The New York Times recently published an article critical of life coaching (January 27, 2012). Coaching is now taught in more than 30 American universities including Harvard, Yale, Duke, Penn State, University of California at Berkeley, George Washington and NYU among others, but the thrust of the article was the extent to which people without coach training are advertising themselves as coaches and selling their services. Many of these people charge high fees but lack credentials or have certification that is meaningless. The Times article never mentioned this but the Christian coaching field has the same mix of high quality training and competent coaches mixed with self-proclaimed, poorly trained coaches similar to those profiled in the Times. The incompetent practitioners pull down the whole coaching field and reinforce the negative perceptions of coaching that come from many mental health professionals and the broader public.
This came to mind as I read a carefully documented article titled “Public Skepticism of Psychology,” published in American Psychologist (February-March 2012). For years people have misunderstood and mistrusted psychology and counseling because there is confusion about what mental health professionals do, misrepresentation of the fields by incompetent practitioners including popular media figures like Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura, and limited public awareness of the scientific underpinnings of these fields. Similar attitudes appear about coaching, especially since there is almost no scientific documentation to show that coaching is effective. Personal testimonies from clients mean little since statements like “it worked for me” are subjective and not very convincing.
Countering skepticism is difficult and involves all of us whatever our specialties. Facts to counter misperception can help and so can evidence-based scientific support for our work. Can we improve training standards and credentials to increase our credibility? Competent, authentic practitioners can do a lot to meet the skepticism, including the writing of articles that present a different side of the Times criticisms. It is taking years to dispel skepticism about mental health practitioners. Coaches can learn from their example, then show and teach skeptics what we do and how we do it well.
How have you countered skepticism of your work? Please share your experiences as a way of helping all of us.