— Got a problem with food? Hire a diet coach. Got a problem with your life? Hire a life coach. For singles, there are dating coaches; for shopaholics there are shopping coaches. Now, for substance abusers, there are sober coaches — like the one Charlie Sheen just hired.
The “Two and a Half Men” star, who was briefly hospitalized last week after police found him drunk and naked in a New York hotel, has employed a sober coach who has reportedly moved into his house and is tasked with keeping him away from drugs and alcohol.
While lifestyle coaching has been around for at least two decades, it’s morphed from the age-old medical model of psychotherapy to today’s new-fangled mash-up of achieving goals, catching a guy, dressing more effectively and becoming a better, more sober and skinnier you. In short, we can now hire nannies for ourselves.
Why we feel we need them may revolve around our own expectations of self.
“People have become less resilient, less happy, less positive and they feel they can’t change,” says Margaret Moore, co-founder of the Institute of Coaching at McClean Hospital/Harvard Medical School, which opened in January 2009. “Good coaching can help you become autonomous, to take personal responsibility for your own health.”
But since there is no governing body overseeing the hordes of wannabe coaches hawking their expertise, some experts are worried.
“The problem is there are sociopaths and charlatans in this business who can take advantage of the unsuspecting,” says psychologist Marilyn Puder-York, who specializes in executive coaching for Fortune 500 companies. “It’s like the whole field got corrupted because there is money to be made.”
Indeed, there is. According to the International Coach Federation, which has some 16,000 members in 100 countries, the average fee for a coaching session in the U.S. is $189.00. While there seem to be as many coach training programs popping up as there are new coaches hanging out shingles, the ICF has only approved 150 coach-training programs to date.
The coaching specialty getting the most attention right now is the sober coach, which makes Doug Caine a little wary.
“People will hear Charlie (Sheen) got a coach, so if they get one all their problems will be solved,” says Caine, founder and president of Sober Champion, a sober coaching company with offices in Los Angeles, New York and London. “It really doesn’t work like that. Getting sober and staying sober is hard work.”
Caine says most of his sober coaches don't have specialized training but do have a minimum of five years of abstinence from all mood and mind-altering substances, whether that’s beer, heroin or even gambling. Caine works with 24 coaches in the three offices. Several are psychologists, social workers and registered nurses. He also works with medical doctors, when necessary.
Although he’s had some famous clients, the bulk of his clientele are regular folks for whom residential treatment didn’t work, or who need some extra help after a treatment stay. Sober coaches may work with a client once or twice a week, but not always around-the-clock. Sober companions, on the other hand, work 24/7. He will provide “escort” services for folks who need to get from treatment facility to home or vice versa, or people who feel they need a companion with them to and from work so they don’t detour a bar or their “dope spot,” he says.
“What I hope that the general public understands is this thing we call 'addiction' is designed to kill you. We can provide safety and security and can show you how to live ... as a sober person,” says Caine. "Call us glorified minders or nannies, but we can save someone's life."
If you think a coach may help you, ask questions about educational background, coaching style, and get referrals, experts say. Remember that because there’s a lack of consistent standards, it’s buyer beware.
“Sometimes I think people ask their hairdressers more questions about qualification," says Puder-York. "That's too bad, because a qualified coach can help you achieve your potential."