My Thoughts on Coaching, or Why You Have to be Very, Very Careful When Using a Coach

When I wrote my post on multilevel marketing scheme and why I abhor them my friend Anara messaged me afterwards and said "Ok, Penny, now when will you take on coaching?" I asked her what she meant, and she said "You wrote about the problem with MLMs, now its time to write something about the problem with coaching." And I thought about it. I thought about why she said that. And I thought about whether or not there were any comparisons between the two. I definitely do not abhor coaching the way I do MLMs, but I definitely have some strong things to say on the topic, and would love to share my thoughts with you.

Bottom line is- coaches have a use. But it is limited. And there are many pitfalls when it comes to coaching that people need to be aware of.

Ok, so I talk about therapy a lot and why it is important and I think it is wonderful and life changing and encourage people to go to therapy. So you'd think I would therefore also support people going to coaches, no? Isn't getting help a good thing? Why wouldn't I encourage it?

Well, lets start by talking about the history of coaching. (Which I didn't know, and had to look up for this post.) As a profession, the first known use of the term coach was in relation to sports, and it started in 1861. I have zero issues with the concept or use of a sports coach. This post has nothing to do with them. Life coaching, on the other hand, is something that started around the 1960s but only really gained prominence in the 21st century, and has become ubiquitous in the last 5 or so years, from my experience. 

Now when I say life coaches, I don't mean only people that go with those names. I mean people that coach you in life things, not just sports. The categories that fall under here are including but not limited to:

  • Life coaches
  • Marriage coaches
  • Relationship coaches
  • Dating coaches
  • Business coaches
  • Intimacy coaches
  • Weight loss coaches
  • Health coaches
  • Nutrition coaches
Coaching specifically is guiding people to help them reach a goal. 

So what do I think about coaching?

I think it has its place. Definitely. I mean, sometimes within my therapy sessions, my therapist will say "Ok, I'm taking off my therapist hat and and putting on a coaching hat" and will walk me through some tips to acheive a certain goal I have. 

But the biggest problems with coaching is that coaches need to know when to stay in their lane. They need to know the areas they're qualified in, and stay there only. And they need to know when to outsource to someone else.

Speaking of areas they're qualified in, this is a huge issue.

Accordinging to psychologist Jonathan Passmore in his book Excellence in Coaching: The Industry Guide: While coaching has become a recognized intervention, sadly there are still no standards or licensing arrangements which are widely recognized. Professional bodies have continued to develop their own standards, but the lack of regulation means anyone can call themselves a coach. [...] Whether coaching is a profession which requires regulation, or is professional and requires standards, remains a matter of debate.

In fact, I'd say this is one of my biggest issues with coaching, period.

When someone tells you they're a therapist or a psychologist, you can ask for their qualifications and know that you're, at the very least, getting someone with proper training. A psychologist has a certain amount of required training, as does a LCSW (liscenced clinical social worker) or a LMFT (licensed marriage and family therapist) and these are standard across the board. (To be frank, I'd also include certified counselors in this, to some extent, but you'd definitely need to look into them very well also.) 

When someone says they are a coach, you have no idea what training they have. Zero. There is absolutely no industry standard. 

I was infuriated (to put it mildly) to learn that a certain "coaching school", named 
MacDonald Center for Obesity Prevention and Education (COPE) is literally a shill for the dangerous and very problematic multilevel marketing program Optavia, and its a way for these people pushing this very problematic product to gain credibility by calling themselves a certified "health and nutrition coach".

So even when someone has certification for their coaching, that means nothing. 

But so many people who call themselves coaches aren't even certified by any place, no matter how problematic it is. Someone I know who calls herself an intimacy coach literally has zero training. Ok, she herself is married, but that is literally all the training she has. She also read the very problematic book "The Work" and "coaches" people based on that.

The problem with coaching is the no regulation and anyone who wants to call themselves a coach can. Even with zero training. Reading a book. Or even nothing.

I know someone else who calls herself a marriage coach and charges $2000 for her marriage course, and she is someone that has absolutely no training. She just decided she was able to turn her marriage around and decided to teach people how to do the same, but she has very dangerous attitudes towards abuse, blaming women for abuse, tells people that if they just put up firmer boundaries they'll be able to stop the abuse they're going through. This is extremely, extremely dangerous and can literally get people killed.

But even once you have training, there is the very big problem of coaches stepping out of their lane.

If you have learned how to help people with ADHD, that is great for you to give them tips on how to manage their ADHD. Like housekeeping tools. Or how to use an accountability buddy. Or the pomodoro technique. That is fine. But stick to your lane.

Things like that, if a coach wants to teach that, management skills for day to day life, there isn't a problem with that, no big deal or harm if it doesn't work.

