Five sessions with a life coach did more for me than years of therapy did
Like many millennials, I’ve been in therapy on and off for much of my adulthood. The first time was during college, if only for a couple of months; the next was in my early 20s, when I went semi-regularly for a few years; the most recent was in 2019, the appointments spread throughout the summer and fall. Not every attempt was successful (don’t get me started on the therapist who accused me of being a “victim” for canceling a session), but overall, the experiences were positive, helping me decipher the reasons behind my behaviors and bringing long-buried issues to the forefront. Yet even my biggest therapy-inspired “aha” moments didn’t actually lead to any major changes to my actions or attitudes. In fact, it wasn’t until I started seeing a life coach earlier this year that I started using insights to make real, necessary progress.
For those unfamiliar, a life coach is a professional who meets with individuals to give advice and encouragement, with the goal of helping clients gain confidence and find success in areas like their careers and love lives. What makes the process different from traditional talk therapy is that the approach is typically focused on the future, not the past—in other words, it’s less about why you’re feeling or acting the way you are, and more about what you plan to do to switch things up.
“One of the primary pieces of feedback I get from clients who do both coaching and therapy is that at some point in their therapeutic experience, they go, ‘I feel like I’m talking about the same shit over and over again,’ and there comes a point when talking about it almost makes it worse,” says Mona Green, the life coach I saw. That’s not to say that therapy is useless, of course; for many people, counseling (especially targeted practices like CBT or EDMR) can make a huge difference in their lives, and discovering the root causes of issues is often enlightening. But as Green sees it, analyzing the past is only the first step in the process of improving your life.
“Let’s not beat the horse dead about why you’re where you are—let’s actually focus on what we can do to start shifting that,” she summarizes.
During my five sessions with Green, I had more game-changing realizations about my wants and needs than during all my years of therapy—and that future-focused mindset was the main reason why. Whenever I talked to my old therapists about the pressure I put on myself to be ambitious and working at all times, for instance, we’d spend hours unpacking the years-old moments that led to that mindset, leaving me with a deeper understanding of why I was the way I was but no game plan to act differently. With Green, however, just one conversation about that attitude was enough for her to recommend several tactics meant to help me think and act differently about the concept of productivity.
Since she could tell that I struggled with guilt over quitting things, she gave me express permission to stop forcing myself to work on a writing project that was no longer bringing me joy, just stress over getting it done. The moment I did, I felt a major wave of relief. And even when that was immediately followed by the fear that said relief meant I didn’t value writing like I’d always thought I did, I used Green’s reminder—that taking a break didn’t mean quitting writing for good—to calm me down.
“I live for the point in the process when you literally get to see physically how somebody starts to change when they start losing all of the stress and all of the anxiety and all of the pressure that they put on themselves,” says Green. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that life gets easier, but it gets easier to contextualize and to handle and to kind of move within. It’s that moment where the new way of thinking has taken over the old.”
Since leaving the finance industry to start her practice six years ago, Green has helped countless clients come to important realizations about their behaviors, jobs, and love lives; she’s even been invited to a few weddings that her dating advice helped facilitate. Yet no matter the issues being addressed, the process is largely the same, she says. “At the end of the day, it’s always the same work, which is helping the person develop a better relationship with themselves. Because everything else stems from that, right?” Green says.
“It’s really just about helping people get into the right relationship with themselves, and allowing that to be what determines what the rest of their life looks like,” she continues.
The adjustments that Green suggested I make to my work ethic were just the start. With her help, I’ve started adding small activities into my routine that bring me pleasure, rather than relying on my boyfriend or friends to constantly fulfill that need; I’ve also put major effort into slowing down my pace and focusing on the present, instead of constantly rushing towards the next goal or milestone.
In terms of my career, Green’s advice that I write down what feelings I want to get from a job, versus the tangible benefits, has helped me narrow down my path, and her encouragement that I stop being so self-deprecating and own my achievements has made me feel more like the accomplished adult I know I am.
Of course, it’s not that I’m a completely different person than I was just six weeks ago—I still find myself needing validation from others and intensely planning out my future a bit more than I’d like—but my way of thinking has undoubtedly changed for the better. Overall, I feel far more confident, secure, and capable than before, and even when I backslide, I’m armed with the knowledge that progress is possible. And since every session I had with Green ended with a homework assignment (such as keeping track of how often I did positive things for myself or thinking deeply about the kind of content I want to put into the world), I’ve been able to refer back to those for guidance whenever I need.
That said, I can’t yet know if coaching’s impact will be long-term, of course. I only saw Green once a week for a total of five sessions; most of her clients are with her for a minimum of four months. The reason for this, she explains, is that “changing your thought patterns requires practice. And in order for us to figure out what’s going on and to create enough momentum with that practice, it does require some time.” Indeed, according to a 2010 study by the University College London, it takes an average of at least 66 days for people to form habits—and often far longer.
Unfortunately, since life coach appointments are typically expensive and not covered by insurance, that kind of commitment isn’t doable for many people. Prices vary, but Green charges a monthly fee that starts at $1,500, increasing depending on clients’ locations (since she offers some individualized, in-person services) and financial means. She does, however, keep several hours open each week for people who can’t afford her normal fee and instead pay on a sliding scale, from $50 to $250 a session. “I’m coming up with different tiers of access because I want to make the work more accessible and I’m not comfortable just helping the rich,” she explains.
To that point, Green requires that for every hour of coaching a client receives, they do an hour of community service in return. “It helps people remember that they’re a part of something bigger, but it also helps them realize that their problems aren’t as bad as they usually think that they are,” she says.
That’s especially necessary at a time like now, when many people are struggling with serious issues like their health and employment—and those lucky enough to be okay in both regards may be feeling guilty about their privilege. Ensuring that her clients give back is a win-win situation, Green says. “With the service piece, I’ve found that people feel a lot more purposeful than they usually do,” she notes.
Since my first session, I’ve donated substantially more to charitable organizations than I have in the past, even turning a fun hobby—creating crossword puzzles—into a fundraiser for those impacted by coronavirus. I plan to keep these actions and giving mindset going long after the pandemic ends, and it’s not just because of Green’s requirement. The work I’ve done on myself has made me realize how I can best use my privilege and skills to positively impact the world. In other words, I can more effectively help others now that I’ve learned how to help myself. And while I can’t guarantee that all the takeaways I’ve gotten from coaching will stay with me for years to come, I’m confident that that one will.