third received no assistance.

PhD researcher Gordon Spence found people in the individual and group-based programs reported greater levels of goal attainment or progress towards goals, with those individually coached benefiting most.

"People felt more able to control their lives, they became more open to new experiences," said Mr Spence, who will present the results at a conference on the evidence to support life coaching at the university next week.

The study is believed to be the world's most comprehensive into life coaching, which is one of the fastest growing professions in Australia. Ten years ago, the coaches in Australia could be counted on one hand. With no official registration, no one knows how many there are today - estimates range from 1500 to 5000.

There are no legal training requirements, but many coaches complete at least a three-month part-time course.

But with concerns that poorly trained coaches can do more harm than good, there are growing calls for industry regulation.

Dr Anthony Grant, the coaching psychology unit's director, said coaches could do significant damage to a person with depression, for instance, if they set unrealistic goals.

"Coaching does have terrific potential to improve people's performance, but only if you understand the behavioural science that underpins it," he said. "[Currently] you can go and see a life coach who has the power to screw up every area of your life and you have got no recourse whatsoever."

Dr Grant and his colleagues are calling for a mandatory minimum level of training - to bachelor degree level, although not necessarily at university, and a year's supervised internship - and a national registration system.

Last year, the Australian Psychological Society created a coaching psychology interest group to encourage research and help develop ethical standards.

David Rock, the CEO of Results Coaching Systems, which offers basic three-month courses and advanced training, agrees an industry standard is required.

As for Ms Mountwinter, in consultation with her coach, she has made marketing her art her top priority, and has set up a website which has led to sales in Australia and overseas.

To view this article in its original format click here.

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