You may have heard that life coaches are less than legitimate – we certainly had. But the industry has actually come a long way since the energy-manipulating hucksters of yesteryear. Nowadays, a life coach isn’t just somebody that thinks (usually correctly) that they’re able to pull the wool over somebody-in-need’s eyes. Now, there is multiple organizations offering accreditation through personal coaching courses that take about a year to complete. For reference, that’s like the average guy playing through God of War III 12 times.
We talked recently with David Birnoff who self describes alternately as a Hollywood coach and a life coach. Part of the reason for that label is because, like us, he lives in the City of Angels where Hollywood is the engine that drives a lot of the sexy, sexy industry in this town.
Get a sounding board
It all sort of boils down to the same thing, really. People need a sounding board. They need a sympathetic ear that is, frankly, more willing to tell them to get their shit together than an overly-nice roommate or an accommodating momma. So, who comes to David for help? “Some people need help seeing the big picture, some get a promotion and don’t know what to do, some just need help growing. In the entertainment industry at least, there is no single path, and people need to be constantly reviewing their situation or they get stuck on one path for a long time.”
True of almost any profession, we’d argue. So how does this work, you’re probably wondering? Why would anybody trust you if you’re a life coach? You’re a total stranger and, unless you’re astonishingly handsome, people should correctly have some questions before the dive too deep. One thing you can do as an aspiring coach, that Brownstein recommends, is get coached. That way you’ll have an idea about what the process is like, what to expect as a coach, and what will be expected of you.
The second, more important step in establishing legitimacy is to get certified. This isn’t akin to a board certification for psychology, mind you. But, you can get your PCC (International Coach Federation Certification) and your CPCC (Certified Professional Co-Active Coach) over the course of about a year. In terms of oversight, the latter is licensed by the California Bureau of Private Post secondary and Vocational Education.
Think about it like all the interesting parts of getting a degree in psychology. Our understanding of it is that it’s akin to what a midwife would be to a nurse or doctor. The focus in the certifications is much more on the people you’re going to be dealing with and the practical, pragmatic knowledge and practices that you’ll use to help them.
Brownstein also says there is a temporal difference in traditional therapy versus coaching. “Coaching,” he says, “isn’t about dwelling in the past – about what happened to you. It’s about the present and the future…they’re in the question business and we’re in the answer business.”
That is sort of true. Brownstein’s answer business consists almost entirely of asking questions to elicit an answer from you, but there is one key difference that became apparent when Brownstein offered to give one of our editors a trial session.
“He literally insists on giving you a homework assignment. That was different than some of the therapeutic practices I was familiar with – especially in terms of its specificity. Where you might be used to hearing a vague “work on such and such,” he’d tell you to write a specific word count about a subject or perform a specific act that week.”
Being a coach has many perks (other than helping people which, ya know, take it or leave it). Brownstein says he sets his own schedule, and because many of his clients are busier than he is, he’ll often do his coaching sessions over the phone. When asked if that impedes the process, he said it does not. “In the certification program, one of the first things you do is coach somebody face-to-face, then do the exact same session back-to-back…they teach you what to listen to in a person’s voice that tells you certain things…in a lot of ways, the phone is easier.”
Sounds like a working-without-pants situation to us. But, it’s not all fun and games. Even coaches need coaches. Says Brownstein, “I wouldn’t trust a coach that didn’t have a coach. I can coach myself on 95% of my own stuff, but it’s that last 5% that’ll get you.”