Off the couch and on to the coach

With boom of life coaching in Israel, regulating against unqualified charlatans becomes critical.

sunset 88 (photo credit: )
sunset 88
(photo credit: )
It takes Leora Spitz, life coach and president of the Israel chapter of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), less than 30 minutes to assess that there are some serious issues that need addressing in my life. Her method is simple: Together we draw a "wheel of life," with each spoke representing one element - money, career, family, friends, environment, health, personal growth, romance and leisure. We define the strong values that I have for my family and friends and we note the "gremlins" or sacrifices I make in other areas. The wheel is clearly uneven, and on that basis she encourages me to imagine where my life would be if it was more equal. "If you managed to achieve your career goals and there was a write-up about you in the newspaper, what would it say about you as a person?" she asks me. The question allows me to dream: a mother of three children under the age of six, working a full-time job, who manages despite that to succeed in her goals… I really am amazing! Through her encouragement to let loose and fantasize, I feel empowered and free. After that release, Spitz draws me back in to define some more realistic and concrete goals that might be achievable in the next week or so. "Small steps," she calls them. My session with Spitz is part of an initiative run last week - International Life Coaching Week - by the ICF in Israel in which free life coaching sessions were offered to the public in an attempt to raise awareness about the profession, which is suddenly booming here. Estimates put at close to 1,000 the number of life coaches already working in Israel and note the more than 20 educational institutions offering courses in the profession - a cross between psychological and sports coaching theories. "Life coaches focus on what you have already and where you want to go with your life," explains Spitz, who has an MA in organizational psychology from Columbia University and who became ICF's Israel president two weeks ago. "We help people make the most of what they have and to understand for themselves how they work inside." Spitz, who specializes mainly in business coaching and counts among her clients top executives from the worlds of hi-tech, banking and finance, truly believes in the power of her profession. The main problem now, she says, is that there is no official licensing body or regulation guidelines in Israel. "Currently, everyone is doing their own thing," says Spitz. "We want to encourage coaches here to become members of the ICF and to let people know in general that it is always better go to a certified professional in this business." She says that 60 coaches are associated with the ICF - an international umbrella organization for the various coaching disciplines that attempts to define exactly what coaching is and sets a code of standards, ethics and professionalism - but highlights that less than two years ago there were only seven. Of the two dozen or more schools offering courses in coaching, Spitz adds that all the heads of the leading institutions are ICF professionals. THIS LACK of centralization led to the establishment last September of the Israel Coaching Institute, which is in the process of drafting legislation to establish an official body to regulate the schools and professionals in Israel. Liora Lipetz, the president of the institute, says that the organization, which was founded by coaches, aims to tailor the profession to Israeli language and culture. In five months, she says, it has attracted more than 400 members. Within the next month, Lipetz says, the institute, together with MK Stas Meseznikov (Israel Beiteinu) and with input from ICF Israel and local coaching schools, plans to present a bill to regulate the profession here. "Our vision is to make coaching a true profession in Israel," she says, adding that local coaches follow the standards and code of ethics set by the ICF. "We want to work together with the ICF, because obviously it is important to follow what is going on in the coaching profession abroad," says Lipetz, whose background was in corporate management before training as a coach. "While the ICF is the most important influence in world coaching, we are the biggest body in the local coaching industry." "Life coaching is still a fairly new profession and regulating it is a complicated process because there are so many disciplines," says Sara Arbel, the founder of ICF in Israel and its former president. A former business entrepreneur who studied coaching in the US before facilitating its arrival in Israel in the 1990s, Arbel says she is hopeful that the industry "will survive all the charlatans currently taking advantage of it." "Life coaching is a buzz and many people already trained as consultants or therapists have adopted the name 'coach' because it's very sexy," says Abi Shilon, co-director of the Coaches Training Institute, the only school in Israel that is accredited by ICF. "However, the definition in Israel of what is a life coach is still very fuzzy." Shilon stated that it is very important for clients to ask where the coach was trained and to coordinate expectations. "There should be chemistry for it to work," he says. As for the goal of raising public awareness about the benefits of life coaching, Spitz believes that this past week it has fulfilled its role. Advertisements for free coaching sessions in the Hebrew press yielded many new clients, she asserts, and three out of her five new clients have already signed up for another meeting with her. "Life coaching is about discovering your strengths as a person and leveraging to get up to a higher level," reiterates Arbel, echoing Spitz that the week certainly succeeded in raising awareness. "My vision is that more people will understand the benefits of life and business coaching."