We get it, really. Life coaching, as is so envogue these days, is touted as the next best thing to weekly therapy sessions and Xanax popping, but is it really for the “regular” gal? Can a pricey life coach replace a pricey therapist? Can we create alternatives for ourselves, incorporating what the experts teach into our own daily lives without having to sell a limb to afford it? QG WD discovered a story recently about the NYC based company The Handel Group (our contributors know about HG from following yoga teacher and zen girl Elena Brower) in ELLE and wanted to share one writer’s experience…
Like a lot of people, Bliss Broyard was skeptical about life coaching. But when a friend said it had helped her more than years of therapy, Broyard decided to try it for herself.
Your body is a template on which you can learn to manage your mind,” says my new life coach, Laurie Gerber, as we enter a fitness class to which she occasionally takes clients. Called IntenSati (the word intensity combined with sati, an ancient Indian word for “awareness”), the class is like boot camp—if it were led by Mr. Power of Positive Thinking Norman Vincent Peale. In the back row, I struggle to follow along with the 50 other participants as IntenSati’s leader and founder, Patricia Moreno, takes us through a complex sequence: Knee pump, fist jab, knee pump, lunge. “Confusion?” the class demands in unison. “So what!” Fist jab, lunge, leg lift, jump. “Fear? Bring it on!” Squat, straighten, jump, clap. “Failure? Try again!” Next to me, Gerber, a slim, attractive 37-year-old with light blue eyes and a wide, flat mouth, is smiling beatifically and repeating, “I am done complaining! I set myself free!” In front of me, a heavyset man in bike shorts squeezes his elbows together. “I am the change I want to be.”
This must be how cults indoctrinate new members, I think, as I sweat, pant, and fumble the steps. First you break people down physically, then you make them repeat insipid slogans over and over.
Lately, everyone I know is either seeing a life coach, thinking of seeing one, or thinking of becoming one, but when my friend Rebecca told me about Gerber, who is the president of the executive and life-coaching firm The Handel Group, my ears perked up. A documentary filmmaker whom I consider a connoisseur of so-called self-care, Rebecca always knows the best masseuse, acupuncturist, yoga instructor in town. Over coffee one morning, she confided that a few months of working with Gerber, whom she met through her yoga instructor (of course), had improved her relationships with her mother and husband more than years of therapy with her highly sought-after shrink. Thanks to her coach, Rebecca said, she’d finally begun to see how she contributed to keeping her loved ones stuck in patterns that she supposedly abhorred. “Their unofficial motto is ‘Maybe it’s you,’ ” Rebecca said.
Founded eight years ago, Handel employs a cadre of coaches who guide clients to identify dreams, recognize what’s blocking their fulfillment, and then come up with specific steps to make them reality. An action-oriented plan like this appealed to me. I’d been in therapy on and off for the better part of two decades, sorting through the psychic fallout of growing up with a mother who drank too much in order to dull the pain of some horrible tragedies she’d experienced as a young woman and a father who was evasive, philandering, and hypercritical (a professional book critic, in fact). Self-understanding had helped me accept myself, flaws included, but now I wondered if I’d set my sights too low, if my limitations were preventing me from getting more satisfaction—not to mention joy—out of life.
Not that I was miserable: I got to spend my days doing work that I cared about; I had a partner (I call him my husband) who made me laugh and never bored me and, as a professor, was around and available more than most husbands; and I had two kids who made me feel as if I’d won the genetic lottery. Our professional lives gave us the freedom to spend summers at my mom’s house on Martha’s Vineyard; live for a semester in Paris, then Buenos Aires; and volunteer at our kids’ schools. Still, I often felt overwhelmed and tired, nagged by a vague discontent—is this it?
After the exercise class, Gerber and I headed to a café for breakfast. “How was that for you?” she asked.
“I felt a little like I was being brainwashed.”
She nodded. “Yeah, I’d say you’re an eight.”
“An eight what?”
“On the skepticism scale.”
Over an egg-white omelette, hold the toast, Gerber divulged the first of her many promises designed to keep her own happiness in line: no bread or pasta, and dessert twice a week, provided she’s in her ideal weight range. She explained that the key to the Handel Method is making promises to oneself that had to be kept, otherwise there’d be consequences.
She started looking over my initial homework assignment, “The 18 Areas of Life,” which had taken five hours and 12 single-spaced pages to complete. I had to describe my dream vision for everything from my body to my career to relationships and bad habits. After ranking myself in each area on a scale of one to 10, my task was to describe what might be preventing me from living my fantasy. My highest rating (9–10) went to my home, which my husband and I’d recently renovated and was now truly beautiful. On the lower end of the scale were body, health, sex life, and time, which made me feel like a depressing cliché of a working mother.
According to Gerber, my reasons for why I wasn’t living, dare I say, my best life were full of “weather reporting.” This was a Handel no-no, experiencing life passively—as a tornado whipping you around—rather than as something you consciously create. “You’re not anyone’s bitch,” she said, “including your feelings’.”
Next, she read aloud what I’d written about my dream relationship with my body: “I hope not to immediately gauge photos of myself by whether I look fat.”
“Come on!” Gerber chided. “Is that really a vision that makes your spine tingle?” Risk dreaming larger, she said.
“I’m not interested in being perfect,” I shot back.
“I’m not trying to make you feel bad or make you perfect or turn you into me,” Gerber said. “I’m trying to help you design your life so you’re living your dreams, as you define them.” Plus, she went on, “Through the power of the collective unconscious, if enough people get themselves right, then we can change the vibration of the world and get the world right too. Read the full story…
You can find out more about The Handel Group and register for their free 20 minute session by going to; http://www.handelgroup.com/coaching/life-coaching. Follow Lori Gerber on Twitter at; @HGLifecoaching. Read about Elena Brower and her yoga journey’s at; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elena-brower