Business coaches also can be helpful. I know someone that went to a business coach that people raved about but while she got some great advice about the next steps to take in her business, actual solid steps about pricing and figuring out how to reach more clients, and refine her audience and branding. That is what a business coach should do. 
However, this same business coach told the woman, when the woman told her that her husband was financially abusive, that she should have given even more control of her money and business to him, because "abundance, especially financial abundance, in the world and in a marriage comes through a woman's husband". This is not only ridiculously out of place because she wasn't looking for spiritual guidance, it also is blaming a woman for the abuse she's going through, and completely goes contrary to standard abuse advice. A business coach has zero business giving marital advice, especially regarding abuse.

Another situation of coaches totally overstepping their boundaries- I heard of someone who was sexually abused by her father for years. When she told a confidant, this confidant put her in touch with a coach who "specializes" and "has lots of experience" dealing with sexual abuse. No! No! No! This is not what a coach should be doing! Sexual abuse and recovery, especially pedophilia, especially incestuous, should not be handled by a coach! You need special therapists, trauma therapists, people trained in healing this very traumatic issue with people who are fragile. A coach has zero business working with people about abuse. The problem is that when concerned people spoke to this abused girl, she insisted on staying with this coach because the coach convinced her that this was her area of expertise, so she never went to go get real help.

Coaches, stay in your lane.

Teach what you are qualified to teach.

If you know how to reach clients and expand someone's market, do that as a business coach.

If you know common mistakes people make in dating, help people not make those mistakes.

If you know how to encourage people to get out of bed in the morning and go exercise, or how to add joyful movement into their life, then do that.

But stay in your lane.

Coaches have no business giving people nutrition advice.

Coaches have no business giving advice on marriage.

Coaches have no business giving advice on intimacy.

Coaches have no business delving into people's emotions, whether triggers or depression or anxiety.

Coaches have absolutely no business in trying to help people recover from sexual abuse.

Those are the jobs for a dietician, marriage and family therapist, sex therapist, "regular" therapist, trauma therapist, or a combination thereof.

Please, please, please, if you are thinking of using the service of a therapist, do research. Find out where there certification is from, and make sure that the place that certifies them isn't something like Optavia's shill. And definitely don't go to people with no certification at all. 

And find out if the coach you are planning on using delves into topics they have no business delving into as a coach, and who they refer clients to if they realize that their issues aren't something a coach should be dealing with.

And please, please, please ask them their stance on abuse and if it can be reversed by the actions of the person being abused- any "coach" who says that should be stripped of their title and tarred and feathered publicly.

I won't lambast coaching as a profession. I know some amazing people who are coaches and have really helped many people. Coaching definitely has a time and a place. But it is something you need to tread very, very carefully in, because there are many ways that coaching can go very, very wrong. And when that happens, there is literally no recourse, no governing board of ethics, nothing to keep people safe and prevent others from falling into that trap.

And that's why I wrote this post. I can't stop from dangerous "coaches" marketing themselves. But hopefully after reading this post, you'll be able to be a little more careful and know what to be aware of when thinking of using a coaching service.

P.S. While I strongly recommend dieticians and therapists over coaches, that doesnt mean that all dieticians and therapists are ok. There are problematic therapists and dieticians as well. They all need research. But because of the lack of an industry standard with coaching, so much more care must be taken with coaching.

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Excellent post. I've seen coaches give each other glowing reviews. Of course, maybe they use each other's services and had a great experience...or maybe they're just supporting a friend. As you say, research is important, asking questions is important. Interview your coach before you sign on.

  2. Really good stuff and wise advice for people to follow. People can do real damage, even if they don't intend to, when they wade into areas they aren't trained in.

  3. This is such an important post. I really like coaches and enjoy listening to coaching podcasts. That said, as a trained therapist, I have also been concerned about the unregulated field of coaching. Specifically when it comes to self-help coaches who are not properly trained in mental health diagnostics. Most people struggle with challenges like anxiety, depression, some level of emotional instability etc. A trained professional knows how to differentiate between 'normative' depression/anxiety that could benefit from the tools that a coach can offer and clinical depression/anxiety that needs much more acute care in addition to the possibility of medication. There are so many mental health disorders that need to be understood and be properly diagnosed in order to effectively treat. Without properly understanding how to make a diagnosis...knowing how to put the dots together of various symptoms to get to it's core...coaching can be dangerous.

  4. Thank you so much for this very timely article. I think with all of us dealing with mental health because of the year we have had, some of us might make poor decisions thinking we are doing the right thing (such as getting a coach instead of mental health services). I am walking that path myself. I will definitely research some more before I start working with anyone who is not a mental health therapist.

  5. What you have written makes good sense. I had some MLM experience and wasted a lot of time and money and found out that the generic as opposed to merely specific promo was BS. You do have to be a business person, you do have to be a sales person, and the whole downline bait is a dodge and an albatross around the neck of a normal biz and sales person. I have also taken (free, thank the Almighty) a coaching course which was given by a person who had some talents but was seriously flawed. Lots of sense in what you are saying.

  6. The generic Almighty, of course. Just saw your caution. I don't know your religion.

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