Show Me the Money

STEVE SALERNO, an investigative reporter and author of SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless, a scathing chronicle of self-help in all its forms, has coined a term for life coaches: “New Age therapists-sans-portfolio.”

‘In coaching, there’s a great concern with presentation of self; your whole life is a job interview. You’re supposed to be a perfect automaton of productivity…’

The implications of this moniker aren’t lost on Stephanie Smith, who has been an executive coach in Portland for 11 years. “At this point, I don’t know that there’s anybody who couldn’t just say, ‘I’m a coach,’ which I think is a bit disturbing,” says Smith, who, unlike most coaches, has a master’s degree in applied behavioral science with a focus in coaching and consulting from Seattle’s Bastyr University, a school whose focus is natural medicine.

Livorno can vouch for the fly-by-night aspect of coaching, too. “This one coach would stop our sessions and say, ‘Hold that thought for a minute,’ and pull out his training pamphlet,” she says of the few sessions she had with a coach other than Smith. “I’m paying him $125 an hour to learn on the job? I don’t think so.”

Some academic institutions, like Bastyr, have begun to offer coach training as part of a psychology or behavioral science degree, and a handful of private coaching institutions in Portland and elsewhere offer intensive in-person training programs. But of those life coaches who bother to seek training, the majority receive their credentials from websites like, based in Hopatcong, New Jersey, and, with representatives in Kansas, Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, Italy, Poland, and Brazil.

Fees for the online training courses and teleclasses that these websites offer vary wildly: CoachU’s 77-hour Core Essentials Program, which includes courses in “Listening, Language, and Strategizing,” will cost a would-be coach $2,195, plus $248 for books. CoachVille’s Center for Coaching Mastery training program, “1,000 hours of specialty coach training and personal development eCourses,” will set you back $5,576. CoachU says it has trained 30,000 coaches in 61 countries; CoachVille claims a global community for coaches with over 30,000 members and a school that has trained 4,000 students since 2001.

Despite the debt a person can rack up attending such courses, budding coaches are enticed by the possibility of becoming better equipped to find and keep clients. And if they do, they stand to make back what they spent and more. The average life-coaching session runs $125—about the same price as a session with a psychotherapist who has had at least 10 years of college training before he sees his first patient. Executive coaches can charge $400 an hour, and those in the truly top tiers—motivational speakers who play to packed rooms—move well into five figures for a one-hour speaking engagement. A study commissioned by the ICF asserts that full-time coaches earn an average of $82,671 a year.