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More people seek help in finding what they really want in life

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‘WITHIN you, the answers are," is how Yoda might say it. "Do or do not. There is no try."

And for those of us who do not have a wise and compassionate Jedi master to guide us down the road to self-discovery and self-empowerment with a Zen-infused mix of motivation and tough love, there's another option: life coach.

Martin Itzkow won't take you into a cave to face your dark side, but he will meet you at a coffee shop and ask you some tough questions to get you looking inward and thinking about what it is you want. What you really, really want.

"That's the most important question in this process," says the longtime Winnipeg leadership and change consultant who has worked extensively with the public and private sectors. He started his Defying Gravity organizational life coaching practice about 18 months ago (

"Once you start that exploration, it becomes about what is your real purpose, what gives you life in terms of your work and outside of work, and what are the baby steps you can take to make the change," says Itzkow.

His job, he says, is to help people tap the inner resources and tools they've accumulated through life experience and develop a strategy for moving toward their goals.

People have long sought motivational guidance from professionals, so life coaching is hardly a new phenomenon. In a New York Times article earlier this year, Janet Harvey, president of the International Coach Federation (ICF), traced its development to the Human Potential Movement of the 1970s, which formed around the concept that people have an inner reservoir of extraordinary but largely untapped capabilities.

What is rather phenomenal is just how popular and diversified coaching has become. It's reportedly the second-fastest growing profession in the world, rivalled only by information technology.

Do a Google search for life coach and you'll get nearly 10 million hits. According to the ICF, the world's largest and oldest coaching organization, there are 47,500 professional coaches worldwide, up from 30,000 in 2007. A third of those are in North America, where 89 per cent of coaches in a recent survey said they had an average of 11 active clients each.

The ICF, which is working to standardize accreditation, also reports that its membership grew from around 11,000 in 2006 to more than 19,000 by the end of 2011, in spite of the 2008 global recession.

So either we're having a collective existential crisis or it has become hip to ask for help -- in every niche of your existence, from work and career to weight loss, wellness, dating and finances.

"It's like having a personal trainer for every area of your life," says Joyce Odidison, an ICF certified coach who runs a coach training certification program in Winnipeg. Her institute has trained 25 coaches since 2008. The program, based on her own Interpersonal Wellness System (IWS) model, takes 10 to 12 months to complete.

According to the website, IWS coaching "embraces a wide range of perspectives, such as biology, positive psychology, neuroscience, conflict management, transformational learning, energy psychology, wellness and system thinking."

It's all about helping clients to see the big picture, and then developing and improving their skills so they can become "self-aware, self-correcting and self-directing," says Odidison, who has degrees in conflict resolution and conflict analysis.

She credits the popularity of lifestyle-based reality TV shows in recent years, as well as Oprah's trademark "live your best life" boosterism, for raising coaching's profile.

Former Winnipegger Benita Stafford-Smith, whose services include personal, business and career coaching and image consulting, says the profession has "matured" since she started her coaching practice in 2001. At least in the Western world.

"In the Eastern world, coaching is still fairly new," Stafford-Smith, who now lives in Oman, an Arab state in southwest Asia, writes in an email. "Most people here aren't aware of coaching and how to utilize it in their lives."

All three of the life coaches were unequivocally clear about what coaching is not: therapy.

"Generally, people hire a counsellor because there is something wrong," says Stafford-Smith. "Generally, they hire a coach because they want to improve an area of their life."

Don't hire Itzkow if you're hoping to dig around in your past for clues as to how your life got stalled or derailed. Although he uses a coaching model based on the principles of Milton Erickson -- an American psychiatrist, psychologist and hypnotist who believed that the unconscious mind was creative and could generate its own solutions to problems -- Itzkow is all about the future.

"I'm not into the healing game," he says. "If someone wants help with the past, I can't do it. What I will do is I'll say, 'OK, you had that past and maybe it wasn't so good but what did you learn and how can you use that to help you move forward?'"

Not that your typical coaching client's life is all smooth, upward sailing. "Most of my work is around people being overwhelmed -- by modern life and modern business," says Itzkow, who's coached 25 clients over the past year. "They're seeking clarity and they're looking to be transformed in some way."

Another key difference between seeing a life coach and a counsellor is the former usually requires a great deal of self-motivation and commitment -- if you want to get your money's worth. The going rate for a certified coach in Winnipeg is between $150 and $350 an hour, according to Odidison, who has colleagues in the U.S. who charge $500 an hour.

Itzkow, who charges $200 an hour, requires a minimum commitment of four months, with at least three one-hour sessions each month. He doesn't have an office and works mostly out of coffee shops. He also does sessions by phone and by Skype.

One of Itzkow's clients, Janine LeGal, credits life coaching for helping her secure a better job, get her finances in shape and achieve a more harmonious work-life balance.

"Some of the questions and the assignments were tough because they required me to look deeply within, and sometimes that was painful," says the communications co-ordinator. "But now everything seems clearer and more aligned as a result. Life coaching is definitely the best gift I've ever given myself."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 13, 2012 D1


Updated on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 10:35 AM CST: adds missing text, fact box

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