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The other night during book club, my longtime friend mentioned her life coach. She's had her for four years.

This I didn't know.

My friend is smart, successful, kind, competent, an involved parent, an asset to the community. She's a full-fledged participant in a seemingly enviable existence that involves travel, adorable pets, decent family relationships, romance, culture, girl chats at Starbucks, and plenty of social interaction.

Why would she need a life coach? Then it dawned on me: Maybe she's all these things because she has a life coach.

Even the most open-minded among us might wonder why any of our cohort would need help from professional counselors to get through issues involving divorce, poor health, relocation, work disputes, and family squabbles. Mental illness, sure. Financial decisions and problems, absolutely. Day-to-day coping, not so much. Hey, what about self-reliance? Strong will? Independence? Overcoming obstacles and all that?

Stigmas still exist. Grab-those-bootstraps-and-tug is still a dominant American philosophy. But going it alone isn't working out for everybody.

It might have been less surprising to discover that my friend--as well as many others--is employing the services of a traditional therapist. "Life coach" sounds vaguely new-age, mystical, holistic.

But both approaches share a focus on confidential conversations. A therapist (formally known as a psychotherapist) is, according to life and business strategist Tony Robbins, a health-care professional who usually works in one-on-one 45- to 50-minute weekly sessions with a client, zeroing in on past traumas and issues to change self-destructive habits, repair and improve relationships, and examine painful feelings.

Psychotherapists, who must achieve sufficient levels of training and continuing education, are licensed and regulated by the states in which they practice.

A life coach, writes licensed therapist Diann Wingert (who offers life coaching too) on the website goodtherapy.org, usually communicates with clients over the phone, Skype, email, or text message. The aim is to clarify goals and emphasize accountability for clients who are functional but somehow hindered in reaching their potential.

"Coaching almost always addresses an individual's mindset and attitude by uncovering self-limiting beliefs and negative self-talk," says Wingert. "A person being coached is assumed to have all the answers they need within them; the coach's job is to facilitate the discovery of those answers by asking the right questions."

A life coach isn't required to be licensed or certified.

According to another friend with experience with both, a therapist tends to say, "How do you think you should deal with this?" whereas a life coach is more likely to say, "Here's a way you might want to deal with this."

Life coaches don't work for free. Nor do therapists. So why cough up the cash and the time and the angst to employ a stranger (average cost for a life coach is about $200 to $1,000 per month for a 30- to 60-minute phone call three or four times a month; a therapist, depending on training and experience, is likely to charge $100 or more for a 45-minute in-person session) if the option exists to sit down with a bottle of decent pinot noir (cost: $10-$15), a bowl of peanuts, and a close pal to sort out setbacks and situations?

The decision is similar to figuring out if you ought to employ a personal trainer: People with powerful motivation, armed with how-to books and videos, can probably take on physical fitness challenges by themselves. Can't stick to a workout program? Hire a competent trainer who will take control of you, and therefore your workout, for an hour at a time. You don't need to decide how much weight to lift or how far to trot on a treadmill. Your trainer has the experience and education to judge how much you can handle. Knowing that your trainer has confidence in your ability to perform, you will. Like Nike says, just do it.

So ... the National Institute for Mental Health recommends seeking help if you are experiencing overwhelming sadness or helplessness that doesn't go away. Other warning signs are serious or unusual insomnia, sleeping too much, difficulty focusing on work or carrying out everyday activities, constant worry and anxiety, excessive drinking or drug use, harmful behavior toward yourself or others, or dealing with a difficult transition (divorce, children leaving home, job difficulties, the death of someone close).

Counseling is an investment. The payoff is a transformation that can lead to feelings of joy, confidence, and fulfillment. Getting there can be rough.

Go ahead and knock back that bottle of pinot noir with your pal and see if that helps. But if your friend doesn't have all the answers, don't give up. If hiring an ally might help, why not?

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

kmartin@arkansasonline.com

Editorial on 09/09/2018

Print Headline: It doesn't hurt to ask for help

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